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Rams-Saints takeaways: As defense keeps slipping, does Matthew Stafford need replacing?

The New Orleans Saints defeated the Rams 27-20 on Sunday at the Superdome.

What we learned from a loss that extended the Rams’ skid to four games and dropped them to 3-7 this season:

The defense is slumping: A last-minute loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few weeks ago was excusable. Brady has made a career out of picking apart defenses for game-winning points — and the Rams’ offense should have closed out the game.

But when journeyman Colt McCoy coolly sliced and diced the Rams in their loss to the Arizona Cardinals, something was amiss.

On Sunday, Andy Dalton — a longtime starter for the Cincinnati Bengals now with his third team in three seasons — completed 21 of 25 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns for New Orleans. Taysom Hill took direct snaps and rushed for 52 yards in nine carries and completed one of three passes for 14 yards.

“We had some situations where our offense was rolling and had some momentum, and the defense has got to be able to step up … and keep them out of the end zone,” Rams safety Nick Scott said. “We didn’t do that.”

The Rams cannot force a turnover — but that is nothing new.

They have not intercepted a pass or recovered a fumble in four consecutive games. They have forced only one turnover in the last eight games.

In several games, they came close but dropped balls that would have been interceptions or fumbles bounced into the hands of opponents.

That was not the case against the Saints, who did not come close to making a costly error.

The Rams could be counting on Bryce Perkins or John Wolford moving forward: After quarterback Matthew Stafford left the game to be evaluated for a concussion, Perkins stepped in and led two drives that ended with field goals.

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Perkins was the backup Sunday because Wolford was inactive after suffering a neck injury during the previous week’s loss to Arizona, a game Wolford started because Stafford was in the concussion protocol.

Saints linebacker Kaden Elliss (55) sacks Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins (16) in the second half. Perkins replaced Matthew Stafford, who had to leave the game because of a concussion.

(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

Against the Saints, Perkins completed five of 10 passes for 64 yards and rushed for 39 yards in five carries.

“Bryce came in there and did some good things,” coach Sean McVay said.

Perkins began to warm up after Stafford went into the sideline medical tent. Perkins said he received support from teammates on offense.

“I let them know that it was going to be a little different, but we will get situated, so I appreciate those guys embracing me and helping me out,” Perkins said. “They did a great job picking me up.”

Tutu Atwell can catch a deep pass: Atwell, a second-round draft pick in 2021, scored the first touchdown of his career when he hauled in a 62-yard pass from Stafford along the left sideline in the first quarter.

“It felt great,” Atwell said. “Matthew put it out there and went and got it.”

The Rams' Tutu Atwell (15) scores on a 62-yard touchdown catch ahead of  Saints Tyrann Mathieu (32) and Chris Harris Jr.

The Rams’ Tutu Atwell scores on a 62-yard, first-quarter touchdown catch ahead of the Saints’ Tyrann Mathieu (32) and Chris Harris Jr.

(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

It was only the second career reception for the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Atwell, who caught a 54-pass from Stafford on Oct. 9 in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium.

Atwell had been inactive the last two games.

But with star wide receiver Cooper Kupp recovering from ankle surgery, Atwell and other receivers had increased opportunities against the Saints.

Teammates celebrated with Atwell after the touchdown.

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“Everyone was happy for him,” Perkins said. “You could see it on the sideline everybody jumping up and down and meeting him before he came off the field. That’s what football is about.”

Cam Akers was right: Akers, a third-year running back, maintained before and after his exile earlier this season that the key to establishing an effective rushing attack was to simply give him and others enough opportunities to establish a rhythm.

Akers rushed for 61 yards in 14 carries, including a 13-yard run.

“Just want to stick with it, be consistent with it and build on it,” Akers said.

Kyren Williams can contribute: Williams, a rookie running back, turned his first career carry into a first down.

It was big moment for the fifth-round draft pick from Notre Dame. He had been sidelined during training camp because of a foot injury and for eight games because of an ankle injury he suffered while covering a kickoff in the opener against the Buffalo Bills.

Williams played against the Cardinals but did not have a carry or a reception. He said during the week that he was happy to get acclimated.

On Sunday, he rushed for 36 yards in seven carries, including one for 17 yards.

“Something I’m accustomed to doing — and I just have to keep going,” he said. “There were some runs that I missed. Some that I overthought and over-pressed and didn’t remember my fundamentals.

“That’s something I’ve got to watch the film and come back next week and get better on.”

Offensive line injuries apparently never cease: Left tackle Ty Nsekhe suffered an ankle injury during the second quarter and was replaced by Bobby Evans.

Evans became the fourth player to line up at left tackle this season, following Joe Noteboom, Alaric Jackson and Nsekhe.

Matt Skura started for the first time at left guard.

Leonard Floyd is starting to heat up: Floyd did not have a sack in the first six games of the season.

But he has amassed five in the last four games, including two against New Orleans. Both of Floyd’s sacks contributed to the Saints being forced to kick field goals.

Aaron Donald and Greg Gaines also recorded sacks.

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