That was badly-needed. The New Orleans Saints knocked off the Los Angles Rams on Sunday to improve to 4-7 on the season, outlasting the Rams in a 27-20 win at home. There’s a lot to say about this game and what it means (and it doesn’t mean), so let’s get right to it. We’re looking to answer three major questions: What went right, what went wrong, and what’s the bottom line?
What went right?
The Saints didn’t hurt themselves offensively in this game. They didn’t turn the ball over, they weren’t penalized to lose yardage (both of the team’s fouls were against the defense and special teams units), and they came away with points after reaching the red zone. Chris Olave stepped up to lead the receiving corps with 102 yards (including a 53-yard touchdown catch), with teammates like tight end Juwan Johnson (3 receptions for 47 yards and a score) and slot receiver Jarvis Landry (3 catches for 33 yards and a touchdown reception) rising to the occasion.
Defensively, the worn-down pass rush unit woke up against a similarly-eroded Rams offensive line in the second half. New Orleans bagged 4 sacks and created 7 other quarterback hits, along with 4 tackles for loss and 5 passes defensed. That’s strong production without either of the two starting defensive ends or 2021 first round pick Payton Turner, but again: it came against the Rams’ backups, and in some cases their backups’ backups. Still, we’ll take it in a bleak year like this one. Veteran linebacker Kaden Elliss has emerged as a sparkplug on the second level.
The special teams showed some positive growth. Wil Lutz was perfect on the afternoon with three successful extra point attempts and two field goals from 46 and 25 yards. Blake Gillikin had punts stopped at the Los Angeles 15, 3, and 13 yard lines. Rashid Shaheed did well in the return game though his best play of the day, a 16-yard return that would have set the Saints offense up at the Rams 42 yard line, was nullified by penalty. They need to keep improving.
What went wrong?
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There’s a lot to criticize here, but we’ll start with the run defense. They were stressed laterally all afternoon — L.A. ran some zone concepts and pitches out wide that exposed a lack of sideline-to-sideline agility in the Saints defense, allowing the Rams to run for a season-high 148 yards on the ground. That includes a worryingly casual 39 rushing yards from third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins who came in off the bench. They missed Pete Werner in this phase of the game.
And while we’re on the defense: the secondary got exposed early on by a long 62-yard touchdown pass to Tutu Atwell, who went into this game with 1 reception for 54 yards this season. He got matched up with the 33-year old Chris Harris Jr. covering him and the 30-year old Tyrann Mathieu running over the top, and neither player was able to compete with Atwell’s speed. Ideally, they aren’t in that position — you’d want Marshon Lattimore or Bradley Roby covering Atwell in this situation, with Marcus Maye or P.J. Williams at free safety. But injuries have taken some guys out of the lineup and moved others out of their best positions, resulting in mismatches like this.
Back to the Saints offense. They were down three starters along the offensive line, and it showed with Dalton taking 3 sacks and the Saints managing just 3.7 yards per carry as a team. They had to send a ton of attention towards Aaron Donald (deservedly so) but the guys left behind weren’t up to the task in their individual matchups. Landon Young got smoked at left tackle by Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd, who rushed past him for a sack. They need James Hurst back in the lineup; or maybe Trevor Penning, if he’ll be cleared to return soon.
And what's the bottom line?
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Alright, everyone take a breath: this probably doesn’t change anything about the Saints’ outlook on the rest of their season. It took finding a team just as injured and poorly-disciplined as themselves to win this week. The Rams offense was without their best receiver, two starting linemen, and quarterback Matthew Stafford for most of the second half, and the Saints only won by a touchdown.
That’s just the reality here: until the Saints show they can compete with the stronger teams around the league, it’s tough to get too excited by this. They’ve beaten the 3-7 Rams, the 2-7 Las Vegas Raiders, the 5-6 Atlanta Falcons, and the 6-4 Seattle Seahawks. That’s one win against a team with a winning record. This victory over the Rams is a step in the right direction, but it’s a journey of a thousand miles. The Saints need to take another step, then a few more, and hurry to pick up the pace. Dennis Allen needs more than this one win to come back next year.