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John DeShazier's key ingredients to a Saints victory presented by Papa John's

Posted Nov 24, 2017

Keeping the run game rolling will be important

As the New Orleans Saints attempt to extend one of the most impressive regular-season winning streaks in franchise history – the current eight-game run is tied for the third-longest regular-season winning streak, bested by the 13-game streak in 2009, a nine-game streak in 1987 and a nine-game run that crossed over the ’90 and ’91 seasons – it’s notable that they have been victorious in several ways. Also noticeable is the level of confidence that is brewing within the Saints’ locker room; not arrogance, but a belief that the team is good enough to win anywhere, and by any means. That will be put to the test in Sunday’s game against the NFC West Division-leading Rams (7-3) at L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Here are a few keys that might help the team be successful.

1. During the eight-game winning streak, the Saints are averaging an NFL-best 162.4 rushing yards per game, and Mark Ingram has been an absolute beast, averaging 106 yards on 19 carries (5.6 yards per carry) in the last six games, with eight touchdowns. The numbers say that the Rams are a team that the Saints should want to run against; L.A. allows 123.3 rushing yards per game, and 4.5 yards per carry. Behind Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara (459 rushing yards and four touchdowns this season, averaging a whopping 6.4 yards per carry), the Saints haven’t been bashful about running the ball this season. No reason to be shy Sunday, either.

2. The explosiveness of New Orleans’ passing game reared its head in Sunday’s 34-31, overtime victory over Washington. Specifically, on the Saints’ two touchdown drives during a four-minute, 53-second blitz in the fourth quarter to erase a 31-16 deficit, the Saints had scoring drives of eight plays, 75 yards and four plays, 87 yards. Drew Brees completed all 11 pass attempts, threw both touchdowns and passed for all but three of the yards on the two drives. The Saints haven’t often needed Brees to be “that” guy this season, but he still very much is capable of producing a big day when they need it. The Rams have wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks; L.A. has 28 sacks, 12 interceptions, and allows just 58.9 percent of passes to be completed and 6.8 yards per attempt. And defensive tackle Aaron Donald (five sacks, three forced fumbles, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and 34 tackles) has been among the best, if not the best, at his position. But the Rams came after Brees last season and were shredded (28 of 36 for 310 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions). He was sacked twice, but the tradeoff was worth it.

3. Rams quarterback Jared Goff (195 of 318 for 2,610 yards and 16 touchdowns, with four interceptions) is among the most improved players in the league. He’s a major reason that the Rams, at 7-3, already have equaled their most wins in a season since the team went 8-8 in 2006. He’s not the indecisive player that he was last year as a rookie, and he’ll be staring at a banged up secondary for the Saints. New Orleans likely will be without both starting cornerbacks (rookie shutdown corner Marshon Lattimore and much-improved Ken Crawley are out with ankle and abdomen injuries, respectively). Also, the Saints will be minus their second-most productive pass rusher (Alex Okafor, 4.5 sacks, out for the season with a torn Achilles). The onus in the secondary will fall on P.J. Williams, DeVante Harris and Sterling Moore at cornerback (Moore was re-signed this week) and up front, expect to see more of Trey Hendrickson and Hau’oli Kikaha on the defensive line. Help does arrive in the form of safety Kenny Vaccaro, who returns after missing the last two games with a groin injury. Vaccaro’s multiple uses defensively will be a huge bonus.

4. Forget last season’s numbers: Todd Gurley is back. The third-year running back has 791 yards and eight touchdowns on 187 carries, and 425 yards and three touchdowns receiving. He makes it difficult to force the Rams to be one-dimensional, but the Saints are going to have to “population” him and minimize the damage he causes.

5. Saints kicker Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead, and the kick- and punt-cover teams, will play significant roles. Rams receiver Pharoh Cooper is a dangerous man with a football in his hands; he leads the league with 603 yards on 20 kick returns (30.2 per return) and has a 103-yard touchdown, and also has returned 14 punts for a 10.4-yard average. He only has had three fair catches on punts and he’ll return any kickoff that’s not out of the end zone. If Lutz’s kickoffs are out of the end zone, that will be one way to neutralize the threat. Morstead’s hang time and directional punts will be key, too. But when Cooper does has the ball, the Saints have to be disciplined in their lanes because Cooper and his blockers can pop a big one any time.