By Tony Softli
The Rams face another challenge Sunday against the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints, led by all-world quarterback Drew Brees. When I break down the Saints’ offense, I see a perfect offensive attack with multiple formations and positional groupings bolstered by extremely talented personnel. A great combination of talented and productive pass-catchers is headed by Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham. Also factoring heavily into the mix and giving opposing defenses fits, however, are receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and rookie Kenny Stills; running backs Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram; and all-purpose threat Darren Sproles.
Brees, a future Hall of Famer, does an exceptional job in his read progression, using motion and shifts to take advantage of the mismatches presented by opponent’s defense. He executes short-to-intermediate passes seemingly with ease, before connecting on a deep pass for the big play. The Saints’ running game is stout, as well, with production inside the tackles and off the edge. This also could be the best screen team I have watched all season. New Orleans is adept at utilizing the running backs out of the backfield with extended handoffs or checkdown routes, which crush a defense that is on its heels working to handle the back end.
Perfection within execution for this machine is key, but time of possession may represent the biggest driving force. The Saints exploit by grinding the clock, chewing up yardage and finishing drives with points. Defensively, they are a high-pressure unit with multiple blitz packages that give a base look and come from different areas. Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro is playing at a Pro Bowl level, and linebacker Curtis Lofton roams sideline to sideline.
So, do the Rams have a shot at prevailing at the Edward Jones Dome? They will face another top defense in the NFL, as orchestrated by the aggressive Rob Ryan. Offensively, they must be able to run the football effectively, with Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham creating play-action opportunities and protecting Kellen Clemens. They will need perfect execution on third down and to score points on every drive.
Defensively, St. Louis will need to control the line of scrimmage with its front four, apply pressure off the edges and squeeze the pocket from the interior; disrupt Brees’ timing and anticipation with his multiple weapons. In order to accomplish that, the home team will need to bring a fifth defender while not giving up the big play vs. the Saints’ quick-release passing attack.
Rams Injury Report
Questionable: Wide receiver Tavon Austin (ankle), guard Harvey Dahl (knee), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back), running back Daryl Richardson (thigh)
Probable: Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot)