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2023 NFL season, Week 16: What We Learned from Rams' win over Saints on Thursday night

Los Angeles Rams
2023 · 8-7-0
New Orleans Saints
2023 · 7-8-0


  1. Rams’ playoff odds jump with important tiebreaker victory. With Thursday’s win over the Saints, the Rams took an important step forward in their quest to return to the playoffs. They entered the game with a 53% chance of making the playoffs, via Next Gen Stats, but those odds improved to 74% with the victory. Had they lost, their chances would have sunk to 15%. The Rams crawled into their Week 10 bye at 3-6, having lost 18 of their past 26 games since winning Super Bowl LVI. But they’ve been one of the quietly hotter teams in the league, winning four of five, with the only setback being an overtime loss in Baltimore. No shame there. And there was little doubt Thursday who the better team was. The Rams left some points on the board in the second quarter and let their foot off the gas in the fourth, and just like in Sunday’s win over Washington, they allowed a 20-point lead to dissipate into a one-possession lead late. But they ground away at the Saints with the four-minute offense and finished off a solid performance. When Sean McVay, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald ended speculation that they were walking away from the Rams, this was why they came back: To get the Rams back in the playoffs. They’re one critical step closer.
  2. Saints cough up early chances, can’t make up ground late against Rams. The Saints’ first two drives Thursday night lasted eight and nine plays, respectively, but they ended with a punt from the Rams’ 37-yard line and a sack on fourth down from the 39. The Rams kept the door ajar, and just when momentum had swung back in the Saints’ favor at the end of the first half, Chris Olave dropped a third-down pass, and the Saints failed on fourth down at the Rams’ 37-yard line, with Derek Carr and Juwan Johnson on different pages. They’d cough up two more possessions in the third quarter with an interception and another fourth-down failure, watching the Rams build a 30-7 lead. They stormed back with two late TDs and a two-point conversion but couldn’t get late stops on defense. The loss was less devastating for the Saints than it would have been for the Rams, but it still stings. New Orleans remains in the NFC South hunt, even at 7-8, but its playoff odds dropped from 41% to 24% with the loss.
  3. The Rams’ offense is cooking. Don’t look now, but the Rams have been racking up the yards since Thanksgiving as proficiently as almost any team in the NFL. They totaled 458 yards Thursday against the Saints, who entered the game 11th in yards allowed. Over the past five games, they’ve averaged 433.8 yards and 32.4 points. Stafford completed 24 of 34 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns, rarely looking stressed or pressured. Demarcus Robinson dominated the first half, with six catches for 82 yards -- both season highs -- and a TD. Puka Nacua dominated throughout, closing out the Rams’ opening 95-yard drive, catching a fourth-down TD to set an early tone. Nacua had nine catches for 164, plus two rushes for 16 more. Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee were the only other Rams to catch passes, but Kyren Williams gave them excellent ground production (22 rushes, 104 yards, TD) and didn’t fumble after he put two on the ground Sunday. This offense might not get the same respect as the 49ers, Bills or Ravens, but the Rams can move the ball as well as almost any of those teams right now.
  4. Alvin Kamara bottled up in his worst game of season. The Saints’ offense has been an exercise in frustration for stretches this season, but the one player they’ve been able to count on, week in and week out (since his three-game suspension to start the season), has been Kamara. On Thursday, he never got going, running nine times for 19 yards and catching five passes for 16 yards, with a long gain of 9 yards. Kamara’s season-low for yards from scrimmage entering the game was 45 in a comfortable win against the Panthers, and he’s logged 70 or more in every other game. The Rams tackled extremely well, swarming him as a runner and in coverage. The Saints were without right tackle Ryan Ramczyk again and struggled to open holes. Most of Kamara’s usage was on first downs, and his only third-down touch of the game was a third-and-20 draw that was a precursor to a punt. The game play felt predicated on getting the ball into the hands of Olave, and he was effective with nine catches for 123 yards, but the Rams swarming Kamara made the Saints one-dimensional and put them in a hole early.
  5. Rams’ no-name defense has made strides, too. The Rams’ defense has had its share of ups and downs this season, and it experienced those in each of its wins over the past four days, getting off to strong starts against Washington and New Orleans before fading a bit late. But outside of the overtime loss to the Ravens, this Rams defense has contributed its worthy share to the team’s recent hot streak. Ernest Jones might be the best young linebacker who doesn’t get nearly the praise he deserves. On Thursday, he had seven tackles, two passes defended, a big third-down sack on the opening drive and a pressure that forced Derek Carr’s awful INT to Jordan Fuller. Nose tackle Kobie Turner also had a big moment, with a fourth-down sack of Carr early, and he’s now up to 6.5 sacks on the season. For context, the Saints double-teamed Turner 13 times, and Aaron Donald 16 times, per Next Gen Stats. The Rams allowed two late scoring drives in the final seven minutes, but for three quarters, they made enough big plays to help deliver another win.

Next Gen stat of the game: Matthew Stafford finished with a season-high +12.4% CPOE on pass attempts featuring shifts or motions against the Saints, going 21 of 29 for 298 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams utilized shift/motion on a season-high 86.4% of plays.

NFL Research: Rams NT Kobie Turner now leads all NFL rookies in sacks (6.5) this season, passing teammate Byron Young (6.0).

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