Keys to the Game: New Orleans

Posted Dec 13, 2013

The 5-8 Rams host New Orleans this weekend for the first time since defeating the Saints 31-21 in 2011. Here are three keys to observe during Sunday’s game.

Establishing the Run

As the Rams’ running game has performed this year, so has the rest of the offensive unit. In the five games in which the Rams have rushed for 120 or more yards, they have averaged 28.8 points. In their other eight games, they’ve been limited to just 18.1 points per contest. For the first time since taking over as the team’s lead back, RB Zac Stacy was held to fewer than 50 yards against Arizona last week, finishing with 25 rushing yards on 14 carries. While New Orleans’ defense ranks sixth overall, they are a relatively pedestrian 16th against the run, and have allowed their opponents 127 and 128 yards, respectively, over the past two weeks.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer emphasized the need to find running room this week at his weekly press conference.

“I think the big thing is teams are gearing up to stop it,” Schottenheimer said. “I think there are some things that we need to do just from an execution standpoint, some of our double teams and stuff. We’ve been getting split a little bit. I think the big thing is just preach the fundamentals, our takeoff, getting guys kind of coming off together, getting our fits together in the run game. There are some things I think that (RB) Zac (Stacy) can do, in terms of pressing the ball, making sure he makes the decision late at the line of scrimmage. Again, teams know they want to try to make us one-dimensional. I think this should be a good week where we can try to get back to running the ball. And again, it’s going to ultimately come down to our execution and our ability to work on some of those finer details.”

Containing Jimmy Graham

New Orleans possesses no shortage of offensive weapons, particularly in the passing game, but perhaps no player looms larger in the Saints’ offense than Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham. With three games yet to play, Graham has caught a team-high 74 passes for 1,046 yards. His 14 touchdown receptions are the most in the NFL. Tasked with containing Graham this week could be LB Alec Ogletree or S T. J. McDonald, if not the combination of both at times.

“He can do it all,” Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar said of Graham. “He’s strong, he’s athletic, he catches the ball at its highest point. He’s dangerous and one of the main reasons they’re successful.”

Starting Early

Perhaps no statistic has been more telling regarding the Rams’ success on a given week than their performance in the first half. In each of their five victories this year, the Rams have been either tied or leading at the half. That figure becomes further magnified against New Orleans, who has also relied heavily on starting quickly. The Saints are 0-3 when beginning the second half with a deficit.