The New Orleans Saints host the Los Angeles Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 12. Both teams are heading into the game with a 4-6 record. But the situation in the NFC South is much different than that of the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks are perched at the top of their division with a 7-2-1 record, leaving the Rams in a ‘do-or-die’ situation.
While the likelihood of the Rams finishing first is slim, it will be nearly impossible with a loss this week. The Saints also have low odds of a divisional championship, but the race in their division remains tight. The Atlanta Falcons currently have a 6-4 record. That is only two games ahead of the Saints, who play them in Week 17. This leaves open the possibility of overtaking the Falcons if they can step up their game throughout the next several weeks.
New Orleans Saints Week 12 Keys to Victory
The Saints are a seven point favorite heading into this week’s game. At first glance, the match up appears to be a relatively easy one for the Saints. Closer analysis reveals that the New Orleans Saints will need to fix several glaring weaknesses on their team in order to finish with a victory in Week 12.
On Defense – Maintain Consistency
The New Orleans Saints began the season with arguably the worst defense in the league. Their current rank is 27th overall. While this is better than dead last, it is by no means good. Their ranking however, does not reveal the entire story.
New Orleans had low expectations for their defense after firing former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan last year in favour of Dennis Allen. But their defense commenced the year even worse than expected. With Drew Brees and his high-powered offense scoring over 30 points a game, the Saints should have been winning. Instead, they started out 0-3 because their defense was conversely allowing over 30 points to be scored on them. With a little bit of innovation by Allen in reworking a very young group of players, and producing creative strategies to overcome the numerous injuries the Saints battled on defense, their game began to improve. Their defense began to look more mediocre than bad. Recently, they have actually looked good. Over the last several weeks, the defense has played more consistently than we have seen all season.
The Saints will hope to see their number one cornerback, Delvin Breaux, return to play action this week. He broke his fibula back in Week One and missed the next seven games. Although he returned in Week Nine and played two games, he continued to have lingering pain associated with his injury. In order to continue his recovery, Breaux was deactivated in Week 11. After a ten-day break in between games, it appears that Breaux will be back in play for Week 12. He could prove to be the difference on defense.
The Saints defense will not be faced with an overly difficult challenge relative to some of the teams that they have faced this season. The Rams offense has struggled to score this year. Last week, quarterback Jared Goff had his first career start and presented fans with an uninspiring performance. He threw for 134 yards and had a final quarterback rating of 65.8. While this week should not be difficult for the Saints, they need to avoid mediocrity if they want to win games. Consistency will be key.
On Offense – Exploit the Run Game
New Orleans has been potent and prolific in their passing attack all season. Receiver Brandin Cooks has four touchdowns and double digit performance over his past four games and Michael Thomas has had at least 40 yards in each game, for 681 yards and five touchdowns this season. Their execution at home has been especially good. Drew Brees is averaging 366 yards and three touchdowns per home game. While getting better each week, the Saints run game has tended to be inconsistent at times. It will be imperative in Week 12 to ensure that their running backs are at the top of their game.
The Rams have a good defense and their strength is against the pass. They are currently ranked sixth in the NFL in terms of yards per game. They are not as strong against the run where they are ranked 15th. If the Saints want to improve their odds of winning in Week 12, they will need to exploit this deficiency. Last week against the Carolina Panthers, running back Mark Ingram had 75 yards on ten touches before leaving the game to be evaluated for a concussion. The Saints are optimistic about his return this week, but he could be limited in terms of his effectiveness and overall usage. Tim Hightower had 126 yards last week on 12 carries. Between the two of them, the Saints will have an opportunity to step up their run game in Week 12.
Last week, the Rams played exceptionally well on defense, but left a stellar performance by the wayside after a fourth quarter meltdown. Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had 240 total yards on the entire game, 152 of which came off his final two drives. The Saints should not expect a repeat of this in Week 12, when they face a Rams team heading into New Orleans in desperation mode.
On Special Teams – Just Don’t Lose the Football Game
Special teams is the worst component of the 2016 New Orleans Saints. This group is struggling with every element of their game. Their return game is ranked 31st in the NFL. Head coach Sean Payton has tried rotating different players to find that spark, but so far to no avail. Last week, there were some pretty serious blunders made between Marcus Murphy’s poor decisions and Nate Stupar’s sloppy penalties.
The most serious flaw with this unit resides with rookie kicker Will Lutz and his low kicks. Last week against the Panthers, Lutz’s field goal attempt was blocked and returned, which resulted in a Panthers touchdown the next play. The Saints lost the football game by a measly three points. This was the second week straight that Lutz’s kick was blocked and returned for a touchdown score. In Week Ten against the Denver Broncos, we saw the exact same blunder and the Saints went home with a 25-23 loss. It also happened at the beginning of the season in Week Two. The Saints lost 16-13 against the New York Giants in a third game where Lutz had a blocked kick which was returned for a touchdown. Lutz will need to keep those kicks high.
There is no fast-fix for all of the problems that burden special teams and we can’t expect this group to magically come out strong in Week 12. What we can hope for is that they play their positions, do their job and avoid becoming the reason that this team loses another football game.
The Saints are a seven-point favorite heading into Week 12. It would appear that they have every advantage required to win the game. They are coming off a ten-day layoff, having played their Week 11 game on Thursday night and should be well rested. They are also playing at home. However, the skill of the Rams defense should not be overlooked. Nor should the intangible elements of this game.
The Rams have lost the last four out of five games and are a desperate team. They will be heading to New Orleans with a passion to win. The Saints need to ensure that their defense can play as consistently as they have the last few weeks. They also need to keep their special teams in check. If they can overcome these deficiencies, then they should be able to leave the Superdome with a 5-6 record on Sunday.