On paper, Sunday’s marquee Rams-Saints matchup has the makings of an early-season classic. It’s a rematch after January’s controversial NFC Championship game. It’s the Rams home opener after an ugly but hard-fought win against the Panthers. New Orleans won a hard-fought shoot out against the Texans and this game could have home-field implications down the line.
That said, while there is the potential for greatness on the field, the game is, unfortunately, going to be drowned out by noise off of it. Sure, it’s easy to ignore the noise and even easier to not write about it but unfortunately, it’s a din akin to vuvuzelas at the World Cup or a knock off Hans Zimmer score from the early 2010s.
The broadcast is likely to show the no-call heard around the world a total of ten times (the over/under should be 8.5). One of the broadcasters, probably Troy Aikman, will make the point “bad calls are a part of the game and it’s how you deal with them that matters” and Joe Buck probably makes the counter-point “yeah but don’t tell that to Saints fans”.
Fox might even make the extra effort to have a split-screen on Nickell Robey-Coleman and whomever the Slot God is covering, especially if it’s in the red-zone. Again, this shouldn’t matter.
Of course, this is how the broadcast will go, that’s their job, to drum up interest in an already interesting game. Sadly, it does matter because this game will be brought up almost as much as the “Tuck Rule” game for years to come and it taints the perception of both teams. Rams-Saints should be all about the game but of course, it won’t be.
Now, let’s get this out of the way (seriously there will be actual analysis coming) and once and for all talk about the NFC Championship. Yes, the Saints got robbed on that call. Sean McVay even said so this week on the radio when he lamented “No one is going to sit there and say it wasn’t pass interference”. He’s right, IT WAS.
The problem is, Sean Payton brought all this noise into the game by breaking one of the core pillars of team organized sports. Any coach worth their salt always preaches to their players that the best way to prevent outside forces from deciding a game is to take care of business. If the officials do decide a game it’s okay to be upset but the lesson is to figure out what the team did to let it get to that point.
Payton didn’t do that. Instead, he whined that the Saints were screwed and at no point did he take accountability for his team blowing a 10-point lead.
In the first half, his defense made Todd Gurley as irrelevant as Taylor Lautner and Jared Goff looked as impotent as a Nevada boxing commissioner. After the half, the Rams offense caught up with their defense and it became a game. The infamous call occurred because Payton didn’t burn enough clock and after it happened the defense allowed Greg Zuerlein to send it to OT. The Saints were given the ball and Drew Brees threw a pick to John Johnson allowing Greg the Leg to win the game.
It isn’t Payton’s fault that a bunch of yahoos tried to sue the league for “screwing the Saints” in a lawsuit more frivolous than the time Homer sued The Frying Dutchman for violating the “all-you-can-eat” rule (aka the biggest case of false advertising since Lionel Hutz’s suit against the film “The Neverending Story”). However, he and the Saints wouldn’t let it go. He intimated that the league should step in, like Lisa Simpson trying to overturn the state fair band competition due to the use of glow sticks.
Fortunately, Roger Goodell isn’t as susceptible to suggestion as Mayor Quimby (though he’s far less good at his job).
Cameron Jordan had a shirt made reading “blow whistles not games” and their fans dressed up as refs during the pre-season and the home opener. To quote what Chloe Bourgeois would say “it’s RIDICULOUS utterly RIDICULOUS”. Although in Payton’s defense, if the cleat had been on the other foot he’d have gladly given up the Saints Super Bowl bid…
So hopefully this game buries all of that. If the Saints win, their fans can dunk on the Rams saying that they got their revenge. If the Rams win their fans can make “so sue me” jokes, and life moves on. Besides, the karma police already came for the Rams as they had PI’s go uncalled in the Super Bowl and the offense contained less power than the under-secretary of agriculture.
Okay, so how will Rams-Saints game be decided? It’s difficult to tell how good anyone really is in week 2 but there were some signs of what’s to come. The Saints pressured Houston on 46.6 % of snaps which was top five for the week. Goff proved that he still has trouble when he’s under pressure. The Panthers pressured him to the point where he made a plethora of bad throws. The Rams young interior offensive line did their best against Gerald McCoy and Kawann Short but they did get through. The Saints present a much greater challenge and it’ll be up to line coach Aaron Kromer to continue the line’s development.
For the Rams’ defense, Drew Brees is still an obvious challenge. He showed yet again that he can make plays when they matter most. The Saints also showed that replacing Mark Ingram with Latavius Murray hasn’t caused the running game to miss a beat. The Rams run D allowed Christian McCaffrey to rush for 128 yards and two TDs. Alvin Kamara and Murray have the potential to FEAST. Michael Thomas infamously burnt Marcus Peters alive like he was a hippy in Rick Dalton’s pool so that’s something to watch out for.
Fortunately, the Rams should generate a bit more pressure than they did last week (bottom five for the week). True, Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk did a great job against J.J. Watt but post Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans pass rush leaves a lot to be desired. The Rams sacked Cam Newton three times and still caused him to play off balance all game. This happened while Aaron Donald didn’t fill up the box score. The secondary is also a much bigger challenge for Brees who historically struggles when he’s outdoors.
On offense, the Rams struggled against the Panthers yet the STILL scored 30 points. Sean McVay appears to want the offense to spread it out both in the run game and the passing game. Malcolm Brown had the lions’ share of big moments, but Gurley was extremely efficient. Goff should find a better groove with his receivers. Even with his poor play on Sunday he still found Tyler Higbee in the end zone and Cooper Kupp found a way to extend drives on third down. The home-field should help as should the lack of humidity that they’ll face this week.
Rams-Saints will be a great game and while the noise of the blown call is present, there will also be the noise of several thousand screaming fans. Goff stood tall in the Superdome and overcame the deafening roar of that New Orleans crowd, so it’ll be nice to see Brees have to deal with it for a change. Nothing short of a Tardis could change what happened in January but Sunday should go along way towards putting this nonsense to bed. That said, the refs better not blow it again.