A highly anticipated matchup between the NFC’s elite did not disappoint. The Saints came in with a six-game win streak and extended it to seven, outgunning the Rams 45-35 to hand Los Angeles its first loss of the season.
Here are three things we learned in this game.
1.) The Saints’ defense is underrated
The Saints and Rams' offenses drew much of the attention entering this game given the units' video-game-like explosiveness, elite-level passers and big-play running backs and receivers. But the Saints won Sunday's game over the Rams thanks in large part to their defense.
New Orleans' unit entered the game ranked in middle-of-the-pack in several categories, and it appeared to be particularly vulnerable to the pass. But the Saints’ defenders delivered huge stands for their team late in the first half and again with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Three strong stands in the second quarter led to a turnover on downs and an interception. New Orleans’ offense then cashed those possessions in and notched three straight touchdowns, which gave them a 35-17 halftime lead.
The Rams did come back in the second half and tied the score 35-35 with nine minutes left. But that’s when the Saints buckled back down on defense and held the Rams’ scoreless the remainder of the game thanks largely to key pass breakups and quarterback pressures. In contrast, the Rams’ defense did well in the third quarter but then wilted in the fourth. The group struggled on third downs for much of the game and failed to deliver much-needed stops.
2. The Rams miss Aqib Talib
The Rams have invested heavily in their defense, but it’s evident that the absence of No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib, who is still rehabbing from ankle surgery, is no small thing. Marcus Peters did well in the first two games of the season, but he has struggled while having to fill that top role. On Sunday night, he had one of his worst games as Michael Thomas hauled in 12 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown on 15 targets. Thomas’ biggest play came when he torched Peters for a 72-yard touchdown pass that put the Saints up 44-35 with 3:42 left in the game.
Los Angeles' pass rushers didn’t generate as much pressure as they would have liked, but they didn’t have much help from the secondary in preventing Brees from making quick throws. The Rams haven’t revealed a return date for Talib, but they hope to get him back late in the season. His healthy return will be crucial, particularly in the playoffs given the strong possibility they will see the Saints again.
3. The Saints are the most complete team
The Rams have the more star-studded defense, but it’s clear that the Saints are the most complete team in the NFC. Sean Payton and Sean McVay share a mutual admiration for each other and often study each other's film and game plans in hopes of learning something that will help their own offenses operate better. Payton and McVay both delivered electrifying performances as play-callers, but it was the Saints leader who got the best of the younger coach this time.
Give the Saints’ offensive line much credit: Not only did they pave the way for a strong rushing attack, but they didn’t surrender a sack to a vaunted Los Angeles front. And despite MVP candidate Todd Gurley's obvious value, New Orleans had the edge at running back due to the versatility they have with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. And although the Saints’ defense still has had its share of struggles, it has stepped up in key stretches.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
Source: Read Full Article