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NFL Preview - New Orleans (5-2) at St. Louis (0-6)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Let this be known to the next company catering for the New Orleans Saints: Make sure there's beefy mac for quarterback Drew Brees.
A creature of habit in so many ways, Brees enjoys a heaping amount of the casserole the night before games. Prior to last Sunday night's matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, however, the Saints stayed at a new hotel that didn't have his favorite dish available. Used to making changes at the line of scrimmage, Brees this time made one at the buffet table by substituting beef macaroni for crumbled-up hamburger meat over spaghetti.
Head coach Sean Payton shared his thoughts on the moment.
"I said, 'We have a little issue here,' and [Brees] asked, 'What's that?' I said 'never mind', and I watched him and he's meandering around, so he goes on to plan B and he takes a hamburger patty and chops it up over spaghetti and tries to make this homemade beefy mac."
Perhaps not having his usual pre-game dinner lit a fire under Brees, who then made minced meat of the Colts in a 62-7 thrashing by the Saints at the Superdome.
It's unknown if the St. Louis hotel the Saints are slated to stay at will have the former Purdue star's preferred delicacy. The winless Rams probably hope so after seeing what Brees did to the Colts, and now will try to cool him down Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome.
Brees helped the Saints improve to 5-2 on the season and remain in first place in the NFC South by completing an amazing 31-of-35 passes for 325 yards and five scores with no interceptions. The Saints racked up 557 yards of offense and set a team record for points scored.
New Orleans, which is a game ahead of Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the division standings, recorded eight touchdowns and 21 first-quarter points against the Peyton Manning-less Colts. It also rolled up a franchise-best 36 first downs.
"Really, everybody stepped up this week and picked up the slack," said Brees. "It felt like we still prepared just like we always do and it went off without a hitch. Offensively, we scored on just about every drive. It was crazy."
Defensively the Saints were just as good, limiting Indy to 252 total yards. The unit also posted three turnovers, including a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Leigh Torrence.
New Orleans now will try to forget about its lopsided win and focus on the Rams, hoping not to overlook St. Louis with a rematch versus Tampa Bay in the Big Easy set for the following week. The Buccaneer beat the Saints, 26-20, in Tampa on Oct. 16.
The Rams are one of three teams in the league without a win, along with Indianapolis and Miami, and are coming off one of their worst defeats of the season, a 34-7 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. St. Louis' run defense did nothing to help the cause, as it allowed Cowboys rookie running back DeMarco Murray run for a franchise-record 253 yards and a 91-yard score.
Dallas racked up 294 total yards on the ground, keeping the Rams at the bottom of the NFL rankings against the run (183.8 ypg).
"I'll sum it up this way," St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "You've got to solve the defensive issues. Most of it can be solved by tackling. When I added it up this morning, on the 11 plays when we missed tackles, after the missed tackle there was a total of 183 yards. So you can do the math and figure out if we don't tackle better, that part's not going to get better."
Spagnuolo went on to add that his team knows what the Saints are all about in terms of firepower. His squad has scored no more than 10 points in each of the past four games, however, and has surrendered 30-plus points three times this season.
New Orleans is accustomed to hitting that mark on offense, as it has scored 30 or more points on five separate occasions in 2011. The Saints also had 236 yards on the ground against the Colts, with Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles leading the way with 91 and 88 yards, respectively.
St. Louis' offense barely had a chance to get back in the game, as Dallas controlled the clock in the second half. Rams backup quarterback A.J. Feeley made his first start of the season for an injured Sam Bradford and passed for 196 yards with an interception.
Bradford is dealing with a high ankle sprain and is wearing a boot to stabilize the injury. He missed his first game of his young career and will most likely sit again Sunday. Bradford, though, had a hard cast removed this week and said he's feeling much better.
"Not much different," Spagnuolo said of his quarterback's status. "We're not going to put weight on it or do any bouncing around until it feels good. When we get to that point, then we'll let you know, other than that it's the same."
Spagnuolo may not have offensive tackle Jason Smith or defensive tackle Darell Scott as well after the pair sustained concussions against Dallas. Smith missed five games in his rookie year and one game last season because of concussions, and visited a spine specialist for testing on his neck this week.
Additionally, Rams cornerback Justin King is dealing with a groin problem and could miss time. Al Harris, Josh Gordy and Rod Hood are the only healthy corners on the roster.
The Rams hold a 38-31 lead in the overall regular-season series between these former divisional foes, who faced one another twice yearly when both were part of the NFC West from 1970 to 2001. New Orleans has won the last two matchups, however, having come through with a 28-23 victory at the Edward Jones Dome in 2009 as well as a 31-13 home triumph during Week 14 of last season, and are 4-1 in their last five stops in St. Louis. The Rams last defeated the Saints in 2007, a 37-29 triumph at the Superdome.
The teams have squared off one time in the postseason, with the Saints earning a 31-28 home triumph over the defending Super Bowl champion Rams in a 2000 NFC First-Round Playoff.
