Beyond The Mic: My 3 Biggest Concerns For The Saints vs the Rams
One win away from Super Bowl XLIII in Atlanta.
The only thing that stands in the New Orleans Saints way is the Los Angeles Rams, who come to NOLA this Sunday for a showdown between two squads that finished with the best record in the league.
Am I nervous? Hell yeah I'm nervous.
I expect the game to go down to the wire, which won't be healthy for my heart.
My three biggest concerns (some would just call it keys) are as follows.
1. The Saints rush defense without Sheldon Rankins versus the Rams rushing attack of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson.
Rankins has been a monster this year for New Orleans. As a defensive tackle, what sets him apart is his ability to get a huge push at the line, while also pressuring the quarterback AND stopping opposing runners. He didn't have to sacrifice one to fuel the other.
Tyeler Davison, David Onyemata, undrafted rookie Taylor Stallworth and newly signed Tyrunn Walker will all be counted on to fill the void. None of them are Sheldon Rankins.
While Gurley isn't dominating the way he was earlier in the season, he's still doing impressive work, rushing for 115 yards on only 16 carries last week. Anderson, who likely checks in at over 270 on the scale these days, looked like Ron Dayne at Wisconsin last week, scorching the Cowboys defense for 123 yards.
If the Saints 2nd ranked run defense keeps the Rams runners in check, L.A. quarterback Jared Goff will be forced to be the difference maker, something New Orleans would gladly accept.
2. Saints left guard Andrus Peat and his broken hand blocking Rams unanimous All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Peat broke his hand in week 17 against the Panthers, underwent surgery, and played last week with a club of tape over his right hand. Two false starts, two holding penalties and a number of failed blocking attempts against the Eagles plagued Peat last Sunday, as the injury clearly had a significant impact.
Sunday, his main assignment will be to slow down the best defensive player on the planet. Donald finished the season with 20.5 sacks. Drew Brees was only sacked 17 times all season.
Imagine playing in an elite Street Fighter V tournament and you don't have the ability to use one of your index fingers on the PS4 remote.
My anxiety is heating up just thinking about it.
3. The fast start.
Last week, the Saints dominated the Eagles for 3 quarters. The game went down to the wire because of the awful start by New Orleans, where the Eagles took advantage to the tune of an early 14-0 lead.
If the Saints have a similar start Sunday, they'll lose.
Conversely, if New Orleans grabs an early double-digit lead, the pressure on Goff to make a play grows with each ticking second of the game clock, as 75,000+ in the Who Dat nation attempt to break the decibel record in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Los Angeles has an ability to erase deficits, as evidenced by their week 9 loss to the Saints when they were down 21 before tying the game with 9:48 left in the 4th quarter. In the end, New Orleans still walked out with a 10 point win, and Michael Thomas called the league to remind them who the best receiver in the game is.
The Rams offense and defense are both built to maintain leads better than erasing deficits.
L.A. has talented players, but a number of risk takers. How much does a risk taker gamble when his team desperately needs a play to get back in the game versus playing with a sizable lead against an opponent on their heels?
It's imperative the Saints come out the gate the way they played quarters 2 through 4 against Philly. Any duplication of quarter 1 last week will spell doom.