When the Saints Come Marching In
Having earned a first week bye in this year’s playoffs, much of the 12th man spent last week watching the Wild Card match-ups in anticipation of who their beloved Seattle Seahawks would play next. Upon escaping Lincoln Financial Field last Saturday, with a 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the New Orleans Saints earned the right to make the trip to Seattle.
It won’t be the first time these two teams have met this season, nor will it have been that long since they last met in the playoffs.
Going as far back as week 13, the Seahawks hosted the Saints for a showdown on Monday Night Football; the game quickly got out of hand for the Saints, so maybe beatdown is a more appropriate term. Russell Wilson starred in that prime-time match, tallying his highest yards from scrimmage total all season – 310 through the air and another 47 on the ground, for a total of 357 yards. It was more than enough for the Seahawks to cruise to a 34-7 victory.
Even further down the line in Saints-Seahawks history, the last match between these two was of the Wild Card variety, back in 2011. The Seahawks were in the first year of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era, and realistically had no business being in the playoffs at all; let alone hosting a game.
As such, the 11-5 Saints were heavily favored in this David and Goliath match against the 7-9 Seahawks – their role as hosts was entirely attributed to their playing in what was once an awful division that could be, and was, won with a 7-9 record.
Luckily for Seattle, they were clearly in good favor with the football gods that day. On the backs of heroic performances from Marshawn Lynch and Matt Hasselbeck, they found a way to beat the Saints 41-36.
How They Got Here
Getting their head coach back from suspension and a new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan, the Saints came into this season with considerably loftier expectations than last. With the Sean Payton to Drew Brees connection re-established and the Saints defense resurgent, they had no difficulties delivering on their expectations.
Through numerous injuries on both sides of the ball to key contributors, the Saints still found a way to remain in the chase for the NFC South crown nearly all season.
Though the Saints remained competitive to the very end of the season, the affect injuries took on this roster was nonetheless apparent, as they limped into the playoffs having only won three of their last six games. Heading into last week’s Wild Card match the Saints had to overcome the loss of both their starting runningback (Pierre Thomas) and arguably their best cornerback, Jabari Greer – Thomas is probable for Saturday’s game, while Greer is on IR.
The Saints have been able to overcome these injuries with increased production from former first-round pick Mark Ingram, and stellar play from free-agent signing Keenan Lewis – Lewis is probable to play in Saturday’s game after suffering a suspected concussion in Philadelphia.
For the Saints though, it’s the injuries to their defensive front that will be paramount in Seattle. On Tuesday, New Orleans placed outside linebacker Parys Haralson on IR. While Haralson is the only member of the defensive front likely to miss Saturday’s action, it is well known at this point that many members of the d-line are dealing with nagging injuries.
How Seattle Beats Them
Not enough can be said of the yeoman’s-work Rob Ryan has done with this defense, but make no mistake about it: this team will go as far as Drew Brees can take them. Back in December the Seahawks had no problem shutting down Brees, and if they want to make it into the NFC Championship game they will have to be similarly good against the future hall of famer.
This will be no short order for the Seahawks secondary, a group that is missing Brandon Browner as he serves a year long suspension.
More importantly though, they will be missing K.J. Wright to injury on Saturday; taking his place as the starting sam linebacker will be Malcolm Smith. The lengthy linerbacker was tasked with keeping Jimmy Graham in check the last time the Seahawks played the Saints, and did a masterful job of it. Filling in for Wright will most likely be Seattle’s strong safety, Kam Chancellor.
No pressure, right?
But alas, such is the faith of the Seahawks. It seems incredibly obvious, but to beat New Orleans the Seahawks will have to keep Brees’ favourite target and the Saints leader in receiving yards in check. Shut down Graham, and Brees just might start forcing the ball into coverage.
Beyond that, the Seahawks will have to be careful they don’t underestimate the Saints ground game. New Orleans has a relatively good offensive line, and Mark Ingram has been able to find success running behind it of late. He’s a big bruising back, who’s finding his game at just the right moment.
It’s no short order, but the Saints are definitely beatable. Just gotta keep that high-octane offense in check.
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDylanBurke