Saints-Rams Preview

If the New Orleans Saints are to clinch a playoff berth this

weekend on their own, they must improve their recent play on the

road.

The Saints hope to accomplish both Sunday while trying to send

the St. Louis Rams to a seventh consecutive losing season with a

third straight defeat.

Various scenarios that would involve help from other teams can

put New Orleans (10-3) in the playoffs with a loss, but it can

simply secure a berth with a victory Sunday.

The Saints have some renewed confidence after they rebounded

from a 34-7 loss at Seattle on Dec. 2 with a 31-13 victory last

Sunday over Carolina. With the win, New Orleans improved to 7-0 at

home and took a one-game lead over the Panthers in the NFC

South.

While the Saints have the inside track on the division title and

a first-round bye, they play the next two on the road – including a

rematch with Carolina – before concluding the regular season by

hosting Tampa Bay.

“We’d like to be able to take the show on the road, but

definitely playing in the dome is an advantage,” center Brian de la

Puente said. “We know that. Teams know that coming (to New Orleans

is) a difficult place to play. There’s unique things that present

themselves when you’re on the road and that’s part of it.”

The Saints average 32.9 points and allow 15.4 per game at home

but are scoring 18.8 and giving up 22.5 per contest while going 3-3

on the road.

Drew Brees, who became the fifth quarterback to eclipse 50,000

career passing yards last Sunday, has thrown 23 of his 33

touchdowns while posting a 122.5 passer rating at home. On the

road, he’s thrown five of his eight interceptions and has an 87.7

rating.

Though Rob Ryan’s defense ranks sixth overall at 313.6 yards per

game, its three worst yardage and point totals have come away from

home. New Orleans has dropped three of the last four on the road

while allowing its opponent to score first in each contest.

“It’s not so much about being on the road that really causes

problems,” safety Roman Harper said. “It’s the fact that when we

don’t have success early, how guys respond and things like

that.

“When we come out and we play fast, we get off to good starts

offensively, defensively, that’s when we’re at our best. We’ve got

try to find a way, no matter where we’re at location-wise, to come

out of the locker room and start fast.”

Though the Saints’ most recent road victory came at another

indoor venue, 17-13 at Atlanta on Nov. 21, St. Louis was

responsible for one of their three losses in 2011 with a 31-21

victory at the Edward Jones Dome when the teams last met.

Brees threw for 269 yards with a TD and two INTs in that

contest. He’s been picked off twice in each of his five career

games against the Rams.

Tight end Jimmy Graham recorded five of his league-leading 14

TDs in the last three contests but was held to four receptions for

39 yards and no scores versus St. Louis in 2011.

The Rams (5-8) improved to 3-3 at home after they ran for a

season-high 258 yards during a 42-21 victory over Chicago on Nov.

24. Since, they’ve been outscored 53-23 in road losses to San

Francisco and Arizona that eliminated them from playoff contention

and secured a 10th straight season without a winning record.

“We are going to get better,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Our focus

is going (to be) on the Saints. That is what we are going to

do.”

With two first-round draft picks next year – including a

Redskins pick that is currently second overall – the Rams have

reason to be excited about next season but will focus on the

present.

“We have to finish strong,” said defensive end Robert Quinn, who

has recorded eight of his NFC-leading 13.0 sacks at home. “You

don’t want to look at the next season, you want to finish strong

and take it one game at a time.”

Kellen Clemens, who has thrown one TD and three INTs in the last

two games, was sacked a season-high four times in last Sunday’s

30-10 loss to the Cardinals. He’s been sacked 18 times since

replacing the injured Sam Bradford and now faces a New Orleans

defense that leads the NFC with 43 sacks.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior

Galette combined for all five sacks of Cam Newton last week.

St. Louis rookie Zac Stacy averaged 86.5 rushing yards in his

previous eight games before he was held to 25 on 14 carries against

the Cardinals.

It’s uncertain if fellow rookie Tavon Austin will play after he

injured his ankle on a 56-yard run versus Arizona.