Rams visit Saints in showdown for NFC supremacy
The New Orleans Saints have not lost since a season-opening defeat to Tampa Bay and their last three victories have come against teams that were leading their division.
That will again be the case on Sunday for the Saints (6-1), who will step up in class and face their biggest challenge when they host the unbeaten Los Angeles Rams (8-0) in a matchup of the two best teams in the NFC.
"I used this term the other day with our team, we're focused on one pothole at a time," New Orleans head coach Sean Payton said. "And so we've got to find a way to navigate the road. Then when that week's over with, you get on to the next roadblock and the next challenge in front of you. Fortunately, we have been able to do that.
"This week's game will be different. It'll be a different type team, how they play. Much different than Minnesota in regards to their defensive structure, their offensive structure. So you dive in and you get consumed with the week and the challenge in front of you."
The Rams kept their perfect record intact by barely withstanding a challenge from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a narrow 29-27 win on Sunday. Now they must hit repeat with another of the NFL's elite quarterbacks in Drew Brees, who became the league's career leading passer and fourth quarterback in history to throw 500 touchdowns this season.
"You're looking at another week where a guy, first-ballot Hall of Famer, all-time leading passer, completing 77 percent of his balls," Rams head coach Sean McVay said of Brees. "I think just their offensive operation with his command, his presence is incredible. ... I think they've got a great balance of run and pass. Then obviously, Drew, in terms of just the timing, the rhythm, the accuracy and the anticipation, he's one of the best of all time at that."
Los Angeles has already pulled out road wins at two of the league's toughest venues, beating Seattle (33-31) and Denver (23-20) by a combined five points. Not only do the Rams have to contend with Brees and Co., but they must deal with one of the NFL's most raucous stadiums.
"It'll definitely be one of the louder ones we'll play all year," Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff said. "I think every game they have there at home is quite loud and especially with this being a bigger game of the year, it'll be loud. I'm sure it will be rockin'. It'll be fun."
Brees had his least productive game as New Orleans avenged a loss in last year's NFC Championship Game with a 30-20 victory at Minnesota. Although he threw for a season-low 120 yards and tossed his first interception, Brees has one of the league's top wide receivers in Michael Thomas and a two-pronged running attack featuring Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II.
"It's going to be a great challenge," McVay said. "They're one of the best offenses over the last handful of years, consistently. They're always at the top and they're continuing to get better and better, and this year is no different."
The top priority for New Orleans is finding a way to contain Rams running back Todd Gurley II, the league's runaway leader in rushing with 800 yards. Gurley has run for 11 scores and also has 31 receptions for four more touchdowns. The Saints did keep Gurley out of the end zone in a 26-20 loss at Los Angeles last season.
"Every week when we finish our game, we'll have all the touchdowns from the week before," Payton said. "We'll study not just the opponent, but we'll look at what's going on in the league.
"It's a reminder every week when you put that tape on you know here's Gurley from 28 yards, here is Gurley from 30 yards, here's Gurley catching a screen for a touchdown. He's an outstanding player both in the running game and passing game and I think the design, along with his skillset, has been a great fit."
Los Angeles acquired former Saints wideout Brandin Cooks during the offseason and made another move at Tuesday's trade deadline, bringing in edge rusher and former No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. from Jacksonville.
"We feel like he's going to help us, specifically from a rush perspective," said McVay. "Got him in here and we'll see how quickly he can get up to speed, if he's going to be able to contribute and help us this weekend. But, we're excited to get Dante here."
Updated October 31, 2018