The New Orleans Saints have been going through some serious ups and downs over the last few weeks. They took a three game win streak into their Week 13 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, who absolutely dismantled the Saints. New Orleans then went home to play the division rival Carolina Panthers in Week 14, and the Saints looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender in their blowout win. However, they hit a major low point yesterday, losing 27-16 at the St. Louis Rams. This is a loss that bodes very poorly for the Saints’ playoff future, and it exposed many of their key problems.
First and foremost is the obvious fact that the Saints are not the same team away from the Superdome. All four of their losses this season have come on the road, and the road to the Super Bowl will almost certainly go through Seattle, where the Saints lost 34-7 three weeks ago. Adding to that issue, the Saints must travel to play the Panthers this week, and Carolina is 6-1 at home and looking for revenge. If the Saints lose that game they could be destined for a Wild Card spot, which would mean any and all playoff games would be on the road.
The Rams were able to expose a few of the Saints’ weaknesses as well. The Saints rank 26th in rush yards per game and 27th in rush yards per attempt, and they can become so one dimensional that it hurts their passing game. The Rams held the Saints to just 61 yards on 20 attempts, forcing Drew Brees to throw 56 times. When the opposing defense knows it doesn’t have to worry about the run they are free to rush the passer with abandon, and the Rams were able to record 4 sacks and 7 QB hits.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams were able to take advantage of the Saints’ 21st ranked run defense, and Zac Stacy carried 28 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. This allowed the Rams to control the clock and keep the ball out Brees’ hands. Several of the Saints’ potential playoff opponents are run oriented teams, and the Panthers, Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles all rank in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing offense.
The game against the Rams was the exact type of game the Saints will have to play in the playoffs, on the road against a physical team that runs the ball and plays tough defense. The Saints have already lost three such games this season, and they play another against the Panthers this week. The Saints badly need this win to give themselves the edge for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, or they will be left facing a very difficult playoff situation. The Saints continue to have the same problems, and it will cost them in the playoffs.