2023 NFL season, Week 16: Four things to watch for in Saints-Rams on Prime Video
- WHERE: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)
- WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | Prime Video, NFL+
The Saints and Rams meet Thursday night at SoFi Stadium, with both teams playing pretty good football. The Rams have won four of five. The Saints have won two straight comfortably. As it currently stands, the Rams hold the seventh and final playoff spot, while the Saints are the second team out of the mix in the ninth overall position in the conference.
Through 15 weeks, both teams are all square at 7-7 and in desperate need of a victory to get firm up postseason positioning.
For the Rams, there might be slightly more on the line in this game. A loss won’t end their chances, but they can only get in as a wild card, with San Francisco sewing up the NFC West last week. As of Tuesday, Next Gen Stats gave the Rams a 52% chance of making the playoffs heading into the game. A win increases it to 73%, but a loss would knock them down to 15%.
New Orleans can still win its division. The Saints remain even with the Buccaneers, record-wise, in the quest of an NFC South title, although the Bucs currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker prior to their Week 17 meeting in Tampa. Although the Saints currently have a lesser postseason chance (41%) than the Rams, this game carries less relative weight, with a win raising their likelihood to 70% and a loss dropping them to 24%.
Both teams know how fortunate they are to be in this position to fight for the playoffs. The Rams went into their bye at 3-6. The Saints had to win their past two just to have a chance. The winner receives a potentially huge head-to-head tiebreaker in the wild-card race, too.
Quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr are trying to will their respective teams into the postseason after each missed out a year ago. The final push begins Thursday.
Here are four things to watch for when the Saints visit the Rams on Thursday night on Prime Video:
1) Carr looks to attack vulnerable Rams secondary. Carr is coming off arguably his best game as a Saint and has played solid ball since midseason. He’s rarely had all of his weapons at his disposal this season, but the Saints are starting to put together a more complete group offensively, and, last week, Carr hit tight ends Juwan Johnson and Jimmy Graham for touchdowns, along with wideout Keith Kirkwood for his first TD in five years. Chris Olave, who missed last week, will return from an ankle injury and Rashid Shaheed is back to form, so the Saints should be able to attack all parts of the field. The Rams have only eight interceptions this season, but half of those have come in the past five games. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has been excellent this season, and though he left last week’s game with a groin injury, he has no injury designation. The bigger worry might be at the other outside CB spot. Derion Kendrick was flagged twice late and allowed six catches on seven targets for a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown against Washington last week, struggling in man coverage. The Rams’ pass rush can help alleviate some of that. Aaron Donald has generated at least four pressures in five consecutive games, and rookie Byron Young has been a pleasant surprise heating up on the edges. The Saints have had trouble pass blocking, but if Carr has time, he might have chances to hit some big plays.
2) Stafford heating up, but Saints’ strong secondary awaits. Don’t look now, but Stafford is turning back the clock with a strong season at age 35. Since returning from a thumb injury, he has played his best ball down the stretch, with a 12-1 TD-INT ratio in his past four games. The return of Cooper Kupp has been a big boon, as he’s logged consecutive 100-yard receiving games and has scored in three straight. Puka Nacua hasn’t faded, but he’s taken on more of a complementary role in recent games. Even still, this duo is cooking, and Demarcus Robinson has stepped up as a legitimate No. 3 option in recent weeks. That, plus the return of tight end Tyler Higbee and the breakout of fifth-round pick Davis Allen, and the Rams have myriad options in the passing game. The Saints are a heavy press-man defense, and the secondary by and large has done a good job this season. Corners Paulson Adebo, Alontae Taylor and Isaac Yiadom have held up well in coverage, and Tyrann Mathieu has been a playmaker. The Saints tend to generate more pressure than their 25th-best sack rate (6.56%) would suggest, but Stafford has been great versus pressure in the Rams’ 4-1 streak, with a league-high -0.03 EPA on pressured dropbacks in that span.
3) Alvin Kamara is Saints’ best weapon, but Rams will be ready. Kamara has zero 100-yard rushing or receiving games this season. Yet since his return from a three-game suspension to start the season, Kamara has been a model of consistency for a sometimes offensively starved Saints team, averaging 97.8 yards from scrimmage per game and leading all NFL backs in targets (78) and receptions (68) despite missing three games. He’s had only one game in 2023 with fewer than 70 total yards and hasn’t fumbled all season. The Saints have worked Jamaal Williams into the RB rotation since his return, but Kamara has been the workhorse. The Rams struggled to contain similar playmakers in Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel against the 49ers in Week 2 and had some issues containing D’Andre Swift in Week 5, but by and large they’ve contained dual-threat backs pretty nicely this season. The Rams deploy a lot of five-man fronts, and linebacker Ernest Jones has been good in coverage underneath this season. The Saints also feature another multi-use tool in Taysom Hill, who can run, throw and catch. He was mostly a decoy against the Giants on Sunday but has four double-digit-touch games.
4) Kyren Williams has spurred Rams’ offense, but ball-security questions have arisen. Williams ran for a touchdown and 152 yards on Sunday, coming up seven yards shy of a career high. That raised his league-leading rushing average up to 95.3 yards per game, as Williams has caught fire since October — even while missing four games with a high ankle sprain. But Sunday also was a tough day for Williams early on, as he lost two fumbles in the first half, both deep in Washington territory. Sean McVay showed trust in Williams, who had only one fumble in his first 19 NFL games, by giving him 15 second-half carries. But the Rams can’t afford to cough up scoring opportunities in this key game like they did against the Commanders. This is actually a good matchup for Williams, as the Saints’ run defense has taken it on the chin at times, especially since midseason. The Saints have allowed the fourth-most yards to running backs before contact per carry (2.0) in the NFL this season, and Williams ranks third in the league in yards before contact per carry (2.0). The Saints’ run defenders just aren’t making enough disrupting plays in the backfield, and the Rams quietly have been an able run-blocking operation. McVay knows Williams is a difference maker, and his post-fumble trust in the second-year back suggests the coach viewed Sunday’s first-half errors as aberrations rather than a worrisome trend.
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