ST. LOUIS — Sean Payton flips on the video of the Rams and sees the team that beat Indianapolis by 30 points and Chicago by 21 and promises that today’s game is about this year’s St. Louis team, not any in the past.
But to understand why New Orleans isn’t taking the Rams lightly, one needs only to look back at the Saints’ recent history with St. Louis, not at what they’ve done this year.
And it’s the most-recent encounter that sheds the most light into why, when asked St. Louis, those still on the roster from 2011 all went from smiles to frowns.
“In ’09 we barely squeaked out of there with a win and they were a winless team at the time and in ’11, they beat the brakes off of us and we were a 13-3 team that year,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We understand the challenge of going there. We know the way they probably view us going there. We’ve had difficulty playing over there.”
In 2011, the Saints set NFL offensive records by the bushel and finished the regular season 13-3.
It’s that St. Louis game, however, that changed the course of New Orleans’ future. The Saints lost the No. 2 seed to San Francisco because they failed to win in the Edward Jones Domes, site of today’s 3:25 encounter.
After that game, the Saints won eight straight games to end the regular season by 17 points.
The Rams, to that point, hadn’t won a game. New Orleans, meanwhile, was coming off a 62-7 win over Indianapolis.
The script was flipped in Week 10 as the Saints appeared to be the winless team and St. Louis the juggernaut.
Because the Saints couldn’t contain St. Louis defensive end Chris Long and the Rams defense, New Orleans wouldn’t leave with a win like it had two years earlier, when a Courtney Roby kickoff return for a touchdown put the Saints ahead for good.
In 2011, Brees was sacked six times, threw two interceptions and the offense never appeared comfortable. There was no game-saving return.
And that’s what New Orleans player remembered this week.
When asked if the previous Rams games in St. Louis were brought up this week, right tackle Zach Strief said it had.
“I think you always look back a little bit, you’re aware of what your history is with a team and obviously ours isn’t very good with this one,” Strief said. “They’ve always played us hard, always given us a tough time.”
That’s why the Saints are taking a 5-8 team seriously and that gets back to Payton looking at that nearly beat Seattle at home in October, not the teams of the past.
The Rams’ defense has two of the best young rushers in the game, Long and end Robert Quinn. Combined, the two have 19.5 sacks this season, helping St. Louis boast a unit ranked third in sacks per pass play.
Only seven teams have more takeaways than St. Louis’ 24.
That’s not to mention an offense that ranks 11th in yards per rush attempt.
“They’ve got a young roster, and yet you just have to put on the game tape and watch the Chicago game or watch the Indianapolis game or watch – pick a game – Seattle,” Payton said. “They’re a team that can do a lot of things very well. They’re fast on offense. Their offensive line is healthy. Defensively they’re right at the top of the league in sacks, hurries, pressures.”