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Rams defense prepares to face familiar Saints offense

Few people, if any, are more qualified than Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips when it comes to preparing for QB Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense.

As the then-San Diego Chargers' defensive coordinator from 2004-06, Phillips had a front row seat to the work ethic that has made Brees one of the NFL's all-time best at his position.

Thirteen years later, things are no different, as Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense heads to Los Angeles for Sunday's home-opener.

"Their offense is a top, top offense," Phillips said.

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A 510-yard performance against Houston on Monday Night Football earlier this week vaulted New Orleans to No. 2 in the NFL in total offense. Continuity played a big role in that.

The Saints return nine of their 11 offensive starters from last year's squad that met the Rams in the NFC championship. Even with a rookie starting at center following the offseason retirement of Max Unger, New Orleans allowed just one sack against a traditionally stout Texans front seven.  

Of those 11 starters, 10 were drafted in the third round or higher.

"All of them have really outplayed that draft status," Phillips said. That includes running back and former third-round pick Alvin Kamara as well as wide receiver and former second-round pick Michael Thomas.

Thomas led the NFL in receiving with a franchise-record 125 receptions for a team-record 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns, the fifth-highest catch total in NFL record books. In late July, the Saints rewarded him with a five-year contract extension that, at the time, reportedly made him the highest-paid wide receiver in the league.

Meanwhile, Kamara's career-high 18 total touchdowns tied a franchise record and ranked second in the NFL behind Rams RB Todd Gurley II's 21 in 2018. In his second season, he led the Saints in rushing with 194 carries for 883 yards (4.6 avg.) with 14 touchdowns and finished second on the team in receiving with 82 grabs for 692 yards and four touchdowns. He had a team-high 11 receptions for 96 yards against Los Angeles in the NFC championship.

The Rams faced a running back with similar abilities in Week 1 in Carolina's Christian McCaffrey, who collected more than 200 yards from scrimmage in a 30-27 Los Angeles win.

"Just try to bottle them up, try to find ways to not let them get too many open routes when he's getting out of the backfield," DT Aaron Donald said of the approach for those types of running backs. "Try to bottle him up in the run game so he doesn't get too many creases. It's a challenge, but we've got a gameplan for it."

Sunday will be the eighth time Phillips has coached against Brees since the two departed San Diego after the 2006 season. The Saints' offense starts with the even-keeled play of Brees, but as Phillips pointed out, the Saints have playmakers all throughout their offense.

"Their operation is as impressive as what you'll see, too, in terms of the different personnel groupings, the way that they stress you," Rams head coach Sean McVay said. "They understand exactly what they're doing and that's why they've been at the top of the league, really, since (Saints Head Coach) Sean (Payton) and Drew have been there for the last handful of years."

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