Well, Who Dat fans the waiting is finally over. Nearly eight months after the New Orleans Saints‘ controversial loss n the NFC Championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams, the two teams will finally meet in the long-anticipated ‘rematch’ this Sunday in Southern California.
The Black and Gold will travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams at the venerable L.A. Coliseum. Kickoff is slated for 3:25 p.m. Central and the game will be televised to a majority of the country nationally on FOX – locally in New Orleans on WVUE FOX 8.
Last season, the Saints played the Rams three times in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome: the final preseason game, a Week #9 game won by the Saints, and then of course that now-infamous NFC Championship game won by the Rams in overtime thanks to a “no-call” by referees officiating the game whom blatantly missed a pass interference call by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman against then-Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis.
Rams. Saints. The Rematch.
Who can forget the 'No Call'…
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) September 12, 2019
Los Angeles won that game by a score of 26-23 in overtime, on a 57-yard field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein that sent the Rams instead of the Saints, to Super Bowl LIII (53). Since that time, however, the NFL has passed and adopted a rule that allows head coaches to challenge non-calls on pass interference.
The 1-0 Saints are coming off a thrilling last-second 30-28 win this past Monday night at home over the Houston Texans on an improbable 58-yard field goal by Wil Lutz on the final play of the game. Meanwhile, the 1-0 Rams are coming off a hard-fought 30-27 victory on the road in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers.
And so it’s with all of that in mind, that we here are Big Easy Magazine give our 5 “bold’ predictions, for this Sunday afternoon’s highly-anticipated contest.
#5. The Recent Struggles of Saints Cornerbacks Eli Apple and PJ Williams Continue as the Rams Jump Out to an Early 14-0 Lead
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 9, 2019
Back in the preseason and again as recently as this past Monday night vs. the Texans, Saints starting #2/outside boundary CB Eli Apple and slot cornerback PJ Williams have come under heavy scrutiny from many Who Dat fans (particularly on social media) over their respective struggles in pass coverage. Those struggles will, unfortunately, continue this Sunday out in L.A. Since starting Saints #1 CB Marshon Lattimore will be preoccupied with guarding #1 Rams (and former Saints) wide receiver Brandin Cooks, it will leave Apple matched up with Rams #2 WR Robert Woods on the outside and Williams all alone with Rams slot WR Cooper Kupp.
Both Apple and Williams will surrender TD passes to Woods and Cupp respectively on the Rams’ first two offensive possessions, and within the first 5 minutes of the 1st Quarter with a Saints “three-and-out” sandwiched in between, New Orleans very quickly finds itself in an early 14-0 hole to dig out off.
#4. Channeling His Last Performance Against the Rams in Los Angeles as a Rookie (2017), Saints RB Alvin Kamara Breaks Free for Another Long TD Run
Most Saints fans can likely recall that as a rookie during the 2017 season, Saints 3rd-year All-Pro RB Alvin Kamara had a PHENOMENAL individual performance against the Rams defense when these two teams last played in Los Angeles. He gained a grand total of 188 yards from scrimmage as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield.
However, it was an unforgettable 74-yard run that Kamara “took to the house” down the right sideline for a long TD (as seen in the video above) that was the signature play so to speak from that particular game.
This Sunday, Kamara will channel that performance from two years ago with yet another long run for a TD against that same Rams defense led by long-time NFL defensive “guru” Wade Phillips, as he takes a hand-off from Drew Brees and outraces the entire Rams secondary for a 69-yard score that helps New Orleans get back into the game early in the 2nd Quarter, narrowing the Rams lead to 14-7.
#3. Not to Be Outdone, Rams All-Pro RB Todd Gurley Has a Huge Day vs. the Saints Defense
After giving up 180 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries to the Texans during the season opener, the Saints defense are making containing stud running back Todd Gurley and the Rams a top priority on Sunday.
— SaintsNOW (@SaintsNOW) September 12, 2019
Not to be outdone or overshadowed by Kamara, Rams All-Pro RB Todd Gurley — who in the past has had some big games against the Black and Gold — will have a big day running and catching the football in his own right. However, it should be noted that Gurley has been limited due to a lingering knee injury that forced him to play sparingly in the Rams’ 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl nearly 8 months ago.
Nevertheless, Gurley looked pretty good in L.A.’s 30-27 win last Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, North Carolina against the Panthers; although the Rams coaching staff chose to keep him inserted into the line-up every play (the Rams put #2 RB Malcolm Brown in often and ended up with two TD runs from him instead), he still ended up with 14 carries for 97 yards.
