The chase to catch the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South and the overall #1 seed in the NFC has been a very frustrating one. So much so that Saints fans might be losing sight of the fact their team is actually having another tremendous season. No, the black & gold aren't 12-0 like they were a year ago at this time. However, a win against the St. Louis Rams this Sunday in the Superdome would give the franchise back-to-back seasons of 10 wins or more for the first time since the 1991-1992 seasons of quarterback, Bobby Hebert, and "The Dome Patrol."
"I think our goals are set higher than that," head coach Sean Payton says. "I don't mean to diminish the importance of winning seasons or double-digit winning seasons or any of those things. But once you've experienced success, it's something that you look to duplicate again and again and again."
Indeed, the ultimate high of winning a Super Bowl dwarfs everything else. With that in mind, Payton's club looks to remain on that path against rookie quarterback, Sam Bradford, and his upstart Rams. St. Louis' win totals during the 2007, 2008 and 2009 campaigns sound like a countdown….3, 2, 1. However during that misery, the then 0-8 Rams beat the Saints 37-29 in 2007. The game was hardly that close, with the Rams actually leading the debacle 34-7 early in the fourth quarter. Then last season, it took a swatted pass in the end zone on the final play for 9-0 New Orleans to escape pitiful 1-8 St. Louis with a 28-23 triumph.
"I know the last time they came into our building, they beat the you know what out of us," Saints quarterback Drew Brees reflects. "We remember that. And last year, they gave us fits. That's the closest we came to losing…until we finally lost (to Dallas 24-17 after a 13-0 start)."
So after the three year misery of a 6-42 record, the Rams find themselves 6-6 and atop the much-maligned NFC West.
"It's a different team now," Payton adds. "They're playing better defense and they give you a lot of different pressures."
But the headlines start with Bradford. While many rookie signal callers are simply turnover machines against opportunistic NFL defenses, the former Oklahoma Sooner is protecting the football as well as anyone in the league. Bradford has only tossed two interceptions in his last seven games.
"That's pretty impressive. Especially for rookie," compliments Brees. "The adjustment at the quarterback position going from college to the NFL is huge. These days it seems these college offenses are getting more complicated and the defenses likewise are getting more complicated. I think it's making younger quarterbacks much more ready to play."
"He's done well, considering they've been on the road for a couple of those games and won the last two. He's very quickly picked up what they're doing."
Bradford's numbers tell the tale of a QB that enjoys nickel and diming defenses. Of the Ram's top six receivers, Mark Clayton has the highest yard-per-catch numbers, with a pedestrian 13.3 average.
"If you look at the film, they're not really going deep on people," Saints safety Roman Harper says. "They run lots of slants, inside breaking routes….stuff like that. That's what they're making their hay on."
The Rams will also pound away with stellar running back, Steven Jackson, who's just 15 yards away from his 5th straight 1,000 yard rushing campaign. However, Jackson's yards per carry average are the lowest of his seven-year career at 3.8 per pop. Still, it all combines to form a decent challenge for a Saints defense that's allowed a few more yards and big plays as of late.
"I think we've played some pretty good offenses too," Payton points out. "When you look at what Dallas has from the skill standpoint and what Cincinnati has, we've played veteran quarterbacks with experienced receivers and running backs."