They played once this season and it was a thriller. The Saints jumped out to a 35-14 lead in the first half, the Rams came all the way back to tie it 35-35 in the fourth quarter, then with the Saints holding a 38-35 lead, New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas caught a 72-yard touchdown on a third down to put it away.
With a spot in Super Bowl LIII on the line, let’s look at the biggest sleepers from the Rams and Saints:
Los Angeles Rams WR Josh Reynolds
The Rams are a creative offense, but they are static when it comes to their personnel grouping. They run “11” personnel — that’s one running back and one tight end, with three receivers — practically every play. They used “11” personnel on 96 percent of their snaps this season, according to Sharp Football Stats. No other team topped 82 percent.
There was a problem in midseason: The Rams lost slot receiver Cooper Kupp to an ACL injury. Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods were the Rams’ star-studded three-receiver set. Without Kupp the Rams had to either change their offensive identity or find someone to fill in for the valuable and talented Kupp. Reynolds became practically a full-time player and while the Rams missed Kupp, they found that Reynolds was up to the challenge.
In five of the six regular-season games since Kupp was hurt, 2017 fourth-round pick Reynolds played at least 95 percent of the offensive snaps. Reynolds had 22 catches for 304 yards and three touchdowns in those six games.
The Saints will be focused on Cooks and Woods, as well as the Rams’ strong running game. That opens up an opportunity for Reynolds to be an unlikely hero in the NFC title game. We already know he’ll be on the field a lot.
New Orleans Saints FB Zach Line
While the Rams are predictable when it comes to their personnel, the Saints still believe in the fullback. And he’s good.
Line touched the ball 14 times the entire regular season, and his longest gain was 9 yards. But he makes a difference with some shattering blocks.
Line plays an average of about 14 snaps per game for the Saints, and he knows his role. He’s clearing lanes for Mark Ingram or Alvin Kamara, and he does it well. The Saints were sixth in the NFL in rushing yards. The Saints’ second-longest play against the Eagles in the divisional round was a 36-yard run by Mark Ingram in the fourth quarter, and Ingram ran behind a fantastic block by Line on Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham.
“There’s a little bit of an ego sense to the fullback position, because if you can make a big block —people hear the crack — that’s one of those you’re kind of setting the tempo or you’re creating a spark for the offense,” Line told Herbie Teope of NFL.com. “I feel like sometimes if you make a big block to clear a running back, people see that.”
Both teams in the NFC championship game want to establish the run to set up everything else they want to do. For the Saints, Line plays a vital role in that part of their offense.
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