Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

November 01, 2018 at 1:38 am.


–DE Marcus Davenport suffered an injury to his right big toe against the Vikings and reportedly will miss about a month. Davenport, who didn’t practice Wednesday and was in a walking boot in the locker room, wouldn’t rule out playing Sunday. But that seems extremely unlikely.

–Rookie WR Tre’Quan Smith has established himself as the No. 2 wide receiver since Ted Ginn Jr. has been sidelined by a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve two weeks ago. Smith has caught three passes in each of the last three games after having one catch through four games.

–C Max Unger (elbow) was limited in practice.

–OL Jermon Bushrod, who missed the last two games after the death of his infant daughter, returned to practice.

–T Terron Armstead (knee) was limited as has become the Wednesday norm.

–WR Cameron Meredith (knee) was limited as has become the Wednesday norm.

–DE Mitchell Loewen (neck), who missed last week’s game, did not practice.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DE Alex Okafor maintained his starting status even as rookie No. 1 draft choice Marcus Davenport was making significant improvement and taking on a larger role behind him. But with Davenport injured, Okafor will have to play more snaps and be a factor against both the run and the pass. Fellow end Cameron Jordan will draw multiple blockers on most plays and probably still have an impact, but he can’t do it alone when it comes to providing pressure from the edge.

GAME PLAN: The Saints beat the Vikings last week as Drew Brees passed for just 120 yards. He’ll need to throw for more than that in order to win this one. The low number last week wasn’t a result of inefficiency but rather a result of the game plan and the way the game developed. This figures to be a high-scoring game in which Brees has to utilize Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II consistently in the passing game to complement Kamara and Ingram in the running game. In other words, the Saints have to be balanced and productive to keep L.A. off balance.

The Saints defense will face a similar balance from the Rams, who lead the NFL in rushing and are seventh in passing. They have to find a way to keep Todd Gurley II from breaking long runs while still devoting enough resources to the pass to pressure Jared Goff and cover a talented group of receivers. The pass defense has been New Orleans’ biggest weakness, though CB P.J. Williams had a forced fumble and a pick-six against the Vikings and Eli Apple will be more acclimated to the defense as he makes his second start since being acquired in a trade with the Giants. The pass rush will have to be effective even in the absence of injured rookie DE Marcus Davenport.

–Saints run defense vs. Rams RB Todd Gurley II. There isn’t one player or even one position unit that’s going to be responsible for trying to slow down the NFL’s leading rusher. It’s going to take a combined effort from each level of the defense. As a unit, the Saints have been the best defense in the NFL against the run this season. New Orleans is allowing just 74.1 rushing yards per game. Though the Saints are 28th in passing yards allowed (300 per game), their success in rushing yards allowed isn’t merely a result of teams feasting on their pass defense because they also lead the league in yards per rush (3.2). Gurley averages 4.7 yards per rush. The Saints defensive line, particularly tackles Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, David Onyemata and Taylor Stallworth, will have to occupy enough blockers to create tackling opportunities for the linebackers and defensive backs, especially the safeties, and the tackling will have to be sure-handed in order to keep Gurley from breaking big-gainers.

–Saints OL vs. Rams DL. The Rams have perhaps the most talented defensive line in the NFL, led by DT Aaron Donald, the league’s sack leader. He’ll create problems for the interior of the Saints line, primarily LG Andrus Peat, whose recent return from injury bolstered a Saints offensive line that already was playing well. But NT Ndamukong Suh will challenge C Max Unger, especially against the run, and DE Michael Brockers will go head to head with RT Ryan Ramczyk. The Saints line did a good job against two of the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL the last two weeks in wins against the Ravens and the Vikings, but the Rams front will present an even stronger challenge to protect Drew Brees and enable Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II to find running room.