Three things: Rams-Saints

December, 14, 2013
12/14/13
3:30
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A closer look at three things to keep an eye on in Sunday's Rams-Saints game.

Running back receivers

As if the presence of pass catchers such as tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Marques Colston wasn't enough to handle for the Rams' young secondary, the Saints also present another unique challenge in the form of the most prolific pass-catching running back duo in the league.

Brees
Whether by screen or by checkdown, backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas each rank among the top five in the NFL in receptions by running backs and make life for defenses incredibly difficult.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees certainly hasn't hesitated to keep Thomas and Sproles involved in the passing game.

"Both the running backs are way up there as far as receptions and that's just a credit to Drew and getting rid of the football," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "If you affect things deep down the field, next thing you know the back's got the ball and he's taking a check down for 10 yards and a first down."

The Rams have struggled to stop opposing screen games this season and can ill afford to get undisciplined and lose track of Sproles and Thomas, or it'll make for an even longer day.

Piling up the pressure

There's no clearly defined blueprint for how to defend the Saints' deep and multiple offense but one foolproof way that's worked for any defense against any great offense is to get pressure on the quarterback consistently.

When the Rams upset New Orleans in 2011, they were spurred by a defense that was able to rack up six sacks and spend most of the day in Brees' face.

Laurinaitis
Two years later, the best way to slow down Brees and Co. is to force him to go through multiple progressions and allow time for Chris Long, Robert Quinn and the Rams' pass rushers to get after him.

"You've got to be really disciplined and take away his first targets," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "With our D line, our hope is we take away his first two and hopefully they're closing in. They're not going to throw anything at him that he hasn't seen before. He's one of the few that's seen it all."

Brees gets rid of the ball exceptionally quick and with accuracy which makes the task that much more difficult but if the Rams don't want to get picked apart, they'll have to find ways to make things difficult for him.

Back to the run

In the absence of quarterback Sam Bradford, the Rams were able to keep the offense moving via a strong rushing attack and timely passing game. In the past two weeks against San Francisco and Arizona, the Rams have been unable to generate much of anything in the run game and the offense has followed suit.

Stacy
"I think the big thing is teams are gearing up to stop it," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "Teams know they want to try to make us one dimensional. I think this should be a good week where we can try to get back to running the ball. And again, it's going to ultimately come down to our execution and our ability to work on some of those finer details."

The Rams have actually managed an average of 107 yards and 4.76 yards per carry against the Cardinals and Ninersb but those numbers are a bit skewed by a long run from Tavon Austin and some garbage-time yards.

Getting the run game going against those stout defenses has been particularly tough early in games. The Saints defense is 17th in the league against the run, allowing 114.3 yards per game, which means the Rams should have a chance to get the run game going again.

To do that, Schottenheimer said the Rams will have to be better with their combination blocks and double teams. Backs like Zac Stacy must make better decisions at the line of scrimmage.

A strong run game would not only allow the Rams to set up opportunities for the play action pass but also to keep the Saints' offense off the field.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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