Payton is 2-1 lifetime against the Rams, while Spagnuolo has lost his only two encounters with both the Saints and Payton in his present position.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
The Saints became just the third team in NFL history with 60 or more points, 200-plus rushing yards and 300 or more passing yards in a game last week. Brees (2,477 passing yards, 18 TD, 8 INT) was a big reason for that and passed for 300 yards for the sixth time this season. He finished with a rating of 144.9, and his 89 percent completion rate was the second-best single-game mark in Saints history and best by a quarterback with at least 20 attempts. Brees has also thrown a touchdown pass in 34 straight games, the third-longest streak in NFL history, and is two games shy of matching Brett Favre for second place on the list. Payton said after last week's rout there are still some things the team can improve on, though that's hard to imagine after a 62-7 blowout. In a 31-13 win over the Rams last season, Brees completed 25 of his 40 passes for 221 yards with three touchdowns and hit seven different targets. Rookie Ingram (329 rushing yards, 3 TD) posted a career-best 91 yards rushing on 14 attempts against the Colts, but his night was cut short after a heel injury. An X-ray taken after the game was negative, but he's considered questionable for Sunday's test. Sproles (289 rushing yards, 2 TD) has been a nice addition and is tied with tight end Jimmy Graham (674 receiving yards, 5 TD) for the team lead with 45 receptions. Top wide receiver Marques Colston (26 receptions, 374 yards, 3 TD) had a pair of touchdown catches last week.
If tackling remains a problem for the Rams, then New Orleans will have its way for a second consecutive week. Indianapolis was torched in every phase of the game last weekend, and the Rams need to brush up on their studies this week to prevent that from happening to them. The idea is to get to Brees as fast as possible, though he has a quick release. Safety Quintin Mikell (38 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) stated the obvious, saying that if he and the team fail to make stops, it will be a long afternoon. Mikell, who had 10 tackles against the Cowboys, is second on the team in that category but like the rest of the defense, has had his fair share of misses too. Linebacker James Laurinaitis (47 tackles, INT) leads the squad in tackles and had eight last Sunday. Besides getting shredded by Murray on the ground, the Rams' secondary will be in for a tough challenge. Colston seems back to his old healthy form and Brees said there's so many weapons to choose from that it's a different guy who comes through every week. King (30 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) may not play because of his groin issue, leaving more time for Gordy (7 tackles) and Hood to try to step up. Linebacker Brady Poppinga (20 tackles) is dealing with a calf strain and may miss the game as well. Defensive end Chris Long (11 tackles, 3 sacks) has seven sacks in last eight home games.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Spagnuolo said he doesn't want to force Bradford out there, but if the 2010 No. 1 overall pick is ready to go, the head coach will most likely listen. The Rams are having trouble putting points on the scoreboard no matter who takes the snaps, however, and Feeley (217 passing yards, 1 INT) was thrust into the spotlight for his first start since the 2007 campaign with Philadelphia last week. He was only sacked once by Dallas star linebacker DeMarcus Ware, with the Rams trying to take some heat off of Feeley by giving Steven Jackson (290 rushing yards, 2 TD) a season high-tying 18 carries in which he earned 70 yards and scored his first touchdown since a Week 1 loss to the Eagles. Jackson's early-year thigh injury seems to be fine, but he is still searching for his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. In four career starts against the Saints, Jackson owns 400 yards and four touchdowns. Having played in the NFC South for a few years, Rams backup running back Cadillac Williams (220 rushing yards) has faced the Saints eight times, averaging 84.9 yards from scrimmage with a grand total of 679 yards. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd made his debut with the Rams last week after a recent trade from Denver and caught six passes for 74 yards.
Payton said he was pleased how his team never lost focus despite being up by so much last week. The Saints' defense will try not to have a letdown on Sunday, and safety Roman Harper (42 tackles, 4 sacks) agreed with his head coach's sentiments in saying there are things the team can still improve on. Harper leads the team with four sacks and the Saints recorded three on Bradford in last year's meeting. New Orleans also posted a pair of interceptions in the red zone in that contest. It appears St. Louis will try to run Jackson wild against the Saints' 15th-ranked rushing defense this weekend. The Saints gave up 155 yards rushing to the Colts, with rookie Delone Carter racking up 89 yards and a score on 10 carries. The Rams also have a new wideout in Lloyd, and he is a big-play guy. The ex-Bronco was re-united with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and could give the Saints' secondary some issues. Torrence (11 tackles, 1 sack) returned an interception for a score last Sunday night, while linebacker Jonathan Vilma (29 tackles) had four total tackles and a first- quarter fumble recovery that set up New Orleans' first touchdown of the evening. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas (14 tackles) had five tackles and one sack to give him three quarterback takedowns for the season, which ranks second on the team along with ends Will Smith and Junior Galette.
KEYS TO THE GAME
It almost seems no matter who plays quarterback for St. Louis, this will be a tough challenge. New Orleans doesn't boast one of the stingiest defenses in the league, but playing catch-up with its offense is something not too many opponents want to delve into.
If St. Louis finds a way to suppress Brees and the Saints' pass attack, can a hobbled Ingram and Sproles carry the load? The answer will likely be yes against the Rams' porous run defense, but the likelihood of the Rams shutting down Brees also seems slim-to-none.
The team that wins the turnover battle usually ends up with the victory. The Saints did not commit a turnover versus Indianapolis and are now 16-0 under Payton when playing turnover-free football. They are 19-2 when forcing three or more turnovers in a game under this current regime as well. While New Orleans is still 3-1 whenever Brees throws an interception this season, their latest loss came when he was picked off three times against Tampa Bay.
Payton suffered a torn meniscus and broken tibia a few weeks ago in a loss at Tampa Bay and was forced to sit up top in the press box last week. He said the view from above was certainly different in regards to noise, angles and emotion, and he might as well had both feet up the way his team played against the Colts. Those types of performances are very uncommon in the NFL, however, and Payton will have another glimpse from above in what could be a closer win at St. Louis. Brees and the New Orleans offense are clicking right now, and the Saints have to be considered the second-best team in the NFC behind Green Bay at the moment. Look for the Rams to ruffle some feathers before walking off with their second 0-7 start since the 2009 season and third since 2007, when they started 0-8 and finished 3-13.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 24, Rams 13
10/27 15:47:23 ET