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#1 VERSUS #1: Can the Saints Run Defense Be “Ram Tough” Against All-Pro RB Todd Gurley?

Nobody has been able to beat the Los Angeles Rams (8-0) this season, but the (6-1) New Orleans Saints — winners of six straight games — are looking to be the first team to do so when the two teams meet this Sunday at the Superdome.

But in order to pull it off, the Saints’ #1-ranked defense against opposing running backs will have to figure out how to slow down Rams All-Pro RB Todd Gurley, who is by far and away the very best RB in the entire NFL right now.

Gurley leads the League in rushing, with 169 carries for 800 yards (an even 100 yards per game average) and a League-leading 11 rushing TD’s.

But Gurley is just as dangerous catching passes out of the backfield; and in 8 games he has added another 351 receiving yards and 4 more receiving TD’s to his stats — which also makes Gurley the NFL’s leader in yards from scrimmage and scoring (15 total TD’s and another three 2-point conversions for a grand total of 96 points scored).

(Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

To borrow a phrase from a famous truck commercial back during the late 1980’s: that means the Saints defense will have to be “Ram Tough” when they line-up directly across from Gurley this weekend.

The Saints actually have the #1 ranked run defense in the NFL at the moment. which might come as a bit of a surprise to some observers; given their very notable struggles at times last year at stopping the opposition’s #1 RB in several contests last season. The Saints are only yielding 74.1 yards per contest (just 3.2 yards per carry) up to this point.

However, last season when these two teams played in Los Angeles, Gurley was “limited” by the Saints run defense to only 74 rushing yards on 17 carries, but there’s a better than average chance when the two teams meet this weekend in front of a nationally-televised audience that Los Angeles will look to establish the run in spite of the Saints’ success at defending it.

That suits Saints All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan just fine; and this past Tuesday he told CBS Sports hosts “Taz and the Moose” that the key to a Saints victory and a first loss for L.A. will be limiting the damage that Gurley has done to so many other opponents already this season.

(Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

“I think Seattle had a good game plan against the Rams, The Packers had a good game plan against the Rams. (But) in terms of trying to shut down TG, he’s just running at such a high level right now,” Jordan said.

“It’s going to be up to our defensive line to create that ability to slow (Gurley) down a little bit and get the ball back to our offense. That’s going to be key.”

The Saints defensive line has been stellar this season at stopping the run thus far; and by winning the battles “down in the trenches”, they’ve allowed the New Orleans linebacking corps (primarily the team’s leading tacklers Demario Davis and A.J. Klein) the capability to freely flow to the football and aggressively pursue opposing RB’s.

3rd year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season up to this point; and along with fellow defensive tackles Taylor Stallworth and Tyeler Davison, have made it exceedingly difficult for teams to penetrate the line of scrimmage and into the “second level” of the defense.

It’s one of the reasons why the Saints have also been successful at defending along the outside edge, as Jordan himself personally demonstrated on this memorable play in last week’s 30-20 win at Minnesota.

Jordan — along with fellow defensive ends Alex Okafor and sensational rookie Marcus Davenport — have been stellar run defenders along the outer edges.

(Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

But one factor that potentially impact Sunday’s contest will be how New Orleans will compensate for the possible loss of Davenport to a toe injury. “Insider” Ian Rappoport reported yesterday that Davenport would be possibly out of action for up to a month, after he injured the big toe on his right foot during the first of his two sacks against Minnesota in the 3rd quarter, although he was still able to finish the game. 

Davenport was in a walking boot yesterday, and he told ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett that he had sought out a “couple” opinions from doctors while “still trying to figure out the best course.”

The Saints have some decent depth at the edge spot, with 2nd year defensive end Trey Hendrickson — who had some bright moments of his own last year while filling in after Okafor was lost for the season — capable of stepping in to the role if needed.

But Davenport unquestionably had given the D-Line a huge “jolt” of energy with his presence in recent weeks, and one that’s unlikely (unfortunately) to be replicated by Hendrickson.

Photo courtesy of Scott Threlkeld, New Orleans Advocate

Nevertheless, the Saints certainly aren’t going to spend a whole lot of time worrying about it, and you can bet that whoever is in the line-up this Sunday will be squarely focused on the task at hand.

Which is to stop the one young man who some observers feel is “pound for pound”, one of the best RB’s to come into the League in recent memory.

If the Saints #1 run defense expects to slow down the NFL’s #1 running back and win their 7th game in a row while handing Los Angeles their first loss of the season in the process, then they’ll have to be “Ram Tough” every time that #30 has the ball in his hands….



Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer 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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