Gridiron Gab NFC Wild Card Preview: New Orleans at Seattle

He’s won two national championships at the highest level of collegiate football, yet Seattle’s Pete Carroll says this weekend’s Wild Card game against the defending Super Bowl champions is a different experience.

“The fact that…you play and…the suspense and the tension of the opportunity to play again is, you know, that it’s just unique and it’s really, really exciting to be a part of,” said the Seahawks’ first-year head coach during his Wednesday press conference from his team’s Renton, Wash. training facilities.

Should Carroll and his Seahawks secure a ticket to the next round of the playoffs, it will require upsetting a New Orleans Saints team that features a Super Bowl MVP and two former national collegiate players of the year, yet Seattle’s head coach isn’t changing a thing in regards to his team’s preparation for the Saturday matchup at Qwest Field.

“From all the way back to [training] camp,” said Carroll, “you know that every game is a championship game, every game calls you to give everything you got. We try to learn how to do that in the preparation, the mental process and all of that goes into that so it’s not uncommon right now.”

“I am not going to ask these guys to play different than they played last week or the week before. That’s the whole point: I don’t want them to over try. I don’t want them to go beyond what, you know, ‘I got to make plays I’ve never played before,’ you know? That’s the wrong mentality for us.”

Something that could help the Seahawks out is the recent rash of injuries the Saints have had at the running back position.

Earlier this week, the team placed Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas on Injured Reserve. As a rookie this year, Ivory’s 716 yards and five touchdowns led New Orleans in both rushing categories. Thomas was the Saints’ second-leading rusher this year and led the team the previous two seasons.

The loss of the Ivory and Thomas could be a blow to New Orleans, but the Saints won’t be empty handed this weekend as they will turn to the dual-threat of Reggie Bush to handle the lead duties. In five years in the National Football League, the running back has more receiving yards (2,142) than rushing yards (2,090) and has a combined 29 touchdowns.

“He’s an unusual, unusually gifted football player that no matter who watches the film, you’re gonna say, ‘Hey we gotta do something here because this guy can do this, this and this,”’ said Carroll, who coached the Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Southern California.

“We have to know where he is. We have to…take care of our matchups and things because they’ll use him to beat linebackers and they’ll use him to get out of the backfield and get down the field and option run and all the things he’s good at as well as carry the football.”

The team also has Julius Jones and, earlier this week, resigned DeShawn Wynn and signed Joique Bell.

Wynn, a fourth-year pro out of the University of Florida, spent the first five weeks of the season with the Saints before heading to San Francisco to play for the 49ers.

Bell, an undrafted rookie out of Wayne State, spent time with the Colts and Eagles prior to joining the Saints this week. In his senior year at Wayne State, the running back won the Harlon Hill trophy, an award given to the country’s top football player at the NCAA Division Two level, and amassed 2,084 rushing yards while scoring 29 times.

The Seahawks won’t be able to focus their defensive pressure solely on a relatively new-look ground game, though.

“We’re playing against one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL,” said Carroll of Drew Brees.

In helping guide his team to last season’s Super Bowl victory, Brees was named the game’s MVP. This year, he was among the league’s top passers in yards, completion percentage and touchdowns.

However, the season wasn’t perfect for him. Brees threw 22 interceptions, a career high.

The Saints won’t be the only team Saturday using a quarterback that had a forgettable season in terms of ball security.

Thursday, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll tabbed 12-year veteran and long-time starter Matt Hasselbeck as the one who will be under center for the Seahawks.

Hasselbeck missed the team’s regular-season finale, a 16-6 victory over St. Louis to clinch the NFC West championship, due to a left hip injury sustained on a one-yard touchdown run by the quarterback two weeks ago in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers.

Now recovered, Hasselbeck will need to focus on his decision making to beat the Saints. This season he’s thrown 17 interceptions, tying his career high he set last year.

The quarterback position hasn’t been the only issue for the Seattle offense.

“The red zone’s going to be very critical for us,” said Seattle’s Pete Carroll.

Seattle’s struggled inside opposing teams’ 20-yard lines, scoring points just 42 percent of the time.

“They’re going to make it very difficult for us,” said Carroll of the New Orleans defense who kept the Seahawks off the scoreboard two out of three times when Seattle was within the Saints’ 20-yard line earlier this season.

“We got to find some ways in to, you know, to get our scores. They’re effective like they’ve been with their offense, we’re gonna have to keep with them and of course we’d like to keep the score down, but they’re going to be very difficult. So, we’ll have to find our ways to get in the end zone.”

Saturday’s kickoff at Qwest Field between the Saints and the Seahawks is set for 4:30 p.m. Eastern and will be televised on NBC.

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