Saturday, January 11, 2014
W2W4: Saints at Seahawks
By Mike Triplett
SEATTLE -- This is the simplest What 2 Watch 4 of the entire season. Everything the New Orleans Saints did in their first meeting with the Seattle Seahawks last month, they need to just do the opposite Saturday.
Specifically, though, there are a few areas that stand out more than others as we break down this divisional round playoff match. Earlier this week, I focused on two of the big ones:
Here are four more things to watch for:
Wet and windy: Last week, the Saints proved they could win a game outdoors in cold weather at Philadelphia. But today's elements will be an entirely different beast. Forecasts are calling for a high percentage of rain throughout most of the day (though down from the previously-forecasted 100 percent chance) and wind speeds around 25 mph.
The Saints did their best to expose themselves to the elements this week, practicing outdoors in windy weather in Metairie that was actually colder than it will be in Seattle. And they did "wet ball" drills throughout practices -- (a common practice around the NFL, including tactics like dunking balls in water between snaps and even spraying water in players' faces as they ran).
Receiver Lance Moore was the most blunt, however, in describing that there's no getting around the elements.
"Rain sucks for receivers, quarterbacks, anyone who has to handle the ball," Moore said. "Luckily both teams have to play in it."
Naturally, the Saints should be affected more by the elements since they rely more on their passing attack. But the Saints did prove last week at Philadelphia that they're capable of running the ball, too. And the good news for both teams is that Seattle's artificial field turf drains well and doesn't puddle up.
Pass interference: No team in the NFL is as physical and aggressive when it comes to disrupting receivers' routes than the Seahawks. Both ESPN analyst Trent Dilferand an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal pointed out this week that Seattle pushes the envelope as far as possible when it comes to interfering with receivers -- playing the odds that officials won't throw an abundance of flags.
That's obviously a huge challenge for a Saints offense that thrives on timing and rhythm in the passing game. Defenses that are able to get physical with the Saints in pass coverage have always had the most success against them. And that's a big reason why Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for only 147 yards against Seattle in Week 13.
Both Saints coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. talked this week about needing to find ways to get receivers open -- through formations and routes and quick throws, etc.
"They do a great job," Payton said. "They play a lot of bump and run. They are very confident corners. They have a deep position group, but three of the starters are [All-Pro and Pro Bowl] players. [Safety] Kam Chancellor is extremely physical. He has size, range, and you see that on tape. ...
"[Cornerback Richard] Sherman has great -- they all have great ball skills. So they all can catch a ball that is not just right. [Safety Earl] Thomas is the same way. He is 100 miles an hour on the back end. He is very sudden and quick to key in diagnosis and very smart. They are extremely good."
The best news for the Saints is that linebacker K.J. Wright is out with an injury. He was athletic enough to cover tight end Jimmy Graham quite a bit in the first meeting, so the Seahawks will have to turn to Plan B.
Running strong? Considering each of those factors above, it would obviously be nice if the Saints could manage a repeat performance from last week, when they ran for 185 yards against the Eagles. But as guard Jahri Evans warned this week, "This is not the Philadelphia Eagles. This is Seattle. A bigger, stronger, better team."
Saints running back Pierre Thomas is questionable with a chest injury. But New Orleans has depth with Mark Ingram (off his 97-yard performance), Darren Sproles and Khiry Robinson. NFL analyst Greg Cosell suggested this week that the Saints could continue to have success with the three-tight end formation they used heavily for the first time last week, since it makes their offense more unpredictable.
Special concerns: The wind and rain cause problems for kickers and punters, too. So it will be big for both teams to handle those elements while battling for field position. Saints punter Thomas Morstead also said Seattle punt returner Golden Tate is an underrated threat.
"I think he's the best in the league right now," said Morstead, who pointed out that Tate had two returns of 12 and 11 yards in the first meeting (while the Saints did a good job in coverage on his other three returns).