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Injured Saints ‘Boonk Gang’ Goes to Hollywood — Can They Take a “W” Away from L.A.?

Yesterday in the Saints locker room after the team held its practice while continuing preparations for what's expected to be an epic battle between two of the NFL's top teams in Los Angeles this Sunday, starting cornerback Marshon Lattimore was seen walking around in a protective boot, putting his potential playing status in doubt.

Lattimore's injury is likely to cause him at the very least to miss the showdown vs. the Rams on Sunday, and the hope is that he will be ready to go the following week at the Superdome when the Saints host the Carolina Panthers in what will be yet another huge game for New Orleans and their future Playoff positioning, as the 2017 regular season slowly begins to wind down towards what could be a dramatic end.

Veteran cornerback Sterling Moore — who was re-signed earlier this week after the team had released him following the win at Green Bay — is expected to get the start in Lattimore's absence.

Unfortunately for the Saints, Lattimore's injury isn't the only concern for the 'Boonk Gang' defense as they head out to Hollywood to play at the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time in 38 years.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

In that same game against the Redskins last Sunday, star defensive end / edge pass rusher Alex Okafor tore his achilles tendon late in the 4th quarter of the team's eventual 34-31 win in overtime; and was lost for the remainder of the season including the Playoffs.

Okafor was 2nd on the team in sacks (4 and a half), but perhaps even more importantly: he was one of the defense's VERY BEST defenders at stopping the run, which as most people know has been one of the few weaknesses that this Saints team has this year.

In Okafor's place, rookie (3rd Round) defensive end / edge pass rusher Trey Hendrickson is poised to get his 1st-ever NFL start.

Hendrickson has two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in a reserve role behind Okafor this season; and as starting defensive end Cam Jordan noted to reporters yesterday in the locker room:

”It’s not like Trey’s coming in cold.”

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Hendrickson likely be backed up by 3rd year defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha and possibly even fellow rookie (and 6th Round pick) Al-Quadin Muhammad, who's been kept inactive on Game Days for a majority of the regular season.

At least the team did get some "good news" yesterday.

Both starting free safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin) and starting linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle) are both expected to start and play against the Rams, after they each missed last week's win over the Redskins with injuries.

And their returns to the line-up couldn't be coming at a much better time than this Sunday against the high-powered Rams offensive attack which is the #2 ranked overall scoring offense (30.3 points per game) in the NFL this season.

As noted by Associated Press writer Brett Martel, the Saints 'Boonk Gang' defense gave up 456 yards and 31 points to the Redskins — statistically the worst performance by far for the unit during the Saints’ eight-game winning streak.

”Some of those scores we gave up were because of missed assignments and broken plays,” Klein told Martel yesterday in the locker room.

”When the crucial stops were needed later in the game, they came, which is obviously a positive, but we don’t want to be giving up that many points.”

Martel notes that during the first seven games of New Orleans’ winning streak, the Saints’ defense did not allow any opponent more than 347 yards, held five of its previous seven opponents to less than 300 yards – and three of them to 200 or fewer.

Martel adds that the Saints also allowed 17 or fewer points in all but one of those games, the lone exception being when Detroit scored 38 with the help of defensive and special teams TD's.

”All the big plays that happened in the game were on us. It wasn’t anything they did spectacular,” Vaccaro told Martel, when asked about the defense's performance against Washington.

”We gave up almost 500 yards of offense and that hasn’t been us this season. A lot of it was communication,” Vaccaro continued. ”We’ll get it corrected. We’ve got some guys coming back this week.”

Vaccaro's observation aside, facing the Rams offense will not be any "walk in the park" by any means.

Photo courtesy of The Orange County Register

Despite their loss at Minnesota last week, the (7-3) Rams are still a very dangerous team to be reckoned with, as evidenced by their offense that averages 375.4 yards per game and has hung 40-plus points on opponents 3 different times this season.

Klein told Martel that Saints head coach Sean Payton made it a point in yesterday morning’s team meeting of putting the focus and emphasis on how to successfully stop the Rams offense; and had the defensive players take a detailed look at the Rams’ elite offensive rankings which have directly impacted L.A.'s sudden rise to to the "upper tier" of the NFL this season.

”Obviously this team has been very efficient on offense and it starts with (Rams QB Jared) Goff getting them into the right plays,” Klein told Martel.

”He’s definitely improved a lot from last season (when the Saints beat Goff and the Rams last year as a rookie, in a 49-21 blow-out win at the Superdome). He’s become a really good quarterback. And obviously with (RB Todd) Gurley in the backfield they’ve got skill players across the board and can hurt you in different ways.”

Without any question, the challenge will be a real one for New Orleans, no matter who plays and who doesn't.

For an (8-2) Saints team seeking its 9th straight win a row this Sunday, it wouldn't be the end of the world if their winning streak come to an end against the Rams; but given just how tight things are in the NFC Playoff race at the moment, it's also a game that they can't really afford to lose either.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Especially not with games against fellow NFC South Division rivals Carolina and Atlanta —  both of whom are "hot on the trail" of the Saints in the current standings — up next after this Sunday.

As it's been noted previously: the Saints defense "Boonk Gang" nickname is inspired by an Internet character who gained fame and notoriety for performing stunts and committing various crimes on Instagram.

And with the relatively young Saints defense's recent penchant for forcing turnovers or "stealing the ball away" from opposing offenses, the nickname is wholly appropriate and has stuck ever since.

So now the question has to be asked:

Can the hurt and hobbled "Boonk Gang" go out to Hollywood and take a "W" away from L.A. this Sunday?

We're all about to find out.........

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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