Week 16 of the 2023 NFL season: Lessons from Thursday night’s Rams victory against the Saints.

  1. Rams’ crucial tiebreaker win causes a rise in their postseason chances. The Rams’ victory over the Saints on Thursday was a significant advancement in their campaign to make it back to the postseason. According to Next Gen Stats, they had a 53% probability of qualifying for the playoffs going into the game; but, after the win, those odds rose to 74%. Their chances would have dropped to 15% if they had lost. The Rams, who had won Super Bowl LVI, had lost 18 of their previous 26 games heading into their Week 10 bye. They have won four of their last five games, with the lone defeat coming in OT against Baltimore, making them one of the league’s quietly hottest teams. There’s no guilt in it. And on Thursday, it was quite obvious who the superior squad was. Similar to their performance against Washington on Sunday, the Rams permitted a 20-point lead to evaporate into a one-possession advantage in the final minutes of play. They scored several points in the second quarter and then eased off in the fourth. However, they completed a strong effort by using the four-minute offense to grind out a victory over the Saints. To put the Rams back in the playoffs was the reason Sean McVay, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Donald returned to the team when rumors that they were leaving were dashed. They’ve made a vital stride forward.


  1. The Saints miss late opportunities to catch up to the Rams. After eight and nine plays, respectively, the Saints’ opening two drives on Thursday night came to an end with a punt from the Rams’ 37-yard line and a sack on fourth down from the 39. The Saints had a chance to take the lead late in the first half, but the Rams held on to the door. Chris Olave missed a third-down throw, and the Saints were unable to convert a fourth down at the Rams’ 37-yard line because Derek Carr and Juwan Johnson were not in agreement. In the third quarter, they would give up two more possessions due to an interception and a different fourth-down blunder, allowing the Rams to take a 30-7 lead. They were unable to generate late defensive stops, but they rallied with two late touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Though it certainly hurts, the Saints’ loss was not as terrible as it would have been for the Rams. Even at 7-8, New Orleans is still in the running for the NFC South, but the defeat caused its playoff chances to fall from 41% to 24%.


  1. The offense of the Rams is clicking. The Rams have been gathering yards since Thanksgiving more skillfully than practically any other NFL team, so don’t look now. Against the Saints, who came into the game ranked 11th in terms of yards allowed, they amassed 458 yards on Thursday. They have averaged 32.4 points and 433.8 yards per game over the last five games. With no sign of tension or strain, Stafford completed 24 of 34 throws for 328 yards and two touchdowns. Throughout the first half, Demarcus Robinson was dominant, with six receptions for 82 yards (both season highs) and a touchdown. Puka Nacua was dominant from the start, capping the Rams’ first drive for 95 yards with a touchdown on fourth down to set the tone early. Nacua scored 164 points with nine receptions and 16 more from two rushes. The only other Rams to catch passes were Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee, but Kyren Williams led them in ground output with 22 runs for 104 yards and a touchdown, and he didn’t fumble since he put two on the ground on Sunday. The Rams can move the puck as well as practically any of those teams at this point, even though their offense may not be as respected as that of the 49ers, Bills, or Ravens.


  1. In his poorest performance of the season, Alvin Kamara choked. This season, the Saints’ offense has occasionally been a source of irritation, but since Kamara’s three-game suspension at the beginning of the season, they have known they can always rely on him. He never really got going on Thursday, going nine times for 19 yards and receiving five receptions for 16 yards, including a nine-yard big gain. Prior to the game, Kamara’s season-low of 45 yards from scrimmage came from a convincing victory against the Panthers; in every other game, he has amassed 70 yards or more. The Rams swarmed him in coverage and as a runner showed excellent tackle technique. The Saints had trouble creating openings because they were missing right tackle Ryan Ramczyk once more. Kamara was used mostly on first downs; he only touched the ball once during the game on a third-and-20 draw that set up a punt. Olave was productive had nine catches for 123 yards, but the Rams swarming Kamara rendered the Saints one-dimensional and placed them in a hole early in the game. The play felt centered upon getting Olave the ball.


  1. The unnamed defense of the Rams has also improved. This season, the Rams defense has seen ups and downs. In each of the team’s victories over the last four days, it started off strong against Washington and New Orleans despite faltering a little towards the end. But apart from the Ravens overtime defeat, this Rams defense has done a creditable job of supporting the team’s recent winning run. Ernest Jones, who doesn’t receive nearly the credit he deserves, may be the finest young linebacker. He made seven tackles, two passes defensed, a massive third-down sack on the first play, and pressure that resulted in a terrible interception by Derek Carr to Jordan Fuller on Thursday. Kobie Turner, the nose tackle, made a huge play as well. He sacks quarterback Derek Carr on fourth down early in the game, bringing his season total to 6.5 sacks. To put things in perspective, Next Gen Stats shows that the Saints double-teamed Turner 13 times and Aaron Donald 16 times. For three quarters, the Rams produced enough huge plays to help them another victory, but they let up two late touchdown drives in the last seven minutes.


Next Gen stat of the game: Matthew Stafford went 21 of 29 for 298 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints, finishing with a season-high +12.4% CPOE on throw attempts involving shifts or moves. For the first time this season, the Rams used shift/motion on 86.4% of plays.

NFL Analysis: Rams NT After surpassing teammate Byron Young (6.0) in sacks this season, Kobie Turner currently leads all rookies in the NFL (6.5).


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