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Rams to Face Saints in Matchup of Division Leaders

Posted Nov 24, 2017

The Rams are set to host the New Orleans Saints in Week 12 of the regular season.

The Rams are in the middle of what some are calling the toughest stretch of their season. After taking on the leaders of the NFC North in Minnesota, the club will host one of the hottest teams in the NFL — the 8-2 Saints.

New Orleans has won eight straight coming into Week 12. L.A. will be looking to bounce back after its first loss in over a month. The Saints are playing some of their best football since 2010 — the year they took home their first Super Bowl championship — while the Rams have made one of the best year-to-year turnarounds in the league.

And while the Rams own a 40-33 advantage over the Saints throughout series history — winning two of their past three meetings — Sunday’s contest will not only mark one of L.A’s most difficult this year, but it is also set to be one of the top NFC matchups of the regular season.

“There’s a variety of playmakers [and] they do such a great job of making people defend the width and depth of the field,” head coach Sean McVay said of the Saints. “They’re a nightmare to prepare for and it’s why they’re one of the best in the league. It shows very quickly.”

“We understand the challenges that are coming up ahead of us,” Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees said. “They’re fighting for the exact same things that we are fighting for and they have had a phenomenal season thus far. We know it’s going to be an extremely tough matchup.”

Both teams are averaging more than 30 points per game and both defenses are giving up fewer than 20. Sunday’s contest is only the fourth time since the 1970 merger that two teams averaging 30-plus points per game will meet in Week 12 or later, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.

But in Week 12, all eyes will be on the L.A. offense, looking to see how the unit responds to an uncharacteristically poor offensive output in Week 11. 

“We put that one behind us,” right guard Jamon Brown said. “It’s also fuel for this weekend [because] as coaches say, ‘A loss is not a loss, it’s a lesson.’”

For quarterback Jared Goff, Sunday’s contest will also mark a redemption game of sorts. The Cal product received his first road start against the Saints last season and threw his first three career touchdown passes, but ultimately came up short as L.A. fell 49-21.

“I remember it being a shoot out for a minute and then they kind of pulled away,” Goff said. “But they have different players back there, especially in their secondary. They’ve got different guys and so it’s definitely going to be a challenge for sure.”

Unfortunately for the signal-caller, this week Goff will be without the team’s most productive wide receiver Robert Woods. Woods leads the team with four touchdowns and 703 yards. But after injuring his left shoulder in last week’s game, he is expected to be out for the next couple of weeks.

Los Angeles, however, does have a lot of depth in the receiving room. McVay says the offense will require “a by-committee approach” to replace Woods, offering a chance for some of the team’s other receivers — Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Pharoh Cooper, Tavon Austin, Josh Reynolds, and Mike Thomas — to step up.

“It’s going to be next-man-up mentality,” Cooper said. “Everybody, whoever’s name is called, we’re going to be ready to go and try to fill that role that Robert had on this offense.”

The Saints’ will be without both of their top cornerbacks, Ken Crawley and Marshon Lattimore. The rookie out of Ohio State has been an important piece of the New Orleans secondary and is a potential rookie of the year candidate, recording 36 tackles, one forced fumble, and two interceptions — one returned for a touchdown.

But the unit will get a boost from safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebacker A.J. Klein who are expected to play on Sunday.

“[In the] last couple years they’ve struggled a little bit, but this year they’re doing a fantastic job,” offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said. “Really holding the offenses down, and they’ve got a lot of good and a lot of new defenders.”

On defense, the Rams will face a tall task in containing Brees — a 17-year veteran and expected future Hall of Famer — who has completed 76.1 percent of his passes for 2,783 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017. At 38-years old, Brees has been in the league longer than any Rams’ player, and warrants a lot of respect from members of the L.A. defense.

“I remember watching him with the Chargers. He’s a great quarterback, a first ballot Hall of Famer, we all know that,” cornerback John Johnson III, the Rams’ youngest starter, said of Brees. “If you can play with guys like him you can play with anybody. It will be a test, but we’re ready for it.

Under head coach Sean Payton, the Saints have also developed a formidable, two-pronged ground attack featuring Mark Ingram (806 yards rushing, eight touchdowns) and Alvin Kamara (459 yards rushing, four touchdowns). The running backs are averaging a combined 4.8 yards per carry — tied for the best NFL average — while the Rams run defense is giving up 4.5 yards per carry, putting them among the bottom five in the league.

“To start with, you have Drew Brees and he’s one of the best doing it,” linebacker Mark Barron said. “And then on top of that, you have the running backs and they are playing really well right now.”

Suffice to say, this week will pose a tough challenge for the Rams defense, albeit one they are eager to take on.

“We’ve been up and down on the run obviously, but you can see a lot of teams are that way.” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “So, we can play good run defense and I think we will. We’re playing at home against a really good offensive team, so that’s going to be challenge. But it’s week-to-week on trying to improve in every area.”

The Week 12 contest will kickoff at 1:25 p.m on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. For more information on how to watch, click here.