This Sunday with Rams head coach Todd McVay mindful of the success that Gurley has enjoyed against the Saints defense in the past, as well as the fact that the Saints are still vulnerable against the run until the return of star defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, Gurley will reward the Rams’ faith in him with a big game, as he rushes for a total of 127 yards with a TD running the ball while adding an extra 66 yards receiving out of the L.A. offensive backfield; with the majority of yards coming in the 2nd and 3rd Quarters, bringing the score to 20-7 (the Rams’ extra point is blocked).
#2. The Saints O-Line “Hold Their Own” Against the Vaunted and Fearsome Rams D-Line
— Saints News Network™ (@SaintsNews) September 11, 2019
Speaking of recent trends from the last few times that these two teams have faced off against each other —specifically the Week #9 game won by the Saints and the previously-mentioned and now-infamous NFC Championship game won by the Rams in overtime from last season — the Saints O-Line for the most part has “held its own” against the very talented but vaunted (and at times downright fearsome) Rams D-line led by the reigning and current NFL Defensive MVP Aaron Donald.
This past Monday Night in their thrilling last-second victory over Houston, the Saints O-Line had a similarly solid overall performance against the Texans D-Line, who are a very talented unit themselves. Most notably, Saints starting offensive right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk was singled out for his outstanding performance; as he was able to limit Texans All-Pro defensive end JJ Watt without a single tackle or QB “hit” for the very first time in 105 career NFL games.
In tonight's loss to the Saints, J.J. Watt failed to record at least 1 tackle or 1 QB hit for the first time in 105 career games.
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 10, 2019
Now with the Texans in the rearview mirror, Ramcyzk and the Saints’ offensive line must quickly turn their collective attention towards L.A., who at times has been a “thorn in the side” of the Black and Gold in the past several meetings. But once again, the Saints’ O-Line will be up to the task as they are able to keep Donald and company in check and keep the score close after falling behind early.
#1. Just Like the Very Last Time These Teams Met, This Game Also Goes to Overtime
Since 2017, as McVay turned #LARams around & New Orleans resurfaced, look how close they've been (postseason included):@Rams: 27-10 | 29.9 ppg | +283 differential@Saints: 27-10 | 29.2 ppg | +278 differential
>> All figures are top 2 in the NFC (ESPN Stats & Info) pic.twitter.com/tD2rx7rSlz
— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) September 11, 2019
Thanks to a blocked extra point attempt by Saints defensive nose tackle Malcom Brown on Gurley’s late 3rd Quarter TD, and three field goals by Wil Lutz, the Rams lead the Saints by a score of 20-16 entering the 4th Quarter.
After they jumped out to that early 14-0 lead in the 1st Quarter, however, the Rams offense struggles to get going in the 2nd half. and the Saints defense limits them to a chip shot field goal by Zuerlein to make the score 23-16. The Saints’ pass rush finally comes roaring to life behind yet another impressive performance by rapidly-rising Saints 3rd-year defensive end Trey “T-Rex” Hendrickson who sacks Rams QB Jared Goff a total of three different times on L.A.’s last two possessions entering the final period.
The score remains 23-16 until the tw0-minute warning when Brees hits a WIDE-OPEN tight end Jared Cook, who scores his first TD in a Saints uniform, and suddenly the score is all tied up at 23-23.
The Rams get the ball back with a chance to win it, but Saints safety Vonn Bell makes the play of the game for New Orleans, stepping in front of a Goff pass intended for Woods and making a fantastic interception after Woods originally had Apple beaten deep on the play at first. But the Saints aren’t able to score either, and they head to overtime tied up at 23-23.
The Rams win the coin toss in overtime but are unable to sustain a drive and they’re eventually forced to punt after earning only one 1st Down and their drive stalls out at their own 38-yard line. That’s when Rams punter John Hekker booms a nice spiral punt – but it doesn’t have much “hang time”, and Saints undrafted rookie and new kickoff/punt returner Deonte Harris fields the ball on one hop, and runs it back 42 yards to the Rams 40-yard line.
At this point, the Saints are content to run the ball with #2 RB Latavius Murray. He carries three straight times for a total of five yards, thus setting up another potential game-winning kick by Lutz, who is 3-for-3 on the day and coming off that last-second win just days earlier against the Texans, from 52 yards out.
As the ball is snapped to punter and place-holder Thomas Morstead, Lutz’s kick SPLITS THE UPRIGHTS, and in an ironic twist of fate the Black and Gold leave Southern California with a memorable (and very rare) road win at the venerable Los Angeles Coliseum — by the very same score of that fateful NFC Championship Game from eight months ago.
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 26, RAMS 23 – Overtime
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius