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Week 20 Game Recap: Los Angeles Rams 26, New Orleans Saints 23
What you need to know
The Rams offense was off-kilter in the noisy Superdome. Ironically, they had their most success when they were in hurry-up mode with Goff making calls at the line. There were multiple instances where the Rams almost let the game get away from them. They showed great mental toughness and resiliency. Goff clearly got more comfortable as the game went on, even as the stakes of the game kept rising. He wasn't perfect and there is opportunity for improvement. The Rams relied on field goals to win - with slightly better placement on two throws, they could have scored go-ahead touchdowns. Todd Gurley
stayed on the sideline for most of the second half. Much of it had to do with the Rams having more success with the hurry-up, and CJ Anderson tended to start those drives.
After a lack luster start last week against the Eagles, the Saints came out hot in the NFC Championship against the Rams. They scored on their first 3 drives of the game and took a 13-point lead. They did not score again until the 3rd quarter and let the Rams creep back into the game drive by drive. Drew Brees
did not look like himself and missed several throws that he has made his entire career. The rushing game was bottled up for the Saints and combined for 48 total yards on the ground. The biggest topic of discussion was the missed pass interference call at the end of the game. After completing a big play to Ted Ginn
, the Saints had a chance to burn clock and kick a field goal to take the lead. For some reason, they threw it on first down and the pass fell incomplete. It was a high percentage play to Michael Thomas
that Brees just left a bit short. Then they ran the ball and the Rams were able to burn a timeout and preserve the clock. Then the fateful 3rd down play where the refs did not call pass interference. Brees tried to find TommyLee Lewis on a wheel route. Lewis was hit early and in the head before the ball got to him and the refs admitted to missing the call after the game. There were many opportunities for the Saints to still win the game, but the clock management at the end is what really did them in. Run the ball 3 times, kick a field goal, and win the game. That is not what they did, and it cost them a trip to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Rams
|QB Jared Goff, 69 offensive snaps, Pass: 25 - 40 - 297 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 10 - 0|
The first interception of the game was not his fault, although he did through the ball with a little too much heat. The pass was off Gurley's frame, but it seemed to be with the intention to lead him away from the linebacker in zone coverage. One of Goff's elite areas as a quarterback is his ability to protect his wide receivers over the middle of the field. On the next drive however, his accuracy over the middle got away from him. On the following third down (with the Rams already down 6-0), Goff sailed the pass to an open Robert Woods
on the Skinny Post. Goff finally got going midway through the 3rd quarter. The Rams finally decided start using more hurry up (even with the crowd noise) and letting Goff call the game at the line. Goff began hitting on their rhythm passes and finally settled down (or so it seemed). After Josh Reynolds
' End-Around took the ball to the 1, Goff hurried the Rams to the line. He tried quick-snapping with (what seemed to be) an inside run to CJ Anderson. Goff fumbled the center-quarterback exchange. Everything was fine. He threw an easy touchdown to Higbee two plays later on one of their favorite goalline concepts, Flat/Out. Once the game entered crunch time in the middle of the 4th, Goff made some good plays. He and Gerald Everett
executed a perfect scramble drill in tandem for a huge 3rd down conversion. He completed a 33-yard wheel route to Josh Reynolds
two plays later to bring the ball to the Saints' 5 . This was a successful throw that led to a field goal, but it also wasn't quite good enough. To be picky: Reynolds was wide open and covered by a linebacker. Goff underthrew the ball, forcing Reynolds to slow up and catch it on his back shoulder. Instead of being able to catch in stride for an easy touchdown, the linebacker was able to catch up while Reynolds waited and made the tackle. New Orleans held stout inside the 5 and held the Rams to a field goal to tie the game instead of taking the lead. The Rams' final drive in regulation started on their own 25 after a touchback. Goff also started this two-minute drill by going to Josh Reynolds
, converting the second attempt for a 19 yard catch. Goff used the no huddle and Quick pass game to start marching down the field. On 3rd and 3, he hit Robert Woods
on a slant that should have been a catch-and-run touchdown. Woods had to extend a little and catch the ball off his frame, and he tripped while turning upfield to start gaining YAC. Woods and Goff had a miscommunication a few plays later on 3rd and 7 where Goff threw a Quick Out as Woods ran a Quick in that stalled the drive and forced the Rams to settle for the field goal and Overtime. Goff made arguably the smartest play of his career on the Rams' first offensive play from overtime. The Saints turned it over, giving the Rams the ball at their own 42. Los Angeles ran a Play Action pass. There was a protection bust, and the left edge defender came unblocked. Instead of panicking and eating a sack (ruining the best starting field position they had all game), Goff was able to completely square his shoulders and hips after the fake and just get the ball off to a wide open Higbee in the Flat. It gained 12 yards and brought the Rams into field goal range.
