Saints vs. Rams: Takeaways from St. Louis' 27-16 Win Over New Orleans
The Rams got rolling early with three first-quarter takeaways and a 24-3 halftime lead.
The St. Louis offense was greatly limited in the second half, but the deficit was too great for New Orleans to make a comeback, even with two fourth-quarter scores and a successful onside kick.
For now, here are my takeaways from the game.
Turnovers Have Been Vital for Rams in 2013
Turnovers have determined the outcome of every Rams game this season, and the Saints game was no exception.
The Rams are undefeated this season when they win the turnover battle.
Obviously, there are other factors that determine the outcome of a game, but the early turnovers clearly gave St. Louis an edge.
Two Drew Brees interceptions in the first quarter set up Rams touchdowns, and a successful onside kick resulted in a field goal and gave St. Louis an early 17-0 lead.
Three turnovers, three scores. The result was a sizable lead that few teams can overcome.
Sweet, Sweet Revenge
Prior to the game against New Orleans, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch released a piece outlining Rob Ryan’s decision to bail on St. Louis and sign with the Saints.
“Well, he made a commitment to us, but he didn’t sign a contract or anything,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Wednesday. “But he made a commitment to us.”
Like a high school football star making an oral commitment to one college, then signing elsewhere, Ryan changed his mind on the Rams. Less than two weeks later, he joined Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans, Sunday’s opponent at 3:25 p.m. in the Edward Jones Dome.
Apparently, Ryan felt New Orleans gave him the best chance to succeed. With Drew Brees at the helm, that may be true, but this game made it clear that St. Louis has a bigger war chest on defense. Ryan gave up a great opportunity to work with a special group of players.
Ryan may experience some immediate success in New Orleans, but this young St. Louis defense will ultimately develop into a dominant unit, and Ryan gave up a chance to take credit for it.
Good Coverage Makes All the Difference with This Defensive Front
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently produced a solid piece outlining St. Louis’ struggles in the secondary.
The opponents' passer rate of 97.2 against the 2013 Rams is the 34th highest (as in “worst” ) against an NFL defense in league history.
That 97.2 passer rating is also the highest (worst) allowed in franchise history, going back to the Cleveland Rams days.
The Rams' average of giving up 8.36 passing yards per attempt is tied for the 41st highest (worst) in league history.
This issue has been particularly frustrating for the Rams because the team possesses such a stout pass rush. Just a few extra seconds of solid coverage would surely result in more sacks and fewer completions.
The Rams basically wasted one of the best pass rushes in all of football this season thanks to poor coverage.
Against New Orleans, however, we saw tighter coverage. As a result, the defensive front was on fire.
Heavy pressure by Robert Quinn forced Brees’ first pick of the game. The defense went on to record four total sacks, and Brees was feeling the heat all afternoon.
If St. Louis can improve its secondary this offseason, we may see a top-10 unit in 2014.
Trumaine Johnson Is on the Rise
Prior to Week 1, most Rams fans knew a certain second-year corner would take the next step in 2013.
Most thought that player would be Janoris Jenkins, but former third-round pick Trumaine Johnson is the one stepping up this season.
Cortland Finnegan and Jenkins have both struggled at times this season, and Johnson has surprisingly been the most consistent corner this season.
Johnson grabbed a key pick in the first quarter to help give the Rams an early lead. Overall, Johnson has three interceptions with 60 tackles this season.
Assuming Jenkins can rebound a year from now, the Rams will have two solid starters at corner for years to come.
Zac Stacy Showing Resilience
In the NFL, it’s difficult for players not to lose focus after a few tough games, especially for the rookies.
Before his solid outing against New Orleans, rookie running back Zac Stacy was held under four yards a carry in three of his last four games. In Week 14 at Arizona, Stacy had his worst NFL start after picking up just 25 rushing yards with a 1.8 yards-per-carry average.
Instead of packing it in mentally and giving up, Stacy overcame his struggles and produced a monster game.
Stacy picked up 106 rushing yards and a score in the first half. He finished with 143 total yards.
Stacy is making it perfectly clear that the Rams are not in the market for a new running back this offseason. He’s their guy.
Robert Quinn Has to Be in Discussion for Defensive Player of the Year
Robert Quinn not only had a solid outing against New Orleans, he single-handedly turned Brees’ afternoon into a nightmare.
Quinn’s constant pressure made a dominant New Orleans aerial attack look mediocre. He forced a Brees fumble and came up with the recovery. He finished with two sacks.
Quinn’s ability to create havoc and shut down an elite offense helps his case for Defensive Player of the Year.
Rams Are Close to Competing
The 2013 Rams are typically viewed as a disappointment, and that’s hard to debate, considering the team was expected to compete for a spot in the playoffs this year.
In the recent past, a down year for the Rams typically meant between one and three wins (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011). Now, apparently six wins is a disaster year.
Just a few years ago, seven wins was considered a rebound year for the Rams (2010, 2012). So what will a rebound year look like with this new set of standards? Will it be 10 or 12 wins?
The point is, the bar has been raised in St. Louis, regardless of the disappointing 2013 results. This team is no longer a bottom-feeder.
Basement-dwelling teams don’t win games by lopsided scores multiple times in a season. They don’t beat playoff-caliber teams on the road (Indianapolis Colts) and they certainly don’t knock off the Saints in a dome.
The Rams have been disappointing this season, but at least certain games have made it clear that St. Louis’ problems are youth and inconsistency—not talent.
Keep Clemens Under Center
As you might recall, I posted an article last week stating that the Rams should bench Kellen Clemens in order to see what they have in second-year passer Austin Davis.
It would certainly be advantageous to see what Davis can do, but St. Louis’ outstanding performance against New Orleans changes everything.
The Rams are no longer playing for a spot in the playoffs, but they still have a chance to do something special—avoid a losing season.
Moral victories mean little in the NFL and some would prefer the Rams to tank the last two games for a better draft pick, but the Rams have had six consecutive losing seasons. Snapping that streak would be the ultimate moral victory for this team and the fans.
It’s a long shot, as beating Seattle on the road in Week 17 is a tall order. But there’s still a chance at an 8-8 record, and Clemens gives St. Louis its best shot at accomplishing that.
It’s time to keep Clemens under center and for the Rams to give it their all for two more weeks.