Saints head to Coliseum looking for ninth straight victory
The streaking New Orleans Saints play the Los Angeles Rams in search of their ninth straight victory on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Saints (8-2) will carry plenty of momentum into the contest after an improbable win over the Washington Redskins last week. New Orleans trailed by 15 points with three minutes remaining and still prevailed. In previous games when it was down by 14 points in the final quarter, New Orleans was 0-223-1.
"It just felt like one of those games that we shouldn't win," Saints punter Thomas Morstead said.
The Rams (7-3) are looking to return to their winning ways. They saw a four-game streak snapped when the Minnesota Vikings' vaunted defense contained what was then the NFL's highest-scoring team, 24-7, on Sunday.
Los Angeles fell for the first time in over a month and it came with a cost. Robert Woods, the team's leading receiver, sustained a shoulder injury and is out this week.
"It requires some guys to step up and fill the void left by Robert," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "He's done a lot of great things."
So have the NFC West-leading Rams, one of the NFL's biggest surprises this year. But they need to rebound after getting thumped in their showdown in Minnesota between divisional leaders.
To meet that goal, someone has to replace Woods' production: A team-best 47 catches for four touchdowns and 703 yards.
The Rams are deep at that spot and a collection of players will be in the mix for more playing time. Tavon Austin, Mike Thomas, Pharaoh Cooper and rookie Josh Reynolds are available.
"It will really require a kind of by-committee approach," McVay said.
Austin is making $15 million this year but the Rams aren't getting much bang for their buck. The speedy Austin has been used mostly as a running back, gaining 171 yards.
Against the Vikings, Austin was on the artificial turf for just two plays.
"I've got to do a better job for getting a feel for the flow of the game and finding a way of getting him involved," McVay said.
While the Rams have depth at wide receiver, the same can't be said at cornerback. That's not a good sign against a unit led by Drew Brees, which is averaging an NFL-high 415.7 yards per game and 30.2 points.
"Definitely it is a concern," McVay said.
Cornerback Troy Hill, out last week with a hamstring injury, is primed to return. But two other cornerbacks, Kayvon Webster (concussion) and Nickell Robey-Cole (thigh) could be compromised.
The Rams' secondary was relatively healthy leading to the outing in Minnesota. But the physical game took its toll.
"We have been fortunate in that manner that we haven't had a lot of guys miss games that have been in starting roles," McVay said. "But it looks like that is going to end up occurring."
While the Rams' offense is ranked No. 2 in averaging 30.3 points a contest, the defense hasn't been as stout. It is No. 16 in total yards (3,350) and it will have to decipher the Saints' balanced approach.
While most of the Saints' outcomes once depended on Brees' right arm, now it's the churning legs and sure hands of running backs Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.
Coach Sean Payton has embraced the running game so much that he called a rushing play on 24 straight plays in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills. The Saints served noticed with Ingram and Kamara rushing for a combined six touchdowns and 298 yards; each eclipsed 100 yards.
Since Adrian Peterson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5, Kamara has provided solid production with an average of 112.7 yards per scrimmage.
Ingram found another gear as well as he's averaged 120.7 yards from scrimmage, nearly double his output from when Peterson was on the roster.
Ingram has been a force on early downs and early in games, gobbling up yards after contact.
Payton then inserts the shifty Kamara against a spent defense and the results have been impressive.
"I've always had a lot of respect for him as a play-caller," McVay said. "He's one of those guys that seems like he's got a great feel."
McVay was still the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator when the Saints walloped the Rams last year, 49-21. In McVay's film study of the Saints, something is hard to ignore.
"They do such a great job of making people defend the width and the depth of the field in the pass game," he said. "It's a very well-versed offense where it's quick screens, play-actions, movements. They do it all and they do it very well."
The Rams own a 40-33 advantage over the Saints, winning two of their past three meetings.