Beat Rams, and Saints are in playoffs
Saturday, December 14, 2013
ST. LOUIS (AP) — One team has double-digit wins, needs one more to clinch a playoff spot and is among the league's best on both sides of the ball.
The opponent is wrapping up a mostly dreary decade without finishing above .500.
Still, overconfidence should not be a problem for the Saints. Not after what happened the last time they stopped in St. Louis.
Two years ago, New Orleans finished 13-3. The Rams, winless and among the league's worst in all relevant categories, beat them as two-touchdown underdogs in Week 8.
"Last time we went, we got whooped, no bones about it," quarterback Drew Brees said. "And we all remember that, the guys that were here, and we know it's going to take a much better performance on our part this time around in order to get a win."
The Saints (10-3) are sixth in both total offense and defense. They regained the division lead last week by getting four touchdown passes from Brees and sacking Cam Newton five times in a 31-13 victory over Carolina.
Brees became the fastest to 50,000 yards passing in NFL history last week, reaching the milestone in 183 games, and he leads the NFC in yards and TDs this year. Chances of another defensive shutdown Sunday appear promising given the Rams (5-8) have totaled 23 points the last two weeks, and are playing out the string.
The Rams have injury woes on the offensive line and in the secondary, and they have one of the lesser-known quarterbacks. Kellen Clemens makes his seventh stand-in start since Sam Bradford was lost for the season with a torn left ACL.
"You don't want to go out feeling sorry for yourself, putting bad film out," defensive end Robert Quinn said.
Five things to watch for in Saints-Rams:
KEEP PASSING: Brees ranks among the NFL's best ever, and he's on top of his game. "I don't plan on stopping anytime soon," Brees said. Tight end Jimmy Graham leads the NFL with 14 touchdowns, deserving of double-teaming, and there are plenty of other options. The St. Louis secondary is thin and vulnerable, especially at safety with rookie T.J. McDonald rusty from a long injury layoff. Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are promising second-year players but learning on the job, and the Saints lead the NFL in third-down efficiency. "Drew's going to put them in the best situation possible on every play," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.
PRESSURING BREES: The pass rush led by end Quinn's NFC-leading 13 sacks, has been a key to the Rams' defensive successes. They got foiled last week by the Cardinals' quick-hitting strategy with Carson Palmer and will attempt to disrupt routes. "We'll try to get after him a little bit," rookie outside linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "We'll try to get in his face."
RYAN'S MOVE: Before landing in New Orleans shortly after coach Sean Payton was reinstated, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had an extended interview in St. Louis that lasted nearly a week. Fisher ended up hiring Tim Walton and minimized the Ryan visit this week, saying Ryan "made a commitment to us but he didn't sign a contract or anything."
Payton didn't pass up a chance at praising Ryan. "I didn't know him really at all prior to this past spring, and he's been a big addition for us, and has really brought that level of excitement back for our players on defense," Payton said. Edge rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette have combined for 20 sacks, and Galette had three against the Panthers.
ROAD WOES: The Saints have demonstrated a sharp disparity in performance at home and on the road, regardless of conditions or even if they're visiting another dome, as they will this week. New Orleans is 7-0 at home, including five games in which its margins of victory ranged from 18 to 32 points. The Saints are 3-3 on the road, with victory margins of eight, four and two. New Orleans is averaging 32.9 points at home and 18.8 points on the road. The last venture out of town was a 34-7 loss in Seattle two weeks ago.
The Rams are 3-3 at home, and among the few goals still attainable is a winning record at the Edward Jones Dome. "We had all kinds of things on our list," Fisher said. St. Louis put away the Bears 42-21 the last time at home before the largest crowd of the season, but it was least 50 percent Chicago partisans.
RUNNING GAME: Zac Stacy has been a fifth-round find for the Rams and is 10th in the NFC with 721 yards rushing to go with a 4.1-yard average and five touchdowns. He was held to 25 yards on 14 carries last week at Arizona, prompting speculation word is finally out on the kid. More and more, teams are daring Clemens to pass and loading up against the run. Clemens is no Bradford, but the St. Louis pass catchers have been very inconsistent, too.
"Like each and every week, it's going to come down to execution," Stacy said. "We play in one of the tougher divisions in the NFL. We'll just try and get this thing going."
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