Saints preparing for surging Rams' ground attack

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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints shut down the Los Angeles Rams' vaunted running game, which ranked third in the league in 2018, in a Week 9 matchup, holding Todd Gurley to 79 total yards (68 rushing) en route to a 45-35 win.

Sunday's matchup, however, presents a double-trouble threat for the Saints with Gurley and C.J. Anderson, as each player totaled 100-plus yards in the Rams' 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round.

"That's impressive," Saints running back Mark Ingram said. "They got after them. That's a good defense the Cowboys have and they got after them. When you run the ball like that, you have a high chance for success."

Gurley and Anderson anchored a ground attack that gashed the Cowboys' fifth-ranked run defense with 273 yards rushing and three touchdowns, two from Anderson and one from Gurley. The duo now sets their sights on the Saints' second-ranked D.

Anderson, who spent parts of the regular season with the Panthers and Raiders, joined the Rams on Dec. 18 to bolster depth with Gurley dealing with a knee injury. And he made an immediate impact, totaling three straight 100-plush yards rushing games, including last week's performance.

"I think he's been a great addition," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Anderson. "Man, he's come in there and he had a fantastic game last week. He's a physical runner. If he gets into the second level of your defense, he's a tough guy to tackle. So, when you partner him with Gurley, those guys looked real good last week."

With Gurley healthy and Anderson's emergence, the Saints' defense knows it has its hands full defending the run in addition to dealing with the Rams' fifth-ranked passing offense in the NFC Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"I think when you got two dynamic running backs, you don't have to worry about when you're calling to call runs," Saints linebacker Demario Davis said. "They can call runs all game and don't got to worry about somebody wearing down. If they're having success, they can call 50, 60 runs in a game, so it's our job to stop it. They're tough and they can pose a matchup problem for defenses, so we got to be locked in."

Still, the Saints will have to figure a way to slow down Gurley and Anderson without defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who suffered an Achilles injury in last week's win Eagles.

Rankins won't be easy to replace, and the Saints are likely to utilize a three-player rotation with Tyeler Davison, David Onyemata and rookie Taylor Stallworth.

Davison believes Onyemata and Stallworth are up to the task given the two defensive linemen were already part of the rotation throughout the season.

"They're going to be ready, they're going to be prepared," Davison said. "They've been preparing all season long for a situation just like this."

Additionally, Davison believes how the defense chooses to scheme against the Rams shouldn't alter too much despite the addition of Anderson because the Saints are familiar with what the opponent likes to do and film study will reveal a rusher's inclinations.

"We know how Gurley likes to run it, we know how Anderson likes to run it," Davison said. "We know Gurley is probably going to get a lot of the screens, but Anderson will get some, too. It's just basically knowing the situation, kind of taking all the factors together."

Ultimately, how the Saints defend the running game Sunday will go a long way in contributing to the outcome. New Orleans was able to defeat the Rams in Week 9 by taking away Gurley and making Los Angeles a one-dimensional offensive unit.

The matchup for the Saints provides a tough task to replicate the success given the addition of Anderson, but the Saints won't back down from the challenge.

"It's football," Davis said. "They're a well-coached team, got some very good guys on offense, great offensive line, two really good running backs, probably one of -- if not the best running back in the league. Great play caller, great quarterback. It's going to be a tough challenge for us."

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