NFC Championship Game: No lack of offense between Rams-Saints
by Andrew Pasquini – Sports 1140 KHTK
When these two teams met in Week 9, the game had a little bit of everything; a combined 80 points, an 18-point second half come back from the Rams, and a 72-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas that sealed the deal for the Saints that included a Joe Horn-esque cell phone touchdown celebration. Minus the cell phone, Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Rams and Saints could feature the same high scoring and explosive plays we saw just two months ago.
The Rams and Saints averaged 32.9 and 31.5 points per game this season respectively, good for second and third-best in the league. The Rams offense features a balanced attack with a run game the features Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson and a passing game with Jared Goff and Weapons like Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. Head coach Sean McVay took over a Rams team that finished 4-12 in 2016 and turned that into a Rams team who have appeared in the postseason in back-to-back years and are playing in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2001.
McVay took over a stagnant offense that featured Goff and Gurley and has turned it into one of the most feared offenses in the NFL thanks to Goff and Gurley. The Rams added weapons like Cooks and Woods the past two seasons to open the passing game up for Goff, who is coming off the best regular season of his career throwing for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns. Goff led the Rams to the fifth-best passing attack in the NFL, averaging 281 yards through the air per game.
As for the run game, the Rams averaged 139 rushing yards per game, best for third in the NFL. Gurley averaged 89.4 yards per game and rushed for 17 touchdowns which is a career high. Gurley finished 54 yards short of his career-high due to missing the final two games of the season with a knee injury. The injury may have been a blessing in disguise for Los Angeles as they signed CJ Anderson to replace Gurley for the final two games. All Anderson did in those two games is average 149.5 yards on the ground in those two games.
Los Angeles suddenly has a two-headed rushing attack and showed it off last week with Gurley rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown and Anderson rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys run defense was the fifth-best in the league but allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers in a postseason game since 2013. The Saints run defense is even better than the Cowboys, allowing just 80 yards per game on the ground.
As it’s been every season under head coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees, the Saints feature a top-ten offense. However, the Saints offense is led by their running attack and not their passing game. For the first time in the Payton-Brees era, the Saints ranked higher on the ground than in the air. Brees led the Saints to the 12th-best passing attack in the league averaging 252 yards per game where Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram led the running game to the sixth-best in the league averaging 126 yards per game.
Kamara was a huge part of the Saints offense, leading the team with 275 touches. Ingram finished second on the team with 159 touches, 116 less than Kamara. Kamara finished with 18 total touchdowns, 14 on the ground and four via the pass, while rushing for 883 and receiving for 709. Kamara even finished with the second most targets and receptions on the Saints, trailing behind receiver Michael Thomas in those categories.
It’s no secret that Brees’ two favorite targets are Kamara and Thomas. The two combined for 206 receptions, 2,114 yards, and 13 touchdowns. The other 16 receivers who had at least one target this season for the Saints combined for 175 receptions, 2,060 yards, and 20 touchdowns.
Kamara and Thomas has been the key to the Saints success all season long. They were heavily used in their Week 9 win over the Rams and in their divisional round win over the Philadelphia Eagles. In their 20-14 win last week, Kamara had 16 carries for 71 yards while Thomas had 12 receptions on 16 targets for 171 yards and a touchdown. The Rams will need to stop Kamara and Thomas, which they were unable to do when they met in November, in order to keep the Saints offense from putting up big points on Sunday.
Prediction: New Orleans over Los Angeles