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New Orleans Saints key ingredients to victory against Los Angeles Rams | 2023 NFL Week 16

Another good run-stopping effort will be critical

Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the New York Giants in Week 15 of the 2023 NFL season.
Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the New York Giants in Week 15 of the 2023 NFL season.

Clearly, the New Orleans Saints searched for and found several things that worked in the last two games, victories over Carolina and the New York Giants. The task will be taller for New Orleans (7-7) on Thursday night, against the Rams (7-7) at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

Here are a few ways in which New Orleans can continue its momentum and win its third consecutive game:

1. DUCK DONALD: If New Orleans is going to have any kind of offensive success, it's going to have to contain Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time All-Pro. The Saints’ offensive line has been a strength for the last three games, during which the offense has averaged 24 points and totaled 10 touchdowns, including touchdowns on nine of 10 trips in the red zone. Donald has six sacks this season, and he's as disruptive as any defender New Orleans will face. The Saints were able to do enough last year in a 27-20 victory, though Donald had two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. The interior linemen (left guard James Hurst, center Erik McCoy and right guard Cesar Ruiz) need a peak performance to contain him again.

2. KEEP SIZZLING: The red zone efficiency needs to continue. Two things to note: The touchdowns almost have been evenly split in the red zone over the previous three games (five passing, four rushing) and the run game has been a catalyst as the offensive line and backs have imposed their will on opponents. Quarterback Derek Carr actually threw another touchdown just outside the red zone, a 23-yarder to tight end Juwan Johnson, so he and the receiving corps appear to have found a stride in the tight windows. Jimmy Graham's presence has been monumental.

3. ROLL WITH IT: Carr is healthy and coming off his best game as a Saint – 23 for 28 for 218 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. It was the kind of performance that made him want to get back on the field as soon as possible, and Thursday is as soon as possible. Carr hasn't had a full complement of offensive weapons for a while, but New Orleans might welcome back receiver Chris Olave this week, after he missed Sunday's game nursing an ankle injury. Having Olave on the field with Rashid Shaheed would open up things a bit more offensively for New Orleans, but it's also notable that 10 receivers combined for the 23 catches against New York.

4. BACK ON TRACK? It's probably premature to declare the Saints' run defense fixed after holding the Giants to 60 yards on 16 carries, but it was a more-than-welcome sight to see after eight consecutive opponents had rushed for at least 113 yards. It needs to be some replica of that Thursday, because the Rams' Kyren Williams has rushed for 953 yards (fourth-most in the league) and eight touchdowns on 186 carries in just 10 games, including 655 yards in the last five games (131 per game). Saints linebacker Demario Davis almost single-handedly took New York's Saquon Barkley (nine carries for 14 yards) out of Sunday's game. Davis will have to be that guy again against the downhill-running Williams.

5. MEET AT THE QUARTERBACK: Here's the good thing about New Orleans' defense facing Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford: He's not as mobile as most quarterbacks they've seen this season, so there's a good idea of where he'll be when he drops back. Here's the bad: Stafford gets rid of it quickly, and has one of the best arms in the league. He has completed 278 of 453 passes for 3,320 yards and 21 touchdowns, with nine interceptions. But he has been sacked 25 times and the Saints, who've totaled 11 sacks in the last two games, hope to have found a groove. Davis (6.5 sacks) and defensive end Carl Granderson (7.5) have gotten to the quarterback most often, but a push up the middle from Bryan Bresee and Tanoh Kpassagnon (3.5 sacks each), to generate pressure in Stafford's face, will be critical.


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