Ok, the Eagles game was historical good fun and all but it's time to start focusing on the task at hand that is another trip to Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. Yes, the Saints lost to the Seahawks a month ago in the same venue 34-7. Yes, the Saints are the 6 seed and the Seahawks are the 1 seed. But may I remind you the 6 seed has won 5 of the last 8 matchups against the 1 seed in the playoffs. Any given Sunday, people.
Over the next two days I'll be getting some serious Seahawks intel to really dig into this matchup and give you the opposing fan's view, much like always. First up is Chris Sullivan who has consistently been a very reliable Seahawks resource for me over the years. You can check him out on twitter here. He doesn't blog as much on the Seahawks anymore, but trust me, few people out there know more about the team. His content below will speak to that. And he takes an opportunity to insult the Falcons, so now you know why I love the guy. Here's what we discussed leading up to the game:
Saints Nation: Ok, you guys skull dragged us last time in Seattle, just a month ago. Be honest. The Seahawks fans are supremely confident this will be a cakewalk, right?
30 Acre Fortress: There's definitely a contingent of fans who believe that, but the last month of the season saw Seahawks saw an 11-1 team go 2-2 to finish the season out, with what can only be defined as sub-par offensive performances by the team. There are definitely still some nerves in this town, and we are all too aware of the fact that beating a good team twice in a season is very difficult -- especially after falling to the 49ers and Cardinals in each of our second meetings.
Before that game I said the Saints had to stop Marshawn Lynch as the Seattle offense goes through him. Well, he had 16 carries for 45 yards. If you told me those stats before the game I would have felt really good about the Saints' chances. Instead, they lost 34-7. Obviously the Saints focused on the game plan I suggested defensively (not that they were listening to me) and it backfired. Do they ditch that plan? Was it wrong? Or do they go with the same approach and just hope Wilson doesn't play as well?
It's no secret that the primary weapon Carroll and (OC) Darrell Bevell want to win with is Marshawn Lynch and the running game. What people miss outside of Seattle, however, is that this team lives off explosive plays -- 20+ yard chunks. The Seahawks led the league in Brian Billick's "Toxic Differential" -- the combined turnover differential and explosive play differential -- +20 for turnovers and +46 in explosive plays. Explosive play differential was second only to the Eagles (with +48). The Saints were +12 during the regular season, and if memory serves had only two explosives during the Seahawks game. Bevell's plan is, broadly, force you to attack the run then kill you on the deep ball. Add Percy Harvin into the mix and (we hope) it becomes a much more dangerous attack. But if you let up on the run game for one second, Lynch can kill you quick. This is the balance that Carroll pulled off so well at USC, sans a Reggie Bush type -- us fans like to think Percy Harvin is Bush+, but he will be far from 100% on Saturday.
Does the loss to Arizona at home change anything, even just a little? Now that the "Seahawks are unbeatable at home in Seattle" narrative is gone, does that make you even 1% more nervous?
Honestly, there was nothing more nerve-racking than that awful home streak. We have enough common sense in Seattle to know that misery is supposed to follow us as sports fans (see: Sonics, Mariners, the first 35 years of the Seahawks). The sort of team that beats Seattle is Seattle -- that is to say, great front seven, willing to play the game into the 4th quarter, and win on a game winning drive. The Saints aren't that, but they do have an elite quarterback and, in the game vs. the Eagles, showed a willingness and capacity to run the ball well. My game plan for the Saints: get to the fourth quarter as quickly as possible, then whichever quarterback has the last game-winning drive, wins. We trust Wilson to do that, and I bet you guys trust Brees to do the same.
The last 8 times the 6 seed has played the 1 seed in the NFL playoffs, the 6 seed leads that series 5-3. I know that has zero bearing on this game, but it points clearly to parity in the NFL. Do you buy into that a little bit? And the notion that it's very hard to beat the same good team twice badly like that?
I definitely buy into that. It is very difficult to beat any NFL team twice in a season, and when both teams are playoff quality, that difficulty increases dramatically. The NFL is built for 8-8 teams, and the rule book is ever shifting to accommodate that parity. Plus, at least one of those 1-seed teams that lost were the Falcons so how much can we really be surprised, amirite?!
How can the Saints put up points on the Seahawks? 7 won't cut it. Any ideas about how the Saints can even remotely expose this defense? Please? Anything?!?! HELLO??? ECHO.....
You absolutely have to do it on the ground. Chase Stuart over at Football Perspective wrote a great piece on the Seahawks pass defense, noting that just about anyway you look at it, this 2013 Seahawks pass defense is one of the Top 5 since the merger. (Fun fact: the 1988 Vikings Pass D, ranked #2, was also coached by Pete Carroll.) My buddy Jacson Bevens over at FieldGulls.com noted that Richard Sherman led the NFL in passer rating against (47.3), but that over the last 3 games the entire defense has allowed a 44.4 passer rating -- basically, they're all playing like Richard Sherman right now. So, step one, run the ball. Step two: work the middle. It's easier said than done, but with KJ Wright out of action with a broken foot, you can expect Jimmy Graham do to a little bit more this week, barring a Kam Chancellor knock-out. Back-up linebacker Malcom Smith will likely take Graham on, but Smith is almost as good as Wright. We aren't exactly sure why no one is talking to Ken Norton, Jr. for defensive coordinator roles, but that guy can coach up linebackers like no one else. One thing Carroll noted on a radio piece earlier this week is that during the playoffs, teams get more conservative. In a weird way, I'm advocating that -- run the ball, work with what Seattle gives you, etc. But step three would be to take smart shots. Payton should have enough of an understanding of how this secondary works to get a few explosives off them.
Any other thoughts on the matchup you want to share?
Watch out for Percy, but please, please, please don't hurt him. He's a very nice young man.
I think Seattle takes it 24 - 17. Seattle's defense has been playing so out of its mind lately that they almost have to drop off a little and allow a couple of touchdowns. I think the offense can put up more against the Saints' somewhat depleted secondary, though. This won't be another blowout, but the four of the five Saints losses this year have come against Seattle-esque teams -- NYJ, CAR, STL, and SEA, all on the road. If this were an away game, I might have to flip those scores and add 14 to each.
There is a big advantage to playing there in the postseason. EVERYBODY on the Saints team knows what to expect. They have been there in a season defining game not so long ago. Still it is a hard place to play, but the surprise effect is gone. Brees will be prepared. more then last time and know what to do. Saints can adapt. Seahawks are "not changing a winning team" ... so there are better chances.