The New Orleans Saints will be traveling to Seattle to take on the Seahawks for the 2nd time this season, this time in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Saints first trip did not go as planned, with the Seahawks dominating in a 34-7 beat down on December 2nd. Drew Brees was held to 147 yards passing, his fewest since 2006, and the Saints as a team had just 188 total yards.
In preparation for this game, Saints coach Sean Payton has emptied his bag of tricks by painting the Seahawks logo on his teams practice field as well as attempting to simulate the noise created by Seattle’s 12th man.
There was serious doubt about New Orleans ability to win on the road, but the team answered those questions with a 26-24 win in Philadelphia last Saturday.
Now, the Saints are attempting to make it two in a row in arguably the hardest place to win a game in professional sports.
During the regular season, you knew what the Saints were going to do on offense, and that was throw the football with Drew Brees. Against the Eagles though, the Saints ran 6 more running than passing plays. All of a sudden, the Saints offense looks as balanced as it ever has. Mark Ingram ran for 97 yards, and the team totaled 185 yards on the ground. In order for the Saints to have a chance, the offense has to get off to an early lead. In the first meeting, Seattle got off to a 17-0 start and the Saints were’t able to get back in it. A fast start would mean Drew Brees wouldn’t have to chuck it around everywhere against the NFL’s number 1 pass defense, and the Saints can extend drives by using Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Sproles. Instead of pounding the ball with Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson would be forced to beat you with his arm. When the Cardinals went into Seattle and beat the Seahawks in week 16, Arizona had the ball 15 minutes longer, and had 23 more rushing attempts. That’s the formula the Saints need to follow.
The way the Seahawks offense operates is it establishes the run with Marshawn Lynch, which sets up the play with Russell Wilson. In order for that to happen, the Seahawks have to get the early lead. That way, Seattle could control the clock, and opposing teams would be forced to beat their number 1 pass defense. For just the 2nd time this season, Percy Harvin will be playing, and it appears he’s as close to 100 percent as he’s been all year. Adding Harvin to a receiving core of Golden Tate, and Doug Baldwin makes Seattle’s 26th ranked passing attack much more dangerous. If Seattle falls behind though, it will be up to Wilson to lead the offense.
Seahawks – Seattle gets the edge because there’s a 100 percent chance of rain on game-day. That plays into the hands of Seattle, and against the Saints.
Both the Saints and the Seahawks have top 5 defenses. The Saints is number 5, while the Seahawks are number 1. Throwing the ball against Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Bryon Maxwell is nearly impossible. That, along with Seattle’s ability to rush the passer makes for a deadly combination. Running the ball isn’t much easier, but it’s not as hard as it is for teams to pass it. Either way, Sean Payton is going to have to get especially creative to move the ball against a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in almost 2 months.
The strength of the Saints defense is the secondary. During the regular season, New Orleans had the NFL’s 2nd ranked pass defense. The rush defense ranked 19th, but held LeSean McCoy in check last week. McCoy was held to a 3.7 yards per carry average, and 77 yards against the Saints last week. It’s going to have to take a similar effort to shut down Marshawn Lynch who can go beast mode on you if you’re not careful.
Seahawks – Seattle has the number 1 defense in the NFL, and good luck throwing the football against Richard Sherman and company.
Kicker: Shayne Graham vs. Steven Hauschka
Punter: Thomas Morestead vs. Jon Ryan
Return Man: Darren Sproles vs. Percy Harvin
Steven Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the NFL in 2013, missing just 2 kicks for the entire season. Shayne Graham came on board 3 weeks ago, and has made all 6 of his kicks. Last week against the Eagles, Graham was 4/4, which included the game winner as time expired.
In the punting game, Thomas Morestead averages nearly 5 more yards per punt than his counterpart Jon Ryan. If this becomes a close knit game with the rain, punting could play a big role in this game.
Not only is Percy Harvin planning on playing, he’s also planning on returning kicks. In his only return of the year, Harvin returned the ball 58 yards. How effective he will be in this game remains to be seen. For the Saints, Darren Sproles has yet to break a kick all season with a long of 32 yards.
Seahawks – You have to trust Steven Hauschka more than Graham kicking in the rain, and Seattle has one of the league’s best kick coverages.
If it wasn’t going to be pouring all game, the Saints would have more of a chance. The rain though to me, favors the Seahawks.
Seahawks 24 Saints 20