There’s No Place Like Home
The New Orleans Saints travel to Seattle on Monday to take on the Seahawks, and the playoff implications couldn’t be higher.
The Saints are currently in second in the NFC at 9-2, with Seattle holding down the top spot at 10-1.
The victor of this match up could likely be awarded the number one playoff seed and home field advantage throughout the post season. Which would be huge for both teams, considering their dominating numbers in their own stadiums – the Saints have won their last 14 home games with Sean Payton on the sideline, and Seattle hasn’t lost a home game since week 16 of 2011.
The playoffs are starting in week 13 this year, and first up is the Saints. What to watch for!
Make it Nasty
At home, the Seahawks are known for the “12th man.” The noise the crowd brings gives Seattle an overwhelming advantage and quite the reputation for the fan base.
However, I would argue that there is also a 13th man up Seattle’s sleeve, and that is the lovely weather of the pacific northwest.
If you watch a Seahawks game on television, the announcer will likely note Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and the rain.
It’s essentially textbook.
Well the rain really bodes in Seattle’s favor in every aspect of their game – limiting teams to a more one dimensional approach, opening up the running game for Beast Mode and the Seahawks, and giving the Legion of Boom more opportunities to force turnovers.
It is no secret the Saints have one of the top offenses in the league – number 3 actually – but it is also very evident they rely on the arm of Drew Brees, and very little else – number 2 in passing offense, while number 23 in rushing offense.
The weather report for Monday thus far: High 46 degrees, Low 34 degrees. 50% chance of rain with 13 mph winds.
Not crazy, but will be cold and wet enough to disrupt that passing attack New Orleans brings. Seattle lives for crummy weather.
So, in the words of Tyga, “Make it nasty.”
Overcoming Roster Depletion
So according to the NFL, the Seahawks are all drug addicts.
Both Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner were suspended for substance abuse, yet again. Thurmond’s suspension is 4 games while Browner’s is still pending, but is looking like he’ll be sitting out for an entire year.
With Browner’s contract up this off season, that would likely be an ending to his career in Seattle.
After last season with Browner and Richard Sherman‘s run-in with the substance abuse policy, then the beginning of this year with Bruce Irvin‘s suspension, it is looking more and more like there is a problem in Seattle with substances…and abusing them.
But that is a problem that will need to be assess behind the scenes, and after we hoist that Super Bowl trophy at the end of the year.
For now, we must focus on how Seattle can overcome the dismissal of these players.
Oh, and Percy Harvin is listed as doubtful because of a recent “flare up” with his hip. So there’s that.
The Harvin absence will be easily overlooked, considering he has been absent all season. But losing our second and third corners the week before matching up with the Saints’ passing attack sounds pretty scary. How scared should we be, really?
Not that scared.
As noted before, the weather is going to be the newest addition to the Legion on Monday. Also, if Seattle has anything – it’s depth. Yes Browner is out, but Thurmond is probably better for us in that spot as it is. Now he won’t be back for a few weeks, but we have very capable backups in Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell.
Both had to step in last season when Browner was suspended, and did so extraordinarily – the three games they started Seattle defeated Buffalo 50-17, San Francisco 42-13 and St. Louis 20-13.
One other thing to point out – the Saints air it out, but they don’t spread the defense out as much as you would think. They use more than 2 wide receiver-sets only 34% of the time on first and second downs, good for 7th fewest in the league.
They don’t have the most intimidating wide receiver corp either, but they find other ways to move the ball.
Jimmy and the Backfield
The Saints aren’t going to scare you with the names of their receivers – but the tight end and running backs may put a chill or two down your spine.
Jimmy Graham is a monster – and his numbers this season have shown so. With 65 receptions for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns, Graham has been the most dominant tight end in the league this year.
They also have a plethora of running backs – Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Mark Ingram – all who can really do damage in the passing game.
But they will be going against the league’s number 2 overall defense this Monday, and a defense that can defend both areas.
Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez are two of the top tight ends in the league, and both played against Seattle this season. Vernon notched up 3 receptions for 20 yards, while Tony also had 3 receptions for 29 yards.
Pete Carroll claims that Jimmy is somewhat of a combination of both players – with the intermediate route/ball control ability of Tony to go along with the big play ability of Vernon.
While defenses have tried all sorts of schemes to slow down Graham, New England completely shut him out and held him without a catch by putting the larger Aqib Talib on him all game long.
Seattle likely won’t put the larger Richard Sherman on him all game – they just don’t run that type of defense – but they do have the size with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor that can slow Graham when the opportunity arises.
And as for the running backs, well defensive MVP candidate Earl Thomas claims he is going to be shadowing the backfield throughout the game…so have fun with that New Orleans.
Night and Day Defense
One subtle yet major reason the Saints have been so successful this season is the arrival of Rob Ryan and his defense.
The Saints have always been a defense that thrives on turnovers and gives up points, but Drew Brees would just outscore the opponents. Now, Ryan has revamped the defense and they currently sit at number 5 in the league. Very impressive, but there is a very evident contrast to their defense at home and on the road.
At home the Saints have been great, allowing only 272 yards per game along with 15.8 points. Away from the Superdome, however, the numbers aren’t as super.
Allowing 355 yards and over 20 points per game – including a 144 rushing yard performance from the Buccaneers’ Doug Martin, 218 yards receiving from Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery, and 139 yards on the ground from the Jets’ Chris Ivory.
Both losses have come on the road for New Orleans as well.
So when you look at the rankings and see New Orleans at number 5, dig a little deeper and you’ll see that they are very different away from their home.
Sensei vs Grasshopper
Growing up, Russell Wilson was constantly told what he couldn’t do because of his size. Well he has obviously overcome the doubts and proved he can do damn near anything, and a big reason for that was Drew Brees.
Brees is very similar to Wilson in stature – Brees listed at 6’0 feet tall, Russ at 5’11.
When Wilson was drafted, the comparisons to Brees were non-stop. Analysts would doubt, and Seattle fans would point to Brees.
“He did it, why can’t Russell?”
Well as biased as those comparisons might have been, it is no secret that Russell has looked up to Brees and adapted a lot from the 13-year veteran’s playing style.
Even at last years’ pro bowl, you could see Russell following Brees around and sapping all the information he could from one of his role models.
Well now these two will go head-to-head for the first time in Russell’s career. Both are playing behind electrifying offenses and stout defenses, and each have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl.
Which player will come out on top? Will experience prove to be the successor, or will the student become the teacher?