Healthy Rams look to alter NFL with win over banged up Saints

What does it take to be a Super Bowl caliber team?

Talented players, masterful coaching and luck— especially when it comes to injuries.

Heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship against the New Orleans Saints, the Los Angeles Rams are carrying a completely healthy roster into the Bayou.

Through Friday’s practice, the Rams did not include a single player on the team’s injury report at any point during the week. In fact, aside from wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who tore his ACL in Week 10, and linebacker Dominique Easley, who had surgery on his meniscus after Week 3, the Rams starting 22 looks identical to the September 10 season opener.

“Now that we’re all gelling together, firing on all five cylinders, it’s great that we’ve been together this whole time,” guard Rodger Saffold said about the ability to play with the same four teammates alongside him week in and week out. “It makes it easier to play in the noise when you know what your guy does and how your guy thinks.”

“If the Rams win this game this weekend, remember the three things they have done to alter this league,” Colin Cowherd advised on The Herd Friday. “They went big into free agency, gave veterans more time off and they refused to play any starters in the preseason. Their injury report… there’s no one listed. That’s unheard of in the NFL.”

While free agent signings from the offseason are poised to make considerable contributions in Sunday’s Gumbo Date, it’s the clean bill of health that could make the biggest impact.

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Whereas the Rams are scathing through unblemished, the Saints experienced a massive blow Friday.

Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson is no longer expected to play after missing several practices with appendicitis.

Watson has been New Orleans’ number one tight end this season with his biggest game of the year coming in the first matchup against the Rams. In that early November battle, Watson pulled in three catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.

In addition to the loss of Watson, as of Friday the Saints had four other offensive players listed on their injury report, including three starting linemen.

So what’s the Rams’ secret?

Could it be— as Cowherd suggested— that it results from the Rams being the only team in the league to not play a single starter for even one snap in the preseason? Perhaps, but the injuries they suffered throughout the season would point otherwise. Aside from the season-ending loses of Kupp and Easley, the Rams also had their top corner Aqib Talib sidelined for multiple weeks— including the Week 9 game against the Saints— with an ankle injury. Running back Todd Gurley was also held out of the last two games of the regular season with a knee injury, essentially acting as a blessing in disguise as it gave him time to rest and forced the team into signing C.J. Anderson who has evolved into one of the biggest late-season acquisitions in recent years.

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Could it be that Reggie Scott, the Rams Senior Director of Sports Medicine and Performance, and his staff have truly mastered the art of regulating player activity to the point lingering injuries aren’t allowed to develop and immediate ones are frightened away? Well, this is more possible than the first explanation.

“For us to be this healthy this late in the season is something we don’t take for granted,” head coach Sean McVay said Friday. “There are some unfortunate instances that occur where you lose some really valuable players, but in terms of the soft tissue injuries, the things that come up from a preventative standpoint, our guys have done a phenomenal job.”

Scott, who received his M.A. from California University at Pennsylvania, has been with the team since 2011 and has 15 years of NFL experience. So, it’s certainly possible his staff has found the secret sauce, but still seems not totally plausible.

So if it’s not the talented players who had four extra weeks of rest than their counterparts back in August, or a masterful training staff headed by a man with 15 years experience, maybe, just maybe, the Rams are the team marching into New Orleans with all the luck.