5 Bold Predictions for New Orleans Saints' Matchup with St. Louis Rams
Only three games remain in the regular season, and the 10-3 Saints are a game ahead of Carolina for the divisional lead and a game behind Seattle for the top spot in the NFC.
Suffice it to say, Sunday afternoon's matchup with the Rams is a highly important contest. With another key clash with the Panthers coming up next week, New Orleans will be looking to keep as much of a cushion as possible between itself and its divisional rivals.
The Rams (5-8) pose a number of challenges, and coach Jeff Fisher's club will likely pull out all the stops in an effort to spring the upset.
Following are five bold predictions for this late-season NFC tussle.
1. The Score Will Not Be Close
This late-season non-divisional road trip could be viewed as a trap game for the Saints.
In its last four outings, New Orleans has faced San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, and Carolina. Three playoff-caliber teams and a divisional rival make for quite the challenging stretch of games, and yet the Saints emerged from this gauntlet with a 3-1 record.
Next week's hugely important rematch with Carolina looms, and it would be understandable—almost natural—for the Saints to ease up a bit against the Rams.
But that won’t happen. Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have been in situations like this before, and they understand the importance of staying a game ahead of the Panthers in the divisional race.
St. Louis is a tough team to read from a consistency standpoint, and Payton, Brees and the Saints aren't likely to risk coming in unprepared. New Orleans will be ready to play football, and that's probably bad news for the Rams.
2. The Saints Defense Will Shut Down Zac Stacy
Rob Ryan may have been the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator last season, but Dallas wasn’t his last stop before arriving in New Orleans. He had a brief engagement with the Rams in January, although his tenure in St. Louis ended after only a few days. Fisher apparently did not share his preference for a 3-4 defense, and the two agreed to part ways.
Ryan will likely be motivated to make a statement on Sunday, and his first order of business will be slowing down Zac Stacy.
Stacy has emerged as the Rams' featured back in the second half of the season. The rookie out of Vanderbilt took over the starting running back position in Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and hasn't looked back.
Fisher will be looking to keep Brees and the Saints offense off the field, and the best way to do that is to get his running back revved up. In his last six games, Stacy has 507 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He had a subpar performance last week against Arizona, gaining only 25 yards on the ground, but he still managed to get 17 touches.
On the other hand, the New Orleans run defense has been stout as of late. Although they lost in blowout fashion, the Saints never allowed Marshawn Lynch to get rolling two weeks ago in Seattle. And last Sunday night, New Orleans limited primary Carolina ball-carrier DeAngelo Williams to just 52 yards.
On Sunday, look for Akiem Hicks and company to step up to the plate, control the line of scrimmage and shut Stacy down on the road.
3. Robert Quinn Will Not Record a Sack
St. Louis pass-rusher Robert Quinn leads all NFL defensive ends with 13 sacks. He has the second-most sacks in the league this year, as he makes a routine habit of terrorizing offensive linemen and quarterbacks.
Saints left tackle Charles Brown is not an elite pass-protector, so it could be easy to foresee Quinn having a big day.
But he won’t, and the reason is simple: Brees will get the ball out quickly.
While Quinn and fellow defensive end Chris Long do a great job of pressuring opposing passers, their teammates in the defensive back seven have been unreliable in pass coverage all season. This hasn't slipped past Payton and Brees in the film room this week.
With the St. Louis linebackers struggling to cover underneath routes, look for Brees to utilize his complete arsenal of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs in the short passing game.
Brown and the Saints offensive line should only have to contain Quinn for a minimal amount of time, as Brees will quickly be looking to find the open man off short dropbacks.
4. Cameron Jordan Will Have 2 or More Sacks
Quinn isn't the only NFC defensive end making noise this season on the pass-rushing front. Cameron Jordan is having a breakout year, establishing himself as one of the league's top 3-4 pass-rushing ends.
He has 11.5 sacks in his last 12 games. He sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton twice last Sunday and will be coming after Rams signal-caller Kellen Clemens this week.
Standing in Jordan's way will be St. Louis left tackle Jake Long, whom the Rams acquired via free agency this past offseason.
Long, who suffered a concussion two weeks ago, gave up a sack to Cardinals linebacker John Abraham last week. He'll be in a fierce battle with Jordan on Sunday, and with the Saints likely to send an array of blitzes at Clemens, Long and his teammates along the Rams offensive line will have their hands full.
If New Orleans gains a big lead early, thus forcing St. Louis to take to the air, it could turn into a feeding frenzy for Jordan and the Saints.
5. Lance Moore Will Have a Big Day
The production of Saints wide receiver Lance Moore has faded as of late. In his last three games, he only has seven catches for a meager 74 yards. But as Saints fans know full well, key contributors don't usually stay quiet for long in New Orleans' high octane offense.
Last week, Marques Colston returned from the doldrums and had a big day against Carolina. This week, it’s Moore’s turn.
Moore’s subpar stats in the last few games can partly be attributed to going up against larger, more physical press-man cornerbacks. This was particularly noticeable against Seattle. Moore struggled to fight off the aggressive Seahawks corners, who jammed him at the line of scrimmage and rarely yielded a free release.
St. Louis defensive coordinator Tim Walton runs a very Steve Spagnuolo-like zone defense and doesn’t often allow his corners to step up and play bump-and-run coverage.
This type of defense typically brings out the best in Moore, who excels at exploiting holes in zones with his sharp, crisp route running. He also has reliable hands as well as great chemistry with Brees. If the St. Louis defenders struggle to properly cover their zones, as they have all season, Moore could have a field day running short out routes and comebacks.
If these predictions appear a bit one-sided, it’s due to a strong sense of a decisive New Orleans Saints victory in St. Louis on Sunday. There’s too much on the line for Payton's club, and despite their struggles on the road this season, the Saints should get it done in convincing fashion against the Rams.