|RB C.J. Anderson, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 16 - 44 - 0, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets)|
Anderson entered the game on the third offensive drive for Los Angeles. He took his first carry for a 5-yard gain and secured a 5-yard checkdown on the next play, so by nature of hanging onto the ball and falling forward, he was already making more positive contributions that Gurley. After Gurley's second awful drop, the Rams mostly rode Anderson for the remainder of the game. He converted the first third down of the contest for the Rams on a 3rd and 3 inside run with seven minutes remaining in the first half. The Rams had gone 0-4 on 3rd down previously. He received most of the snaps for the Rams for the rest of the game. A function of that was that the Rams' successful, long drives tended to come from when they ran hurry-up and the game at the line.
|RB Todd Gurley, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 10 - 1, Rec: 1 - 3 - 0 (3 targets)|
Is Todd Gurley
healthy? Is he just playing poorly? He received the first two touches of the game. The first was a simple Outside Zone to the left, in which the left guard got destroyed and could not seal the nose tackle on that side. It was a 4-yard loss. On the next play, he was targeted on a checkdown over the middle. New Orleans got pressure on Goff. The ball came out fast, but on target. It was off Gurley's frame, as Goff tried to lead Gurley away from the linebacker closing in. The ball ricocheted off Gurley's hands and into the linebacker's. CJ Anderson got almost all of the work on the Rams' first scoring drive. Gurley subbed in for him on 3rd and 6. The Rams lined up in Empty, with Gurley and Cooks to the boundary. Gurley ran a Whip route and let the ball smack him in the chest. The Rams began their two-minute drill with Gurley on the sideline. Gurley watched from the sideline as Brandin Cooks
got the ball to the 6-yard line. Gurley punched it in on the very next play. The Rams settled for a field goal from the 18-yard line. Gurley started the first drive of the second half, but did not get a carry as the Rams went three-and-out. He really did not play much from that point on.
|WR Robert Woods, 69 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - -3 - 0, Rec: 6 - 33 - 0 (10 targets)|
Woods caught the first pass of the games for the Rams, a quick Flat route from the slot off of play action. Goff flat out missed him for a potential big conversion on third down early in the game - an area of the field that the two have excelled at all year. The tried going to him right out of the gate in the second half. The first target was a screen pass that lost 4 yards. On the next play (3rd down) Goff tried going to Woods over the middle of the field, but his arm was hit as he threw and the pass wasn't even close. He could have had the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the 4th quarter had he been able to keep his feet on a slightly off-frame Slant pass.
|WR Brandin Cooks, 69 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 107 - 0 (8 targets)|
He had the most important plays of in the passing for the Rams. He converted on a Deep Curl along the right sideline on 3rd and 10 during the Rams' two-minute drill, when the Rams had been 1-5 on third down at that point (with no conversions through the air). He got free access off the line of scrimmage. The Rams sent a blitz, and Eli Apple gave Cooks a ton of space to easily run a Curl way past the sticks for an easy pitch and catch. On the next play he lined up to the left, easily beat PJ Williams press coverage attempt, and caught an over-the-shoulder fade to bring the ball to the Saints' 6-yard line.
