By PATRICK ROWLEY
Last time the Rams and Saints played against each other was week 9, when Michael Thomas had 211 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches. Thomas became such a focal point of the Saints offense in this game that his longest reception (72 yards) was a higher yardage total than the next highest Saints receiver had for the game (Ben Watson, 62 yards).
Marcus Peters was the one responsible for Thomas most of the game and he was exposed throughout the night on his way to -9 total points, most of which occurred when Peters was defending Thomas in the slot. Eight of Thomas’ 12 receptions came when he was lined up in the slot, which led to 157 of his yards for the day. On the season 917 of Thomas’ 1,405 receiving yards (65 percent) came when he was lined up in the slot.
For this matchup the Rams have a healthy Aqib Talib back on the field. He will almost certainly take over the assignment of covering Michael Thomas. Aqib Talib figures to be an upgrade over Marcus Peters. Over the last two seasons he has allowed 6 yards per target when targeted compared to 8 yards for Peters.
The disparity is even larger when looking at how they do specifically against receivers in the slot. Again, looking at the last two years of data since Talib missed a large portion of this season, Talib has been considerably better. He has allowed just 6 yards per target to slot receivers, four yards better than Marcus Peters’ 10-yard mark.
Another effect of Aqib Talib taking over for Peters is that Peters can in turn take away some responsibility from Sam Shields. Shields has been torched throughout the season when he has been in the game and has averaged -0.55 total points per target when targeted this season, the fifth-worst rate in the NFL among corners (minimum 30 targets). Shields also owns the single lowest pass defense total points figure in a game this season with an egregious total of -15.8 week 11 against the Chiefs.
The Saints have an elite offense that will be hard to slow, particularly in the Superdome. Adding Talib back in to the mix for this rematch should help contain the explosive Michael Thomas and have ripple effects across the rest of the defense. This is why the Rams traded for Talib this offseason.