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Strength vs. strength: New Orleans Saints run defense against Los Angeles Rams rushing attack

Saints allowed 49 rushing yards in divisional playoff, Rams ran for 273 yards

Saints 20 - Eagles 14 (W) Divisional Game Michael C. Hebert

Not that the New Orleans Saints already didn't know how effectively the Rams run the football. Los Angeles was one of the NFL's top rushing teams before it entered the final few weeks of the regular season.

But coming into Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Saints (14-3) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Rams (14-3) may even have kicked it up a notch.

After finishing the regular season third in the league in rushing yards per game (139.4), the Rams tapped Dallas for 273 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries in their NFC Divisional Playoff game, a 30-22 victory. The Cowboys had the league's fifth-best run defense during the regular season, allowing 96.4 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry.

The Saints have been even better than were the Cowboys, allowing 80.2 yards per game (second in the league) and 3.6 yards per carry in the regular season, and shrinking that to 49 yards and 3.1 per carry in their 20-14, Divisional Playoff victory over Philadelphia.

But the Rams' bullying of Dallas stood out.

"I think Dallas has a good defense and to see those types of numbers, versus any team in this league, is impressive to do," Saints linebacker A.J. Klein said. "You do that to anybody, that's impressive."

Perhaps most impressive is that the Rams didn't skip a beat when All-Pro running back Todd Gurley (256 carries for 1,251 yards, and 17 touchdowns) missed the final two regular-season games with a knee injury. C.J. Anderson ran for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries as Gurley's replacement.

Anderson, a former 1,000-yard rusher for Denver in 2017, began the season with Carolina and was released after nine games, was signed and released by the Raiders without playing a game, and was picked up by the Rams on Dec. 18.

Together, they helped Los Angeles punish Dallas; Gurley ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and Anderson had 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.

In the previous matchup with the Saints, a 45-35 New Orleans victory, Gurley ran for 68 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, and the Rams totaled 92 yards on 19 carries.

Saints linebacker Demario Davis said it's easy to see why Gurley and Anderson were, and have been, productive.

"(Gurley is a) complete (back)," Davis said. "Of course a great runner, but can make plays out of backfield in the passing game. (He's) very smart, so he can do a bunch of things in the offense. Whether it is lined up in the backfield, split at number two, lined up number one, can pass protect. He's complete, he's everything that you want in a running back in this game."

Davis said Anderson also has shown the ability to be a No. 1 back.

"In L.A he is playing (as) the No. 2 back," Davis said. "He is probably a No. 1 running back on most teams. I think not too long ago, he was in the playoffs running through the league. He is used to running the ball in big moments and he is probably running with a chip on his shoulder."

It helped provide the Rams with the decisive advantage over Dallas.

"I think when you've got two dynamic running backs, you don't have to worry about when you're going to call runs," Davis said. "They can call runs all game and don't have to worry about somebody wearing down. If they're having success they could call 50, 60 runs in a game. It's our job to stop it, but they're tough and they can pose matchup problems for defenses and we've got to be locked in."

Rams Coach Sean McVay said Anderson quickly was able to acclimate to the Rams' offense.

"He has played in some systems similar before when he played under Coach (Gary) Kubiak's leadership (in Denver)," McVay said. "But I think he is just a great football player. Extremely smart player. Got a great natural feel as a runner really with a variety of different schemes.

"And then, I think guys have done a nice job around him. But he's really such a smart player, but then he's also just got a great feel for the game. Got a great feel for congested areas where he could put his foot in the ground, work edges on people and then when he gets to the second and third level, does an excellent job of a leveling runs off and falling forward so that you can stay ahead of the chains."

But Anderson's success won't cause the Rams to shy away from Gurley, who also was All-Pro last season and has recovered from his injury.

"I think you always want to make sure that you're getting our guy Todd (Gurley) his work because he's such a special player that can do so many different things," McVay said. "But I don't think it hurts at all to be able to keep him as fresh as possible, especially, just getting back last week for the first time having played in about a month.

"And I thought those two did a great job complementing each other. And certainly Todd's our guy, but I thought C.J. was a great change of pace to come in there and be able to do some really good things and hopefully we'll be able to do the same thing. But this is a great defense we're going against that is outstanding against the run."

The Saints haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Washington's Samaje Perine on Nov. 19, 2017, the 10th game of the regular season last year.

"There's a lot of factors when it comes to the defense playing well," defensive tackle Tyeler Davison said. "Executing your assignment every single play and everybody running to the ball – fanatical effort. Those are things that our defense prides itself on and at the end of the day, those are two of the most important things that you have to do in order to stop a good running team like this."

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