High-powered Saints offense preparing for stubborn Rams' defense
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints face an unusual challenge this weekend.
They'll try to keep up with an offense every bit as potent as their own — and do so against one of the top-rated defenses in the NFL.
Saints coach Sean Payton said dealing with the Los Angeles Rams' eighth-ranked defense will be a tall order in itself.
"It presents a ton of problems," Payton said. "First off, the talent when you're talking about some of the top tackles and ends in the business — that that in itself is difficult. And then when you put it with an outstanding scheme, then you really have a challenge."
Brees said Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh comprise the best interior defensive line he's faced since he was at Purdue and played a Georgia team fielding Marcus Stroud and Richard Seymour in the 2000 Outback Bowl (Georgia won, 28-25).
"At this level, it's really unheard of to have Suh and Donald in there," Brees said. "Those guys are unbelievable."
Donald and Suh have combined for 13 sacks, with Donald getting 10.
The Saints so far have held up well against the pass rush. Brees has been sacked nine times and generally has had enough time to make accurate throws. He was intercepted for the first time Sunday night in Minnesota when an edge-rusher was unblocked and closing quickly on him.
Offensively, New Orleans ranks eighth in yards per game and second in points per game at 33.4. Brees' passing numbers have gone down lately, but more because of New Orleans' ability to run the ball more and control the clock with Mark Ingram returning from his four-game suspension.
The Saints are 3-0 since Ingram's return and have won six straight overall after losing to Tampa Bay in the season opener.
But the unbeaten Rams rank second offensively in yards per game (442.6) and have averaged 33 points, which rank third.
Brees sees similarities between the Saints when he and Sean Payton first joined forces 13 seasons ago, and the Rams under 32-year-old offensive-minded head coach Sean McVay and 24-year-old Jared Goff, the 2016 top overall draft choice.
"We like to feel like over the last 13 years that we've kind of been at the forefront of offensive football ... taking the personnel that you have and being able to utilize it in some really unique ways," Brees said.
"You can't help but turn on the film and be intrigued by the things that they're doing. Obviously, I think Jared Goff is playing as well as anybody right now. He's got a bunch of weapons there at the receiver position that are lighting it up, Todd Gurley, one of the best backs in the league."
Brees said that while he doesn't know McVay well, he said the Rams coach's youthful energy, enthusiasm and offensive background remind him of Payton to some extent, starting with the fact they both played quarterback in college and had offensive backgrounds as NFL assistants before their first head coaching jobs.
"What I've seen from his offenses and what I hear about him is there's a lot of those same traits, and it makes it really, really fun to play for a guy like that, because it makes it exciting and it gives you a ton of confidence," Brees said.
Brees also said it is apparent that the pairing of McVay with Goff "was a great match."
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said his unit should be confident in its ability to slow Los Angeles if it plays largely mistake-free schematically and tackles well throughout, especially against Gurley.
"When we're able to execute at a high level, I don't think there's anybody on the field that can stop us. We have to be able to do that for all 60 minutes though," Jordan said.
Notes: Saints rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport missed practice because of a toe injury. He did not confirm reports that he would be out for about a month, saying he's seeking multiple opinions and hasn't ruled out playing against the Rams on Sunday. He played with the injury at Minnesota, where he had two sacks, giving him a total of four through his first seven NFL games. The injury occurred during his sack of the Vikings' Kirk Cousins in the third quarter. Davenport said he had to play differently afterward, and tried to "not think about it and just go out there and try to ball and take as many chances as I could."