By HCR Staff | Jan. 16, 2019
There will be more to the coaching matchup in the NFC Championship Game than simply the battle of the Seans. Sure, the focus will be on Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay looking to get to his first Super Bowl and the New Orleans Saints’ Sean Payton two wins away from becoming a two-time Super Bowl champion. But there’s plenty of talent on both staffs, and their experience will be a factor leading up to and during this game.
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup with be Rams’ offensive line coach/running game coordinator Aaron Kromer vs. Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen.
In their Week 9 meeting, a 45-35 Saints win in New Orleans, the Rams were held to 92 yards rushing. Gurley finished with 68 yards on 13 carries – he probably could have done more damage, but the Saints had a big halftime lead and the Rams abandoned the run.
The Saints ranked sixth in the NFL in run defense during the regular season, allowing 126.6 yards per game on the ground. However, they lost their best run-stopper up front last week when defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins suffered an Achilles tear. Rankins was placed on IR this week.
To replace him on the roster, the Saints on Tuesday signed free agent defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker, who played with the Saints from 2012-14 and was with the Rams last season.
Despite Walker’s familiarity with both teams, signing a guy off the street will not properly fill Rankins’ shoes – especially against a Rams squad that just rushed for 273 yards in their 30-22 playoff win over the Cowboys.
Along with starting nose tackle Tyeler Davison, Nielsen will work Walker into an interior line rotation that also includes David Onyemata and Taylor Stallworth. Nielsen works his players hard and is very detailed. His defensive ends, Alex Okafor and Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan, do a good job of controlling the edge and forcing runs inside.
The Saints’ front four also gets plenty of help from linebackers Demario Davis, A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone. They are the reason why New Orleans is the only team that hasn’t allowed a single run of 30 yards or more this season.
They’ll face a serious challenge to maintain that stat against the Rams. McVay has credited Kromer with helping C.J. Anderson come in late in the season and play so well – first as an injury replacement for Gurley and currently as a dangerous complement. Kromer, coincidentally, was part of Payton’s coaching staff from 2008-12, so he does have some familiarity with what the Saints defense will try to do.
It’s a matchup that could play a large part in which team represents the NFC in Super Bowl LIII.