The New Orleans Saints are heading to Los Angeles to face off against the Rams — the team that controversially bested them in the NFC Championship game last year.
This game will be the fourth time the two teams have played one another in the past three seasons, with the Rams holding the ledger, 2-1.
A look at all the Saints and Rams’ position groups, the intangibles and who has the edge:
It’s 12-time Pro Bowler Drew Brees vs. 2-time Pro Bowler Jared Goff.
Last week, the 40-year-old Brees completed 74.4 percent of his passes and threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns with a 105.8 quarterback rating against the Houston Texans. The 24-year-old Goff completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for 186 yards with one touchdown on a 69.0 quarterback rating in the Rams’ win over the Carolina Panthers.
In 2018, Brees threw for 3,992 passing yards and 32 touchdowns with a league-leading 74.4 completion percentage. In total, Brees’ quarterback rating last year was a league-leading 115.7. Also last season, Goff threw for 4,688 yards passing and 32 touchdowns on a 68.8 completion percentage. His passing yardage was good enough for fourth in the league.
Edge goes to New Orleans.
The backups: New Orleans’ Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill. Houston’s AJ McCarron. Los Angeles’ Blake Bortles.
The talent of Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk and rookie Erik McCoy stood out last week. They only allowed one sack and three tackles for loss. Additionally, Ramczyk won the battle in the trenches with Houston’s defensive sensation J.J. Watt, limiting Watt to zero stats for the first time in his career. Because of their success, Pro Football Focus graded the unit as its Offensive Line of the Week.
That’s carrying over from last season, as New Orleans quarterbacks were only sacked 20 times last season, the second-lowest number in the league.
Los Angeles’ Andrew Whitworth, Austin Blythe and Rob Havenstein all started every game last season, while left guard Joe Noteboom and center Brian Allen played in reserve roles as rookies. They were elevated to the starting lineup in Week 1 after the Rams didn’t exercise the option on center John Sullivan and left guard Rodger Saffold signed a 4-year deal with the Tennessee Titans.
Goff was sacked once last week and the Panthers defense came up with four tackles for loss.
The edge goes to New Orleans.
The backups: New Orleans’ Nick Easton, Will Clapp, Patrick Omameh, rookie Ethan Greenidge. Los Angeles’ Jamil Demby, Coleman Shelton, rookies David Edwards, Bobby Evans.
The Saints start two-time All-Pro, do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara, while the Rams have two-time All-Pro and former offensive MVP and offensive rookie of the year Todd Gurley in their backfield.
Last week, Kamara had 97 yards rushing on 13 carries and 72 yards receiving on seven receptions. Gurley, strangely enough, also had 97 yards rushing last week on 14 carries. Gurley isn’t used as much in the passing game, hauling in one reception for four yards.
In 2018, Gurley led the league in rushing touchdowns with 17 and in total touchdowns with 21. He was fourth league-wide in yards from scrimmage with 1,831, too.
Comparatively, Kamara was right behind Gurley in rushing touchdowns with 14 and in total touchdowns with 18. Kamara was seventh in yards from scrimmage with 1,592.
Due to their different skillsets, this one’s a push.
The backups: New Orleans’ Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, full back Zach Line. Los Angeles’ Malcolm Brown, rookie Darrell Henderson Jr.
Fourth-year receiver Michael Thomas hit the ground running, hauling in 123 yards receiving on 10 receptions. Through one week, those 10 receptions are tied for third in the league. And only 22 receivers had a 100-yard-plus game in Week 1. (And New Orleans had two of them as Ted Ginn Jr. had 101 yards on seven catches.)
Last year, Thomas had a league-high 125 receptions that went for 1,405 yards receiving on the season, which ranked sixth among league wideouts.
Rams young star Cooper Kupp played in just eight games last year, tearing his ACL in Week 10 and sustained an earlier knee injury that sidelined him for two games. Before going down, he totaled 566 yards receiving on 40 catches with six touchdowns. He’s back to his old self, catching seven passes for 46 yards last week.
Without Kupp in the lineup for the latter half of the season, the Rams turned to wideouts Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, who each had 80 and 86 catches, respectively, for 1,204 and 1,219 receiving yards. The Rams were fifth last year in passing offense.
Fun fact: The Rams have a wide receiver named Mike Thomas too. He’s also a fourth-year player, but he plays in a backup role.
Edge goes to New Orleans.
The rest of the WRs: New Orleans’ Ted Ginn, Tre’Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, rookie Deonte Harris. Los Angeles’ JoJo Natson, Michael Thomas, Josh Reynolds, rookie Nsimba Webster.
In veteran Pro Bowler Jared Cook’s first game as a Saint, he caught two passes for 37 yards.
Before suiting up in New Orleans, the 11-year pro played for Oakland and is coming off a career-high 896 yards receiving on a career-high 68 catches. His output in both yardage and receptions were fifth-highest among tight ends.He also had a career-high six touchdowns receptions last year from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
The Rams start tight end Tyler Higbee, who had four catches for 20 yards with a touchdown last week. In 2018, the Western Kentucky alumnus had 292 yards receiving on 24 catches with two touchdowns.
Edge goes to New Orleans.
The backups: New Orleans’ Josh Hill, Taysom Hill. Los Angeles’ Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt.
The Saints have All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan and PFWA All-Rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport anchoring the outside.
The Saints rush defense last year ranked second-league wide in total rushing yards allowed and average yards per opponent carry.
This one’s a push.
The backups: New Orleans’ Trey Hendrickson, Taylor Stallworth, Mario Edwards, rookie Shy Tuttle. Los Angeles’ Morgan Fox, Tanzel Smart, rookie Greg Gaines.
The third-year middle linebacker had 59 total tackles, six quarterback hits, two sacks, an interception, two passes defended and three forced fumbles in 2018. Those three forced fumbles were tied for 10th in the league last season.
Anzalone is joined by his fellow base defense starters, Demario Davis and A.J. Klein.
Davis had 110 total tackles last season and added 11 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, five sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Klein totaled 70 tackles in 2018, adding two sacks, seven tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one interception and three passes defensed.
The backups: New Orleans’ Craig Robertson, Kiko Alonso, rookie Kaden Elliss. Los Angeles’ Samson Ebukam, Travin Howard, rookies Natrez Patrick, Troy Reeder.
New Orleans’ trio of Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety Marcus Williams and safety Vonn Bell have all played together for three seasons now. And the chemistry between them is there. The fourth starter in the Saints’ base defense is safety Eli Apple, who came to the Saints from the Giants via a mid-season trade after cornerback Patrick Robinson broke his ankle and was placed on the injured reserve.
Collectively, the Saints gave up the fourth-most passing yards in the league last year and averaged the fourth-highest allowed passing yards per game. When it came to interceptions, the Saints were in the middle of the pack (T-18th with 12).
Lattimore led the league in one category: most interception return yards.
The backups: New Orleans’ P.J. Williams, rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson, rookie Saquan Hampton, Patrick Robinson, Justin Hardee, J.T. Gray, Ken Crawley. Los Angeles’ Nickell Robey-Coleman, Darious Williams, Troy Hill, Marqui Christian, rookies David Long Jr., Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott.
Edge goes to New Orleans.
The backups: New Orleans’ holder Taysom Hill; punt returner Alvin Kamara, Ted Ginn; kick returner Kamara, Ginn. Los Angeles: none.
Edge here goes to the Saints.