Down 14-0 in the second quarter last week, the New Orleans Saints lined up for a punt, then ran up the middle for the first down. That drive was a turning point in a divisional round playoff win over the Eagles.
So of all teams that should have been on high alert for a fake in the NFC championship, it should have been the Saints.
The Saints probably knew a fake was possible in the second quarter Sunday, at about the same spot in the field they ran Taysom Hill on a fake punt the week before. The Los Angeles Rams are similarly aggressive and like using punter Johnny Hekker to throw the ball on fakes. It’s still hard to defend, and the Rams used it when they absolutely needed something good to happen.
On fourth-and-5 from their own 30, trailing 13-0, the Rams pulled out the fake punt. And Hekker threw a nice pass in one-on-one coverage to cornerback Sam Shields for a gain of 12.
Like the Saints a week before, the Rams needed something positive to happen, and that did the trick. The Rams kept a drive going and even though Todd Gurley had a key third-down drop, the Rams finally got on the board with a field goal.
The Saints likely knew of the possibility because the Rams like using Hekker as a passer. Hekker is 11-of-19 in the regular season as a passer. For a punter, he throws a really nice ball. It’s a hard play to stop because the defender has a lot of space to deal with and Hekker is good enough to deliver a good pass. Hekker, the holder for the Rams on the field-goal team, ran a fake field goal against the Saints in the first meeting between the teams in the regular season, though he was a bit short of the first down on that try.
Rams coach Sean McVay and Saints coach Sean Payton are similar in a few ways. Both will run trick plays, even when the risk is high. But they both got some good results in the playoffs on fake punts.
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