Rams realize every second counts when facing Drew Brees and the Saints

Aaron Donald pressures Drew Brees in the NFC championship game in January.
The Rams realize Aaron Donald and the rest of the defense must keep the pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees, as they did in the NFC championship game in January.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It might be a new moniker for the NFL’s all-time passing leader.

On Thursday, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips described Drew Brees as a “yard-a-second” quarterback.

Brees, 40, inspired that description by leading the New Orleans Saints to a last-second victory over the Houston Texans in their season opener on “Monday Night Football.” The 20-year pro led a 35-yard drive in 35 seconds to set up a game-winning field goal.

Brees and the Saints come to the Coliseum on Sunday to play the Rams in a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game.

If the Rams and the Saints are as good as expected again this season, the outcome could have ramifications for home-field advantage for the playoffs.


“These are big games, we all know it,” Phillips said. “Every time we’ve played them it’s been a big game, this is another one.”

A week after the Rams defeated a Carolina Panthers team that featured quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, the defense is focused on controlling Brees and an offense that includes dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara and receiver Michael Thomas.

The Rams beat the Saints in last season’s NFC Championship game with help from a non-call on Nickell Robey-Coleman, a play that reverberates to this season.

Sept. 9, 2019

Rams players watched Brees work his magic Monday after the Texans scored a touchdown to take the lead with 37 seconds left. That was far too much time to leave a certain first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback such as Brees.

Starting at the Saints’ 25-yard line, Brees calmly completed three passes and moved the Saints to the Texans’ 40-yard line, setting up Wil Lutz’s game-winning 58-yard field goal.

“It didn’t surprise us,” Rams cornerback Aqib Talib said.

Talib said the Rams defensive backs watched the game together. Safety Eric Weddle, he said, pointed to the television screen after the Texans scored and stated the obvious.


“We all knew it,” Talib said. “Too much time.”

Said defensive tackle Aaron Donald: “You got Drew Brees back there, you don’t want to give that guy the ball back with that much time.”

Phillips’ experience with Brees — the NFL’s all-time passing yardage leader — dates to 2004, when Phillips was on the Chargers staff and Brees was the team’s quarterback. The Chargers were 4-12 in 2003, but went 12-4 in 2004, Brees’ first Pro Bowl season.

“I can’t say I knew he’s going to be what he is now,” Phillips said, “but I knew he was going to be a really good player because his temperament, his smarts, his accuracy — all those things were there.”

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman knows he has become a household name since his helmet-to-helmet hit on TommyLee Lewis in the NFC title game.

Sept. 11, 2019

Phillips is 2-1 against the Saints and Brees since joining the Rams.

In 2017, the Rams defeated the Saints, 26-20, at the Coliseum. Brees passed for 246 yards and a touchdown, and the Rams sacked him three times.

Last season, in the Rams’ 45-35 loss to the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Brees passed for 346 yards and four touchdowns, and was not sacked. The Saints amassed 487 yards, including 141 rushing.

But in the NFL championship game at the Superdome, the Rams’ defense played better. Brees passed for two touchdowns as the Rams held the Saints to 290 yards, and only 48 rushing. The Rams sacked Brees twice, and safety John Johnson intercepted a pass that led to a game-winning field goal in overtime.

Linebacker Cory Littleton said the Rams must “muddy up the water” for Brees so he cannot clearly see passing lanes. Johnson said patience is required when playing against a quarterback who is an expert at finding receivers on shorter routes.

Last week, the Rams mostly neutralized Newton but McCaffrey rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 81 yards.

“It gives you a chance to look at it and say, ‘Hey, obviously we need to do better this week because they are a stronger offensive team with a Hall of Fame quarterback that’s thrown for the most yardage in the history of football,’ ” Phillips said. “Like I said, it’s a big challenge.”


Running back Todd Gurley struggled in the NFC championship game, rushing for 10 yards and a touchdown in four carries and catching only one pass for three yards. “I’m not going to have a good game every game,” Gurley said Thursday. “I’ve had 50-plus good games, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had five or six bad games. That’s just football.” Gurley started this season with a good performance, rushing for 97 yards in 14 carries against the Panthers. … Defensive tackle Michael Brockers (shoulder) and offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth (not-injury related) did not practice, and linebacker Clay Matthews (back) and safety Eric Weddle were limited, according to the Rams injury report. McVay said he anticipated Weddle would be available for the game Sunday.