By Cedric Williams
The red-hot New Orleans Saints came to town this weekend winners of eight straight games and looking for the chance to move into a three-way tie with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings atop the NFC as the teams with the league’s best records (if Philadelphia had lost on Sunday).
Instead though, New Orleans arrived at the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday and ran into a Los Angeles Rams team that was equally hungry to move up in the NFC standings. A victory would also give Los Angeles its ninth win and secure the franchise’s first non-losing season since 2006.
And as it turned out, it was the Rams who were more ready to show themselves worthy of consideration among the NFC’s best. LA took control of the game early on, never trailed, and never lost control in what turned out to be a 26-20 victory for the Rams.
That’s why we’ve got nothing but high marks again for the now 8-3 leaders of the NFC West.
Last year, in his second career start, Rams QB Jared Goff went head-to-head with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and threw three touchdown passes. But Brees threw four TDs that day in a lopsided Saints win.
This time, it was Goff who outshined his star counterpart by passing for 354 yards and two TDs to lead the Rams. The New Orleans defense seemed determined to play extra men near the line of scrimmage in hopes of slowing down the LA run game, so the Rams took advantage of the mismatch in the passing game and let its second-year signal-caller control the game.
Wideouts Cooper Kupp (eight receptions, 116 yards) and Sammy Watkins (four receptions, 82 yards) also had big days, as did RB Todd Gurley, who had 128 total yards (74 rushing, 54 receiving).
As fun as it was to watch the Rams offense on Sunday, the defense was even better, especially coming off last week’s less-than-stellar performance against Minnesota. But this time, while facing the league’s No. 1-ranked offense in New Orleans, the Rams “D” made everything difficult for the Saints.
The aforementioned Brees had decent numbers, with 246 passing yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions, but he didn’t control the game like he’s been known to do throughout his career. And that was because the Rams wouldn’t let him.
LA also shut down the Saints run game, except for one big play by Alvin Kamara. Other than that one 74-yard jaunt, the Rams held New Orleans to just 49 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Special Teams: B
Return man Pharoh Cooper had a nice day, with big returns in both the kickoff and punt return games. Kicker Greg Zuerlein was almost perfect, as he knocked down six of his seven attempts on the day (4-for-5 on FGs and 2-for-2 on PATs).
The Rams also deserve credit for not letting Kamara, one of the league’s most dynamic kick/punt return guys, make plays for his team by making sure he had zero kick return attempts.
Last week, Minnesota’s veteran coaching staff seemed to one-up the Rams at every turn, which made it easy for the Vikings to control the game from start to finish. This week, it was Rams first-year coach Sean McVay and his staff who seemed to have their team better prepared for a big game.
Right from the start, the Rams seemed to expect New Orleans to go overboard in its attempt to slow down the LA run game. So instead of trying to force the ball into a clog of bodies with no run lanes all day, the Rams took to the air and soared past the Saints almost as soon as the game started.
It was another brilliant day for the Rams rookie coach and another reason why his team is leading the NFC West and now owns the tie-breaker over New Orleans for the No. 3 seed in the conference playoff standings.
Up Next: The Rams face the Arizona Cardinals (5-6) next Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.