|WR Josh Reynolds, 52 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 16 - 0, Rec: 4 - 74 - 0 (7 targets)|
His first target did not come until 5:30 remaining in the first half. He ran a Whip route on 3rd and 4 and was absolutely blanketed by PJ Williams. Goff went to him on the first two plays of the next possession, starting off the two-minute drill with a checkdown and then a quick in cut. He had the biggest play on the ground for the Rams, a beautifully designed End-Around off of a fake Jet Sweep.
|TE Tyler Higbee, 39 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 25 - 1 (4 targets)|
He did catch a screen pass right after the Rams' fake punt conversion. His ability as a blocker cannot be understated, however. He made THE key block on Josh Reynolds
' Double End-around (beautiful play design) in the 3rd quarter that brought the ball from the 17-yard line to the 1. He aligned as the Wing to the right side. He came across the formation after the ball was snapped, becoming the lead blocker for Reynolds. He attacked the left defensive end's outside shoulder, got his hips around to execute the reach block and seal the edge, and then cut down the defender as he tried to disengage. On the money down of the drive - 3rd and goal from the 1-yard line, the Rams rewarded Higbee. He scored a touchdown running the Flat/Out - one of the Rams' favorite goal line plays all year. He was also on the receiving end of Goff's only two pass attempts in Overtime, gaining the 15 yards necessary to move into Hekkler's field goal range.
He did make his presence felt early in the second quarter, catching a slant pass at 8-yards and trucking the defensive back for a few extra and a conversion for a first down. He had a huge catch for a 3rd down conversion in the fourth quarter. Everett ran a deep Out route. Goff broke the pocket towards the right sideline to find space. Everett executed the scramble drill perfectly, breaking off his route, coming back towards Goff (showing the QB his numbers) and making himself an available target for the quarterback. He broke the defensive back's tackle attempt and rumbled downfield for a total of 39 yards on the catch.
New Orleans Saints
|QB Drew Brees, 66 offensive snaps, Pass: 26 - 40 - 249 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - -2 - 0|
The final stat line does not look terrible for Brees, but it does not tell the full story of the game. Brees broke his own record for the most accurate passing season in NFL history this year, and that did not show this week. He missed 14 throws and threw the fateful interception in overtime that ended up costing the game. Brees also had trouble connecting with Michael Thomas
this week. The same duo that torched the Rams earlier this season was held in check for less than 40 yards this week. Brees biggest outlet was Kamara out of the back field this week. He targeted Kamara 13 times and completed 11 of those passes for just under 100 yards. He did a great job finding Kamara when he was matched up on a linebacker or even a lineman, but in the end, it did not prove to be enough. Brees found Garrett Griffin
for a 5-yard score for the Saints first touchdown. It was a play action pass with Brees rolling to his right. The defender in coverage broke off when Michael Thomas
worked his way back inside and Griffin was left wide open in the corner of the end zone. The second touchdown was a 2-yard screen play to Taysom Hill
. Brees took a 1-step drop and fired the ball to Hill who powered his way into the end zone. The biggest mistake came in overtime when Brees tried to find Thomas up the seam. Brees felt the pass rush and ended up letting loose a lame duck of a throw that fell right into the lap of a Rams defender. It was another play where pass interference could have been called, but the officials felt the ball had been tipped and the contact was allowed. It was a huge let down to an amazing season for Brees. He has already come out saying he wants to return and give it a go again next year.
|QB Taysom Hill, 11 offensive snaps, Pass: 0 - 1 - 0 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0, Rec: 1 - 2 - 1 (1 targets)|
The love for everything Hill continues in New Orleans. He plays on special teams and 3 different positions on offense. He had a single carry for no gain, a single pass to Kamara that fell incomplete, and an all-important go-ahead touchdown catch. Hill has not made a huge impact in the receiving game at the tight end position, but this week the Saints wanted to get him involved. He had 2 catches this week and his first touchdown through the air this season. He caught a 2-yard screen pass for a touchdown. The blocking in front of him was perfect and he was able to dive into the end zone almost untouched. Hill can make plays all over the field but is not the successor to Brees going forward. He will need to work on his route running more in the off season as he should see more time at tight end than anywhere else with Benjamin Watson retiring.
