Dec 15, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy (30) carries the ball against the New Orleans Saints during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams defeated the Saints 27-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Opposition Insight: New Orleans Saints

Tomorrow night the St. Louis Rams finally kick off their preseason at home against the New Orleans Saints. We teamed up with John Hendrix, editor of Who Dat Dish, the New Orleans Saints website in the Fansided Network.  We exchanged questions about the upcoming matchup between the Rams and Saints. Be sure to check out my answers on Who Dat Dish!


1. Who is one player on the Saints that Rams fans should keep an eye on during the game?
My eyes are on wide receiver Brandon Coleman, an undrafted rookie free agent from Rutgers. He’s a very appealing 6’6″ receiver, and has had some growing chemistry with quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin. He might be a longshot to make the active roster, but he has practice squad potential and growth all over him.
2.How much can we expect the Saints starters to play in the first preseason game?
Sadly, there’s a good bit of nicked up Saints (Drew Brees, Ben Grubbs, Erik Lorig, Kenny Stills, Champ Bailey to name a few), so I wouldn’t expect the first team to get but a couple of series during the game. You can expect a lot of Brandin Cooks to be called early. I’d be surprised if we see at least half of the 22 starters in more than a quarter of football.
3. Everybody talks about how good this Saints offense is, but they have made some big moves on defense bringing in big names like Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey. Do you think the Saints have done enough on the defensive side of the ball and get them “over the hump” and back in the Super Bowl.
The emphasis is on turnovers. In training camp, that has been evident. The great news is that it’s not just the starters who are forcing the turnovers, but also the newer guys. The ‘No Fly’ Secondary has the potential to make this a historic year, as that has been the biggest change on the Saints fourth ranked defense from a year ago. Victor Butler, who missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL, is due to come back this season. That will be a nice shot in the arm for pass coverage. The team has their two Top 10 sack artists, Junior Galette & Cameron Jordan, back at it again this year. Rob Ryan is even said to have a new style of defense that no one has ever seen, so that’s always a lethal threat. As Drew Brees told USA Today, ‘Why not the New Orleans Saints?’
4. In Gregg Williams’ first game as a defensive coordinator he goes up against his old team, the New Orleans Saints. Do you think there is any bad blood between the two sides? If so, do you think that it could effect the game in any way?
The media is blowing this up more than anyone. Coach Payton has downplayed this as best as possible:
“Our players are playing a preseason game. We are trying to get the right guys evaluated. It is not even a big deal at all. What’s important is just getting our guys ready to know what they’re doing, putting their best foot forward and playing well. It’s about the players and us preparing (for the Rams). I don’t see it being a big deal.”
If it were a regular season game, I’d expect more. However, I don’t think you’ll see Sean Payton or any of the Saints running to go talk to Williams after the game. I can tell you that Who DatNation has little love towards Williams, and that’s the bad blood you can expect to see.
5. The Rams play in arguable the toughest division in football, but the NFC South has some talented teams as well. Last season the Saints came in second place despite a 11-5 record. Do you think the Saints are favored to win the division and how do you see the division shaking out.
At this point, there’s little to suggest of anyone being more favored than the Saints to win the NFC South. People think I’m completely insane, but I have the divison like this: New Orleans, Tampa Bay (yes, that’s the shocker), Carolina, and Atlanta. I don’t think there was enough Atlanta did during the offseason, and the Panthers have question marks on both sides of the ball. It’s not that I believe Atlanta will go 4-12 again (secretly I wish it), but they aren’t going to be a 10 win team. I believe if Josh McCown is the real deal, then Tampa fits right where I have them. New Orleans has a weaker strength of schedule going for them, and will be battle tested early with four of the first six games on the road. Put it this way, I don’t see anything from the other teams that say they will completely challenge New Orleans until Week 17.
6. The Saints lost a big piece of their offense in Darren Sproles, how much do you think he will be missed? They then drafted Brandin Cooks to add to their offensive arsenal. How has he looked during camp, and how big of a role do you see him playing?
I have been rewatching the Saints games from last season in their entirety. Early in the season, Sproles would average 10-13 targets per game. Those numbers rapidly decreased as the season progressed to only 6-7. Arguably, Sproles might have lost some of his effectiveness (and teams were gameplanning for him), but he will always be missed by the fans and franchise. I don’t think whole saga ended well, but what’s done is done. The good news is that team does have players that can fill the Sproles role, like a Brandin Cooks, but I believe that will be filled by Pierre Thomas. Thomas has been a very important staple in the Saints offense for the longest time, and he will be the team’s third down running back. Travaris Cadet, the team’s fourth option at running back, is another name to look for to potentially help fill the Sprolesrole.
As for Brandin Cooks, he has been the star of training camp. His speed and acceleration are unmatched. He has everything the Saints love, and will be a huge weapon for the team in 2014. You have to pick your poision with the Saints offense. As team’s account for Brandin Cooks, they’ll equally have their hands full with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Kenny Stills. 
7. What position battles have really stood out during camp and of those, which ones will be decided in the preseason. Who do you see pulling ahead in those battles.
It’s hardly a secret around the team, but there’s quite a battle going on at several positions. There have been intense battles at kicker, linebacker, wide receiver, and the secondary. For me, the kicking battle of Shayne Graham versus Derek Dimke is the most interesting, as the two are dead even at this point. Each of the kickers have missed two kicks in training camp practices. The cornerback and wide receiver battles were figured to be extremely interesting at first, but it looks more and more like things are shaping up like they should. Champ Bailey should hold the starting job at corner. Patrick Robinson and Corey White are doing plenty to ensure they stay on the team’s roster. As for wide receiver, I don’t see much from anyone else to unseat a projected lineup of Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, and Joe Morgan.
8 Prediction?
I think we see a lot of balanced football during the first game. You won’t have a huge scoring shootout with these two, but I expect it to be a competitive affair. Expect some mistakes on both sides of the ball with the second and third team offenses (assuming they play). Your guess is as good as mine for a score prediction, but I can’t exactly pick against my team (or I might be run out of town). The Saints did go 3-1 last year (as meaningful as that is).
Saints 24, Rams 20
 Be sure to give John(@JohnJHendrix) and Who Dat Dish(@whodatdish) a follow on Twitter for all the latest New Orleans Saints news and info.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Preseason New Orleans Saints St. Louis Rams

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