The last time these two teams met on October 14, 2007, the Saints defeated the Seahawks 28-17, snapping a dismal four-game losing streak in which New Orleans had started the season a surprising 0-4. The keys to that victory were ultimately solid performances by Drew Brees and Reggie Bush.
Back then the Seahawks were in total control of the NFC West and the Saints were at the bottom of the NFC South despite a very successful 2006 season. Today, the Seahawks are still atop their fledgling division, but barely and the Saints are fighting to eventually gain an advantage over Atlanta to secure a number one spot in theirs. That’s why Sunday’s matchup in the Superdome is so critical for both teams.
The Seahawks come to town lugging some dismal stats behind them. Offensively, they’re ranked 30th overall (28th in points per game, 30th in yards per game, 23rd in passing yards per game, and 28th in rushing yards per game). Defensively they’ve fared a bit better but not much, sitting at 27th overall (19th in points allowed, 27th in yards allowed, 28th in passing yards allowed, and 14th in rushing yards allowed).
With stats like these, the Saints offense should have a field day, but it won’t be easy by any definition of the word. The Seahawks are coming off a huge 36-18 win against their division rival, the Arizona Cardinals, who stunned the Saints in a week 5 upset. You know they’re going to fight hard to keep that momentum going.
Just like last time, Brees’ performance is going to be paramount if the Saints are going to win this one. And I’m not necessarily talking about how many yards he passes for either. He has to eliminate the interceptions that hurt the team against the Cardinals and the Browns. It goes without saying that the offensive line and the receivers have also got to be on their A game as well because they’re not totally devoid of responsibility in some of those interceptions. When Brees’ protection is compromised, he has made poor decisions and turned the ball over. Tipped balls and dropped passes have been equally as damaging.
In a game that with such a high playoff impact, the Saints have got to consistently find the endzone–no two ways about it. Hopefully, the highly-anticipated return of Reggie Bush will allow Sean Payton to open up his playbook a bit more and get this once high-flying offense back off the ground. It would be a bonus to see #23 (Pierre Thomas) suited up as well.
The play of the Saints defense is also going to be critical. Not so much for the sake of padding their already impressive stats, but for the offense to be successful. In the last two games in which the defense has generated takeaways, the offense has looked much better. They played with more confidence and it showed in their production.
Yet, if the defense is going to be effective, pressure has to constantly be put on Matt Hasselbeck. When allowed to get comfortable in the pocket, he can and will pick a defense apart. So the Saints are going to have to establish a pass rush early and often because Hasselbeck has a super fast receiver by the name of Mike Williams who can get vertical and make big plays down the field.
However, the Saints are 1st in pass defense, so I wouldn’t expect too much of that, but you just know they’re going to try it a few times anyway. I expect them to mostly utilize Justin Forsett to try to test the Saints 17th ranked rush defense, which in my eyes is better than it looks on paper.
Still and all, this is going to be a tough matchup. We’ve seen this year more evidently than ever before that there are no givens when it comes to the game of football. Regardless of what the analysts say, the Saints are still one of the best teams in the NFL. But when they come out and turn the ball over and rack up unnecessary penalty yards, they don’t look like it.
Junk about “Superbowl hangover” and stuff like that are just some people’s way of trying to explain what’s wrong with the team that dominated the NFC a year ago before going on to win the Superbowl. The fact of the matter is, they just need to settle down, watch some tape from last year, and get back to whatever it was that made them champions in the first place, not get away from it.
They’ve got to remember what made them so great and go out and duplicate that. I don’t care what anyone says, when the Saints have shown flawless execution, they have won the battles, no matter who was defending. And part of that goes back to the players. Whether anybody else will say it or not, I will. The Saints need Pierre Thomas back in the lineup. He made huge plays for the team even when Bush was standing on the sideline.
People should think about what a valuable asset he has been before they so quickly want to see him ushered out the door. I’m not knocking the tandem that has been filling in for the injured Thomas and Bush because they have shown moments of brilliance. But what the Saints need right now more than anything is consistency and that’s the one element Thomas brings. Say whatever you will, but they guy is consistent and always has been.
As both teams go into Sunday’s game with momentum (the Seahawks after their impressive victory against Arizona and the Saints after coming off impressive back to back wins before the bye), let’s just hope that New Orleans’ focus is all on Seattle and not looking ahead to the Thanksgiving Day battle with the Cowboys. If the Saints come out and play a well-disciplined, turnover-free game, I predict they’ll win 31-17.