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Saints vs. Rams: Five things to watch

Posted Dec 14, 2013

Five things to watch in the New Orleans Saints vs St. Louis Rams game

1. PUMP THE BRAKES: The last time the New Orleans Saints played in St. Louis, during the 2011 season, the Rams entered the game 0-6 and the Saints were 5-2. In the words of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the Rams “beat the brakes” off the Saints, 31-21. This year, the Rams enter the game 5-8 and the Saints are 10-3. This may be more than the normal spoiler alert because the Rams have split their last four games against the Saints and whether St. Louis chooses to admit it, it has given the indication in the past that it believes it can physically overmatch New Orleans. This isn’t a must-win game for the Saints, but it’ll be a nice buffer to have when they travel to Charlotte, N.C., next week to play Carolina. Expect the Saints to play with some urgency. They want to get this road win.

2. ESTABLISHING A NAME: Though the Rams have pass rushers who are more heralded and better known in Robert Quinn (13 sacks) and Chris Long (6.5), the NFL community is beginning to pay much more attention to Saints sack-masters Cam Jordan (11.5) and Junior Galette (9). New Orleans is tied for second in the league in sacks with 43, one behind league leader Buffalo. And while St. Louis (tied for seventh with 38) is no slouch, it’s undeniable that the Saints have been extremely effective with their pressure. Last week, New Orleans hemmed in Carolina’s agile Cam Newton for five sacks, three by Galette and two by Jordan. Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens (sacked 18 times in 190 pass attempts) should be an inviting target for Jordan, Galette and Co.

3. BALANCING ACT: New Orleans has been a tad unbalanced offensively the last two games, with 17 rushing attempts against both Seattle and Carolina. Each instance was understandable; the Saints got behind early in Seattle and needed to throw, and the passing game was working so well against the Panthers that there wasn’t much reason to run. But the renewed emphasis on running the ball this season could be updated this week against the Rams, who allow 108.8 rushing yards per game. On the road, especially, the Saints have shown that they’re a better team when they’re a balanced team and if they’re balanced, that probably is an indication that they’re leading. That’s all good. So it’d be a surprise if the Saints averaged a pass-run ratio of 40-17, as they have the past two games. It’ll help if they get off to a fast start.

4. AND SPEAKING OF FAST STARTS: The last three opponents – Atlanta, Seattle and Carolina – have scored first against the Saints. The Seahawks and Panthers led after a quarter, and the Seahawks took it the distance. Starting isn’t a necessity (they Saints are 5-3 in games the opponent has scored first), but it certainly seems to help when the Saints score first on the road (they’re 1-3 on the road when opponents score first). Taking a quick lead grabs the momentum, helps shut down the home crowd and, hopefully, leads to the Saints getting out of a town with a business-like win. New Orleans won’t want to give St. Louis and its fans anything to clamor about.

5. SHHHHH: The Rams' secondary can be a chatty group, specifically cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety T.J. McDonald. But that secondary has been part of a pass defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.5 percent of their passes, for 3,477 yards and 19 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. So whatever it is that they’ve been saying, it hasn’t worked for the most part, and neither has squatting on routes. Still, that isn’t likely going to stop them from trying to get inside the heads of Saints receivers. Don’t expect it to intimidate Saints receivers, but look for the Rams to be talkative.

6. FINDING A GROOVE: I said five, but here’s a little lagniappe. Rams rookie receiver Tavon Austin (listed questionable Friday) is a major threat to the Saints, and anyone else nowadays. The rookie seems to have found his groove – nine receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns, plus four carries for 135 yards and a touchdown, in the last four games. Mix in the fact that he also is the primary punt (33 for 280 and a touchdown) and kickoff (18 for 398) returner, and the sum is that he’s a fast, dangerous option. Emphasis on fast. So the Saints will have to know where he is at all times.

New Orleans Saints

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