The Seattle Seahawks are pretty good at home. You know this, I know this, everyone in Seattle who drinks in a candlelit bath tub knows it, and Drew Brees really, really knows it.
But that doesn’t make the numbers associated with their home dominance any less staggering, especially now that they’ll play every playoff game this year at CenturyLink Field. To review then, over the past two years since Russell Wilson became their starting quarterback, the Seahawks have lost only one game at home. Sure, some cupcake games were tossed in there (hi, Jaguars), but Seattle also beat these same Saints and the division rival 49ers — two playoffs teams — by a combined score of 63-10.
Really take a moment to absorb that, and then consider this: during their eight home games this season, the Seahawks gave up an average of only 13.8 points per game. That includes just 17 even in the loss to Arizona, and only seven to New Orleans.
When there’s the potential for a minor earthquake due to fan noise, and a 100 percent chance of rain is forecasted with up wind gusts up to 30 MPH, easy and chillin’ times are not forthcoming for a visiting dome team that heavily relies on the passing game. Then when we look at even the most basic yet fundamental numbers we use to measure defenses, the chances of a happy Saints ending diminish further and faster.
|Seahawks offense||Saints offense|
|Total yards P/Game||339.0 (17th)||399.4 (4th)|
|Passing yards P/Game||202.2 (26th)||307.4 (2nd)|
|Rushing yards P/Game||136.8 (4th)||92.1 (25th)|
|Seahawks defense||Saints defense|
|Total yards P/Game||273.6 (1st)||305.7 (4th)|
|Passing yards P/Game||172.0 (1st)||194.1 (2nd)|
|Rushing yards P/Game||101.6 (9th)||111.6 (19th)|
Now, with that said, despite the various and large numbers you’ll read here and elsewhere which drastically favor the Seahawks both winning football games at home and generally taking over the world, let’s please remind ourselves that regardless of the environment, beating a playoff-caliber team twice in one season is not at all an easy thing. And it’s a task that gets far more difficult when that team employs Drew Brees, and has a vastly improved defense under Rob Ryan.
But yeah, I still believe this night ends in many, many flowing Saints tears.
The other numbers that matter: When the Seahawks beat New Orleans in that 34-7 dummying which wasn’t so long ago (Week 13, during a primetime game in early December) it was the the second worst defeat of the Sean Payton/Brees era. Worse, their 188 yards of offense was the lowest total by any Saints team since 2002.
You can see the utter dominance of the Seahawks’ defense plainly above. Their only minor weak point at times this season was defending the run, and with the exception of last week, that’s not at all a place where the Saints excel, and Pierre Thomas likely sitting out clearly doesn’t help any running thoughts. No, it’s passing that the Saints do well and do often, and the complete absence of a deep attack in Week 13 was jarring. In Brees we have a quarterback who finished second in the league with 67 passes for 20 yards or more, a pace of just over four per game. He had only one on that night for exactly 20 yards. Beyond that, his longest completion was a 14 yarder, and he didn’t complete a pass for over 10 yards in the first half.
I’m trying not to focus solely on that game, and realize that tomorrow will be a different game on a different day. But man, it’s hard, and it gets harder when we see that Brees averaged only 3.9 yards per pass attempt. Seriously, that really happened, and it was his lowest career single-game average since 2004. It also came from a quarterback who merrily hacked up defenses while plugging along at 7.9 yards per attempt during the regular season.
Brees was held to four yards below his season per attempt average, and 175.6 yards lower than his overall per game average (his 147 yards was his lowest total in a complete game since 2006). That all came against a defense which also led the league in opponent’s YPA (5.8), interceptions (28), had the fewest +20 yarders allowed (only 30), the lowest opposing passer rating (63.4), the third fewest completions (309), and only 11 completions per interception. Hell, teams simply didn’t throw against Seattle because that was usually an unwise decision (they had to defend only 524 attempts, the seventh fewest). What makes all those numbers even more astounding is that they came at the height of a passing era, and during a year which saw two quarterbacks throw for over 5,000 yards (one of which is playing in this game).
Meanwhile, Russell Wilson accounted for 357 total yards in Week 13 (310 through the air, and 47 rushing) while facing little hinderance from a Saints secondary that allowed him to finish with a passer rating of 139.6, the second highest single-game mark of his career. And that was during a far more menacing time for the Saints’ secondary when Kenny Vaccaro was healthy.
The injuries that matter: As mentioned, if there’s any hope against the Seahawks offensively, it lies with a pounding running game. During Seattle’s lone home loss this season the Cardinals ran for 139 yards, 127 of which came from their two lead running backs, Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington. And the week prior to that, Frank Gore posted 110 rushing yards on this Seahawks front, 51 of which came on one lengthy jog, the longest run Seattle gave up all season. Much of the Hawks’ late-season run weakness can be attributed to the absence of K.J. Wright, who went down in Week 14 with a fractured foot. Wright had 80 tackles through just 13 games.
That’s why the likely absence of Pierre Thomas for the second straight week is so painful. But there’s hope after Mark Ingram did some fine pounding of his own last week against the Eagles and their similarly ranked run defense while averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
For the Seahawks, Percy Harvin has been practicing all week, and although he’ll “absolutely” play according to head coach Pete Carroll, he’ll surely be on a limited snap count.
The difference maker: Richard Sherman…always Richard Sherman. This is downright mind-blowing: according to Pro Football Focus, Sherman was targeted on just 10.56 percent of his defensive snaps, a league low. Yet somehow he still intercepted eight passes, and he still finished tied for second with 24 passes defensed. The latter number is extra stupid because he was targeted in coverage by the opposing quarterback only 58 times, meaning 41.4 percent of those resulted in either an interception of a batted down ball.
Sherman takes away half the field seemingly with ease, and he’ll render Marques Colston useless too.
The matchup to watch: Graham vs. anyone. I’ll defer to Alen Dumonjic‘s fine analysis earlier this week, and note that the only time Graham has been shut down this year came when Aqib Talib shadowed him all game. Sherman can match Talib’s physicality, but he’s primarily kept on the outside, and for good reason. Anywhere else, and his speed and ball skills to defend deep passes would be wasted.
The Seahawks will win if… Marshawn Lynch picks up some chunks while Wilson keeps completing throws others wouldn’t even think about. Defensively, they need to reasonably contain Graham, and they can’t allow Ingram to keep rolling. Of their few and reaching defensive weaknesses, those are the areas that will surely be targeted.
The Saints will win if… Well, the opposite pretty much. The Saints’ only chance lies in Graham, so he needs to be fed all the footballs. Graham had three games this season with over 130 receiving yards, and in two of them he was targeted 15 or more times. It’ll take that kind of abundance to beat this defense on the road.
Fearless prediction you can maybe laugh at later (or now?): Seahawks 31, Saints 17