After resting and recovering through their timely and much-needed bye week, the Saints will aim to pick up where they left off after strong back-to-back performances against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers when the NFC West-Leading Seattle Seahawks come to town off a decisive road victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Saints will be looking to fuel their newfound momentum and their seemingly re-discovered swagger by securing their first three-game win streak of the season in an attempt to keep pace with Atlanta in an increasingly close race for the NFC South crown.
After losing his first three career games following the bye, Sean Payton re-tooled his off-week routine last season, allowing his players to rest in favor of his prior preference toward milking the off days for extra reps.
This singular growth of Payton as a head coach seemed a crucial one when his 2009 squad came out of the week 5 bye looking sharp and fresh in spanking the red-hot Giants on the way to 13-0 and Super Bowl XLIV.
Add to this the fact that the Saint’s #1 rated secondary is getting healthy and Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are closer by the day, and this game becomes an opportunity — if the Saints want to smell greatness again, be special again, or finish stronger, it starts on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Come on Strong:
With the exception of Sunday’s win against the Cardinals, the Seahawks have been miserable on the road. With a lack of quality depth at receiver to challenge opposing secondaries, and with a below average offensive line and overall pass protection issues, the Seahawks are not built to come from behind, especially in the Superdome. Compound this with the Saints’ top rated pass defense and New Orleans can close this one out early if they can jump to an early lead.
Prevent Big Plays:
Against the Cardinals, the Seahawks had eight possessions in the red zone and managed only two touchdowns on 1 yard and 4 yard runs by Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, respectively.
The Seahawks settled on six field goal attempts by former Saints kicker Olindo Mare, who converted five of those.
The touchdowns came on two of five total goal-to-go situations for the Seahawks; against the Steelers and really throughout the season, the Saints defense has shown that it can rise to the occasion and protect the goal line when the opponent lines up in a heavy set and tries to power it in.
Seattle’s only other trip to the end zone against the Cardinals came on a 63 yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Deon Butler against two-deep man coverage from Arizona’s base 4-3 defense. Hasselbeck bought some time in the pocket after a play fake to Marshawn Lynch, and Butler made a great play on the ball that was essentially thrown into triple coverage.
As long as Gregg Williams can continue to bring the heat and disguise coverages, Hasselbeck, who broke his left non-throwing wrist in the second half Sunday, shouldn’t get too many looks downfield. The Seahawks will have a hard time stealing a win if they are forced to sustain long drives and execute in the red zone.
Protect the Football:
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but turning the ball over and losing the possession time battle led directly to all three of the Saints’ 2010 losses.
Quite simply, the Seahawks won’t win unless they can force some key turnovers, so protecting the football is as always priority number 1 for the Saints.
If the offense can control the clock by converting third downs and staying on the field, and if they can convert red zone possessions into touchdowns to put pressure on the Seahawks’ offense to come from behind — the Saints D will almost surely get their opportunity for takeaways and negative pass plays on defense, and this will certainly be a recipe for success come Sunday.
Matchup to Watch: Mike Williams Vs. Saints Secondary
Since resurrecting his career in reuniting with Pete Carroll, his coach at USC, Mike Williams is finally starting to live up to the expectations that surrounded his entry into the league as the 10th overall selection in 2005 by the Detroit Lions. He’s a big (6’5″), physical receiver with excellent ball skills and his route running is constantly improving.
The Seahawks like to get Lynch and Forsett going early to try to set up play action looks to Williams against single coverage to the outside, and they also like to line him up in the slot in 3-wide sets as he has a knack for finding the soft spots in zone coverages.
Since Gregg Williams will undoubtedly send various blitzes to disrupt the running game and Hasselbeck’s rhythm in the pocket, Jabari Greer will quite often be expected to contain Williams in one-on-one coverage. Greer has been excellent for the Saints as their primary lock-down corner, but his rare struggles have been primarily against bigger, more physical receivers such as Williams.
This will be a key matchup when the Saints bring pressure on passing downs. When the Saints play coverage or send one of Gregg’s trademark veiled zone blitzes, the defense must swarm to the ball and prevent Williams from getting chunks of yards after the catch. If the Saints can successfully prevent Williams from breaking out, it will be a long and frustrating day for the Seahawks.
The Saints are looking to get rolling, and after last year’s performances against the Giants and the Cardinals (playoffs) following an off week, there’s no reason to believe that fans won’t leave the Dome Sunday evening feeling pretty good.
The Saints will play relatively mistake-free and frustration-free football and will come out with high energy to jump on top quickly. Having to abandon the ground game early, Seattle will be forced to play right into the hands of the best pass defense in the land, and Darren Sharper’s mystical presence will create yet another defensive touchdown on one of 3 Saints’ interceptions.
The Saints defense will complete their seventh consecutive game in which they did not allow their opponent to gain more than 300 total yards, and the offense will post its highest point total of the season. Seattle will fly home wondering what could have been if only they’d faced the Saints earlier in the season.
Check out Keith Null’s weekly article about the Saints on NFL.com by clicking here.