|RB Alvin Kamara, 44 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 15 - 0, Rec: 11 - 96 - 0 (13 targets)|
The running game has been a strength for the Saints all season long, and then they ran into the Rams this week. Kamara carried the ball 8 times and averaged less than 2 yards per carry. His longest rush was 6 yards and he just could not find any room to run. His biggest contribution this week was through the air. Kamara led the team in targets (13), receptions (11), and even yardage. The Saints picked on the Rams linebackers and lineman in coverage and Kamara made the magic happen after the catch. His longest reception was 21 yards when he was able to take a short out route up the sideline for additional yardage. The Saints struggled to run the ball and ended up throwing the ball almost twice as much this week. Kamara had a dominant season and it came to an unfortunate end when the Saints could not pull off the victory.
|RB Mark Ingram, 29 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 31 - 0, Rec: 2 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)|
The Saints were not able to run the ball at all this week and it started with Ingram. He got 9 carries are barely eclipsed 30 yards. His average was slightly better than Kamaraís and he had the longest play on the ground, but it did not matter in the end. Ingram had a 16-yard burst the accounted for just over half of his total yardage on the ground. He took the ball off the right end and was pushed out of bounds to help setup one of the field goal drives. Ingram did not play as big of a role in the passing game as Kamara this week. He caught both of his targets but failed to reach 10 total yards through the air. It was a huge let down for the Saints running backs this week. It will be interesting to see if Ingram is still in a Saints uniform next season.
The Rams actively game planned to take away Thomas this week. He torched them for 12 catches, 211 yards, and a touchdown when they played in the regular season, but that was a distant memory after today. Thomas was targeted 7 times and only came down with 4 of those targets. More than half of his yards came on a single 19-yard reception and that was the only time he was able to break free. Thomas was targeted on the last drive where the Saints needed to take more time off the clock. Unfortunately, Brees left the ball short and the incompletion killed the clock. Thomas was also targeted in over time when Brees threw the interception. Thomas was running an out and up route and the defender was completely turned around. When Thomas broke up, the defender contacted him and fell backwards on to his back and the ball happened to fall right into his lap. Normally this would be pass interference as he impeded Thomasí ability to make a play on the ball, but the referees deemed that the ball had been tipped at the line and the contact was allowed. This is not a play that is reviewable despite it looking like the arm was contacted and not the ball tipped at the line that caused the lame duck pass. Thomas pleaded his case to no avail and the Saints lost on the ensuing drive. It was a tough pill to swallow for Thomas who had been dominant all season long.
|WR Ted Ginn, 37 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 58 - 0 (6 targets)|
The Saints were committed to getting Ginn going since his return from the IR. They had several weeks to get the chemistry back, but Brees and Ginn just could not get on the same page. Brees was off this week so it was not all on Ginn, but they were off on several routes. Ginn was targeted 6 times and came down with 3 of those targets. The biggest catch came just before the end of the game and setup what should have been a game winning field goal if they had managed the clock better. Ginn ran a streak down the right sideline and ripped off a 43-yard gain, This accounted for all but 15 of his total yards. The Saints did not try and use Ginn in the run game at all this week despite the lack of success from Kamara and Ingram. It would not be surprising to hear that Ginn was still not fully healthy for this run, but he is safe to still be the number 2 receiver next year.
After breaking through with a big touchdown last week, Kirkwood was unable to go this week. He missed all 3 practices the week leading up to the game with a calf injury. Expect Kirkwood to play a big role in the offense next season.
Benjamin Watson did not play this week due to appendicitis and Griffin got a chance to step in and make a play. Griffin has not done much all season long, but he made an important touchdown catch this week in the first half. It was designed to be a quick hitting play action play, but Brees had to roll to his right and find someone open. The overage on Griffin peeled off when Michael Thomas
broke back to the inside and that left an easy touchdown for Griffin. Brees found him and left the ball low where only Griffin could make a play. He was not involved much for the rest of the game and does not project to be a starting tight end next year, even with Watson retiring.
Did not play, appendicitis. Watson was sent to the hospital this week and was unable to play. He stated earlier in the year that this was his last season and unfortunately, he was unable to play in his final game.