Prolific Saints test winless, punchless Rams

Published 2:02 pm Thursday, October 27, 2011

ST. LOUIS (AP) — It was almost an unfair advantage for the New Orleans Saints, playing a winless team minus its starting quarterback. Now they get a chance to experience it again.

The Saints vow not to let last week’s historic 62-7 drubbing of the Peyton Manning-less Colts go to their heads as they prepare for the St. Louis Rams and a quarterback making his second start since 2007.

“We didn’t take Indianapolis for granted. We can’t take St. Louis for granted,” defensive end Will Smith said. “Those guys are getting paid, are hungry and want to win also. Who better to beat than the New Orleans Saints?”

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Two-touchdown favorites on the road against a team that has been a spectacular failure on both sides of the ball, the NFC South-leading Saints (5-2) arrive as bullies. Not only did they match the NFL’s highest point total since the 1970 AFL merger and set a franchise record with 36 first downs, they came four points shy of matching the Rams’ total for the season.

The defense that’ll try to slow them down is giving up 28.5 points per game, next-to-last in the NFL, and seemingly whiffed on as many tackles as they made in a 34-7 loss at Dallas last week.

“Well, I don’t know what more you can say other than how explosive they are,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “They’ve got a guy, the triggerman, that makes all that talent all that much better.

“But we’re in here working just like they are.”

The Saints stumbled on the road two weeks ago, committing four turnovers in a six-point loss at Tampa Bay, so that memory should keep quarterback Drew Brees and his teammates on task. They don’t believe the Rams (0-6) are as bad as the numbers seem, either, preferring to view them as the franchise that made a six-win improvement last season and had appeared poised to be a playoff contender.

Instead they’re already five games back in the NFC West and 8-30 under Spagnuolo.

“In our league that line that separates really good teams from good teams or good teams from average teams is a very thin line compared to the collegiate game, for instance,” coach Sean Payton said. “There are a lot of real good players on this team we’re getting ready to play, they just haven’t been able to get the wins or play the way they felt like they were playing a year ago.”

Working without Sam Bradford increases the degree of difficulty for St. Louis. A.J. Feeley expects to get his second straight start and his 17th in 11 seasons — four fewer than Bradford has in only his second year — and against a team that shut down the Colts’ Curtis Painter.

Whoever’s taking the snaps, the Rams expect lots of blitzing. They’re short-handed on the line, too, with tackle Jason Smith likely sidelined by his third concussion in three seasons along with a bruised neck.

The Saints forced three turnovers last week, including an interception returned for a touchdown by Leigh Torrence.

“They’re not scared to bring a lot of pressure,” Bradford said. “I think the big key for us going against that defense is recognizing pressure and making sure that we have the right protection in place to pick it up.”

To contend with the Saints’ prolific offense, the Rams will need their pass rush to compensate for a decimated secondary. Brees has six 300-yard games with 18 touchdown passes and is completing 70.1 percent of his passes.

Replacement starters Justin King, often burned in recent weeks and now nursing a groin injury, and 36-year-old Al Harris are on the spot.

“They guy never gives up on a play,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “He’ll scan all the receivers and then check it down to a dangerous back.”

Brees just wants consistent effort, and promises to take nothing for granted.

“We know what to expect out of ourselves, we set a standard for how we’re going to play every time out, and it doesn’t matter who you play because this league is too hard,” he said. “You can never look at another team’s record and just assume based off of that the type of game it’s going to be.”

The St. Louis run defense has been more of an embarrassment for Spagnuolo, who built his reputation on that side of the ball. The Rams were the NFL’s worst by far even before the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray ran free for 253 yards last week.

Missed tackles was a huge problem against Dallas, with the Rams surrendering 190 extra yards on 11 plays.

“Up until this past week’s game, I would not sat here and said the tackling was an issue,” Spagnuolo said. “So I’m hoping it was a one-shot deal and away we go.”

The Rams can’t hope to swap touchdowns, not with an offense averaging nine points and known for jumping offside on their own quarterback’s hard count. Brandon Lloyd had a promising debut last week and Steven Jackson remains dangerous if underutilized in an offense perpetually playing catchup, but they need more.

They’ve made 14 trips to the red zone, a failure in itself, and scored four touchdowns.

While criticizing sloppy play on game day, center Jason Brown drove home his point when he admonished a young lineman who missed the trash can.

“It seems as though we’ve been having great preparation week in and week out and it’s starting to sound like a broken record,” Brown said, pausing to shake his head. “You can see I’m at a loss for words. You’ve seen a lot of the same repetitive stuff week in and week out.

“Right now we’re back in the rebuilding phase and searching for answers.”

The Saints’ leading rusher, Mark Ingram, has been hampered by a heel injury. They could plug in Chris Ivory, activated off the physically unable to perform list this week, to join a rotation with Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.

They won’t have Payton on the sideline, which seemed to raise fan concern last week coming off a six-point loss to the Bucs. Evidently, it was of no concern to players.

“Fans are worried about everything. They’re worried about wearing the right cleats. They get uptight about everything,” Smith said. “We respect their opinions, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t pose anything for the players and coaches.”