In case you missed it while you were out getting a jump start on your Christmas shopping yesterday, the (8-2) New Orleans Saints officially now have their backs completely against the wall as they attempt to win their 9th straight game in a row on the road tomorrow evening against the (7-3) Rams out in Los Angeles, California.
Yesterday evening the team announced that they will be without BOTH of their two starting cornerbacks tomorrow against the high-powered Rams passing attack.
As reported by Times Picayune / NOLA.com beat writer Herb Teope, Saints rookie (and the team's #1 CB) Marshon Lattimore (ankle) and 2nd year / #2 CB Ken Crawley (abdomen), both of whom did not practice the entire week, were officially ruled out against the Rams, a team that ranks 9th in passing (255 yards passing per game).
The Saints' options to replace Lattimore and Crawley are likely to be cornerbacks P.J. Williams, De'Vante Harris, and Sterling Moore, with Williams and Harris likely to draw the start at the outside boundary (#1 and #2 CB) spots; with Moore, who the Saints brought back on a one-year deal earlier in the week, defending against the slot wide receiver.
But given how badly that Williams and Harris appeared to have struggled in their most recent game action, there isn't a great degree of confidence among analysts as well as a large segment of Saints fans; who feel that either player are up to the task of helping stop a Rams offense that is the 2nd highest scoring offense in the League at 30.3 points per game.
There were multiple coverage break-downs against the Redskins last week after the Lattimore injury, that haven’t been prevalent since the first two weeks of the season — and Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins often had receivers running free (and in some cases WIDE OPEN) due to communication and assignment errors popping up throughout the New Orleans defense.
And Underhill adds: that was with Crawley ON the field.
So what can the Saints do to keep this obvious and suddenly gaping hole on their defense from doing serious harm to their chances of winning tomorrow's critical NFC match-up, that could impact the entire conference Playoff race?
Especially with the Rams — whose offense at the very worst is still much more dangerous than the Redskins — ready to face them in a little over 24 hours from now?
The Saints are simply going with their "next man up" philosophy that has actually turned out well all year for the most part; but the notable struggles of Williams and Harris would seem to make this particular situation a bit harder to swallow.
But here's anther plausible scenario that could help 'bail out' Williams and Harris:
A strong dose of "Smash and Dash".
We all remember just 2 weeks ago at Buffalo what happened when the Saints heavily featured the running game behind the dynamic RB duo of 7th year veteran Mark Ingram and rookie sensation Alvin Kamara; which was that they imposed their will and DOMINATED the Bills defense physically (298 rushing yards) — which allowed them to control the clock / time of possession and most importantly: kept the Bills offense on the sidelines, where they couldn't do any damage.
Your opponent can't beat you, if their offense doesn't get enough chances to even get on the field to score points.
As noted by Sports Illustrated writer Gary Gramling: over the first 2 weeks of the season, the Saints defense was on the field for 33 minutes, 11 seconds per game. During the eight-game winning streak, the Saints have won the time-of-possession battle in every game but one (last week’s overtime win over Washington), and the defense has been on the field for an average of just 26:24.
2 weeks ago, the Bills offense finished with just 18 minutes and 37 seconds in time of possession, including a measly 5:52 in the second half.
One reason was the Saints never punted in a game where they crossed midfield on every single possession except for their final one, which ended up with them kneeling three times to run off the game's final seconds.
Now grant it, the Saints defense played well in that game, but they also were at full strength.
They obviously will NOT have that advantage tomorrow.
Which makes a commitment to the running game tomorrow featuring a heavy dose of "Smash and Dash" (my personal nickname for the top-rated Saints RB duo) make all the more sense.
Sure, the Saints may have to rely more heavily on QB Drew Brees that they have at any other point this season, but they CANNOT forget about the commitment to the running game and how critical it's been to their overall success at this point.
The Saints rank 1st overall in the entire NFL in YPC (yards per carry) at (4.8), behind the stellar play of Kamara and Ingram — who rank 1st and 3rd individually, in yards per attempt.
On the flip side of that?
The Rams are near the bottom of the League, ranked 27th in yards per carry by opposing running backs.
So it goes without saying: this is a match-up that New Orleans should seek to EXPLOIT, just as they did at Buffalo two short weeks ago; which was another game that no one thought the Saints could win, but still did.
Yes, the Rams can and likely will put up a lot of points with Lattimore and Crawley out.
In order for the Rams to beat the Saints, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is already more than aware that his unit will have to at least 'slow down' Ingram and Kamara.
The Saints duo have two very distinctively different roles, with Ingram being the power running back (or "Smash" if you prefer); while Kamara is a speedy and shifty 'change-of-pace' RB with elite receiving skills (a.k.a., "Dash").
Which likely means that besides the obvious match-up between Williams and Harris against the Rams WR's; that the other KEY match-up of this contest will be the Rams Front 7 (inside linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron as well as defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive end Michael Brockers) against Ingram and Kamara.
Beating the Rams will take a full team effort for New Orleans tomorrow, and the Saints will have to dig down much deeper than they have all season long — if they hope to have any chance of leaving Los Angeles with a 9th straight win.
But given that the Saints already have a proven winning formula that they know works, the hope is that they will stick with that very same formula tomorrow when the situation calls for it.
So if it looks like Williams and Harris are struggling, and need some help to bail them out of a jam?
Just give L.A. a heavy dose of "Smash and Dash".........