ReFo: Saints @ Rams, Week 15
Just a week after all but winning the NFC South with a comfortable victory over the Carolina Panthers, the Saints will have to do it all over again in Carolina this Sunday having dropped their fourth road game of the season. Bested comfortably by a physical Rams’ defense, the Saints rarely got going compounding and grouping early mistakes to give the Rams a similar head start that they spotted the Seahawks in Seattle two weeks ago today. You wouldn’t expect the Saints to play this badly for two straight weeks but getting a win in Carolina this Sunday is looking ever more important as much for getting a home game in the playoffs as for re-instilling the confidence ahead of any road playoff games that they can win away from their dome.
For the Rams this was another physical, hard-fought victory over a team headed for the postseason in an up-and-down season. The Rams arguably have as many “quality” victories as any team in the league but in between those wins have come puzzling defeats and disappointing performances that have stopped this team reaching where they might have reached. They struck just the right balance of aggression and discipline allowing the physicality to come out of execution rather than ahead of execution, a balance they got wrong in San Francisco two weeks ago. The offense and defense worked in harmony early in the game to establish the lead with the defense getting enough plays throughout the game to ensure Drew Brees and his passing attack could never establish any momentum. Another reminder of what might have been and what might be with a well-plotted off-season ahead of 2014 for St Louis.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Sloppy Early Defense Leaves Saints on the Back Foot
The Saints’ defense got off to a slow start letting up 16 yards on three carries to open the game including an all too easy 8-yard conversion on third-and-two for Zac Stacy on the opening drive. Momentarily the Saints recovered with a pass defense by Keenan Lewis on the next third down getting the Saints off the field before the Rams crossed midfield. However, after an interception, aided by a hit from Robert Quinn, the ghosts of Saints’ defense past appeared like an unwelcome apparition to gift-wrap the Rams a go-ahead touchdown. Credit must go to Cory Harkey for riding the tackles up the sideline for the score but allowing a dumpoff to a fullback behind the line of scrimmage to go for six is embarrassing enough let alone when it features the kind of misses up the sideline that Malcolm Jenkins and Corey White put in. Down 24-3 at the half, the Saints’ defense was never in a position to attack and they couldn’t make the plays to stand tall and dominate the St. Louis ground game even when they knew it was coming. Up front, Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan (-1.5 run defense each) both had one of their worst games of the season and none of the linebackers earned a positive grade in run defense. A performance to forget for a New Orleans defense that needs to rebound quickly ahead of another physical challenge in Carolina next weekend.
Rough Outing on the Edge
When you bench your left tackle you can be fairly sure your tackles are having a tough outing and so it proved for the Saints’ offensive line yesterday. On the inside, Brian De La Puente and Jahri Evans had few troubles but the other three linemen who played all had to deal with Chris Long or, in particular, Robert Quinn in one way or another and were found wanting. Before he was benched (save for one goal-line series) Charles Brown surrendered two sacks and two hits to Quinn while the Saints’ other tackles (Zach Strief and Bryce Harris) surrendered 15 pressures (one sack, one hit, 13 hurries) between them. On the inside, Ben Grubbs had to deal with Quinn on occasion when he came inside either one-on-one off of a stunt or when trying, but not always succeeding, to help out Strief or Brown to his outside. Though only pressured on 19/61 dropbacks yesterday, the severity of the pressure when it got to Brees and the turnovers it produced made the impact greater and probably made it feel like it was happening more often than one in three dropbacks.
Steady Recovery But No Spark
It says something about how the Saints rack up their passing yards that Drew Brees was able to put up 393 yards through the air yesterday without ever really looking like he was going to bring his team back into contention. The Saints got their gains through the air with Marques Colston (+1.5 receiving) and Lance Moore (+1.5 receiving) having solid outings outside while the Saints’ trio of backs were also efficient as receivers from a variety of alignments. But that’s all they were, efficient, there was no spark or threat of the big play to bring them back into the game. Brees only put four of his 53 targets (three throw aways) more than 20 yards down the field with only one of those completed on a coverage bust that left Moore wide open late on. The Rams’ defense got their hands to six passes (two INTs, four pass defenses) with perhaps Janoris Jenkins’ consecutive pass defenses against Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston late in the fourth quarter highlighting how the Saints were made to go the long way around. Ordinarily, the Saints would expect to score with ease on passes to either of their big targets in the end zone but Jenkins and the Rams were having none of it.
St. Louis – Three Performances of Note
Quinn Further Builds his Résumé
The Defensive Player of the Year award has really developed into a two-horse race with Robert Quinn adding further to his breakout season with another stellar performance against the Saints yesterday. His +7.4 grade was his fourth-highest of the season as was his +7.2 pass rush grade which came off the back of hitting double digits in total pressure (two sacks, one hit, seven hurries) for the third time this season. Registering consistent pressure, Quinn also notched the big plays that have been a feature of his season as well recording a trifecta of sack, forced fumble, and recovery as he battled through two blockers before stripping Drew Brees of the ball as he tried to climb the pocket to escape Chris Long coming at him off of the opposite edge. To add to his 10 pressures, Quinn also drew a holding penalty from Charles Brown just before the two minute warning in the first half. With two games still to go, Quinn’s +66.5 overall grade for the season is already by far our highest single season grade for a 4-3 defensive end, topping Cameron Wake’s +54.3 from last season.
Saffold Flourishes on the Move
The Rams’ ground game had the upper hand last night and it had success getting linemen on the move both pulling out to lead from the playside and bringing power around the corner with backside blockers. One of those linemen to benefit and pave the way for a strong display from Zac Stacy was Rodger Saffold with his fourth strong game as a run blocker in five games at right guard. Only his -1.4 run block grade in Arizona last week breaks a sequence of run block grades that goes no lower than his +1.1 grade in San Francisco and peaks with his +3.1 against the Bears in Week 12. Getting a linemen on the move and up against linebackers may seem an easy win but he still needs to be able to locate and latch on to the blocks to exert his strength advantage and Saffold did that time and again against Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne yesterday. A free agent this off-season, Saffold has an interesting decision to make, there is more money to be made at tackle but his form in the last month suggests he could be a really good guard.
Stacy Gets Back in the Groove
Breaking out earlier in the season alongside Eddie Lacy, the mid-season spell has been a little quieter for Rams’ running back Zac Stacy who showed up in another big game with another big performance. His last positive grade came against the Bears in the Rams’ last big win and yesterday he broke multiple tackles for the first time since way back in Week 9 when he notched seven against the Titans. That performance against Tennessee capped a month in which he forced 22 missed tackles in five games, since then he’d only forced one, coming last week against the Cardinals. Stacy showed his intent to get back to his best form early on with a hurdle to break off a long run in the first quarter and put an exclamation point on his first half display with his 40-yard score, breaking a couple of tackles before showing enough burst to get into space and outrun any pursuit angles to put the Rams out front by three scores.
– Notching pass defenses on consecutive plays, Janoris Jenkins broke up multiple passes for the second time in three weeks and surrendered completions on less than 50% of his targets (3/7) for the first time since Week 1.
– The Saints’ defense missed nine tackles yesterday, their second-highest total of the season (12 in New York against the Jets). For the season, the Saints have missed 44 tackles on the road compared to 26 at home in as many games.
– The Rams’ leading receiver, Austin Pettis, caught all four of his passes in the first quarter collecting three first downs in the process.
PFF Game Ball
It may not be the most popular discussion to have because neither is playing for a team in playoff contention but there is a fascinating discussion to be had as to whether Robert Quinn or J.J. Watt should take home the defensive player of the year award this season. Another game ball for Quinn today with two more games for each to stake their claim.
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