Saints vs. Seahawks: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan

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Saints vs. Seahawks: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks host the New Orleans Saints this week on Monday Night Football. This is a matchup of the teams with the two top records in the NFC this season. The Seahawks are coming off their bye week, so they've had plenty of time to put together a solid game plan for this all-important showdown. 

This game has the potential to be the deciding game for home-field advantage in the NFC. If the Seahawks win, they will have a two-game lead on the Saints for the best record in the conference, as well as holding the tiebreaker. If the Saints win, they would pull even with Seattle in terms of wins, and they'd also hold the tiebreaker over the Seahawks. 

According to Vegas Insider, the Seahawks are 4.5-point favorites in this game, with one of the sports books they track having Seattle favored by as many as six points. Given the quality of opponent, a point spread that large is a statement. The oddsmakers clearly believe in the Seahawks this week. 

 

The Competitive Edge

NFL Rankings for Seahawks and Saints
Seattle Seahawks Category New Orleans Saints
2nd Scoring Offense 3rd
12th Total Offense 3rd
24th Passing Offense 2nd
1st Yards Per Attempt 5th
3rd Rushing Offense 23rd
6th Yards Per Carry 25th
2nd Scoring Defense 5th
2nd Total Defense 5th
2nd Passing Defense 3rd
3rd Yards Per Attempt 9th
16th Rushing Defense 15th
20th Yards Per Carry 29th

ESPN.com

There is a definite strength-on-strength matchup on the field whenever the Saints have the football. New Orleans has the league's second-ranked passing offense, while Seattle has the league's No. 2 pass defense. 

On the other side of the ball, the advantage would appear to lean toward the Seahawks. Seattle's rushing attack is among the best in the NFL, while the Saints have been in the middle of the pack in terms of stopping the run.  

 

Seattle's Defense vs. New Orleans' Offense

Avoid the Blitz, and Attack Brees with Just the Front Four

One of the problems with trying to stop New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is that he is actually better against the blitz than he is when he's not facing pressure. Teams that rely on the blitz to get pressure on the QB get carved up by the Saints' passing attack. 

Drew Brees Pressure Profile
Comp % Yds/Att TD/Int Rat
No Pressure 74.8 9.1 5.25 118.5
vs. Pressure 48.6 5.9 1.75 73.5
No Blitz 68.0 8.0 2.7 102.7
vs. Blitz 69.4 9.1 9 120.0

Pro Football Focus

The Seahawks need to avoid blitzing, but they still need to disrupt Brees whenever possible. This task will fall mostly on Seattle's trio of pass-rushing defensive ends. Expect to see Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril on the field more than their usual number of snaps in this game. 

 

Play Man Coverage, with Zone Help in the Center of the Field

If the Seahawks avoid blitzing, then they're going to have more defenders in the secondary than the Saints will have players running routes. Rather than keeping two defenders deep, the best course of action would be to play safety Earl Thomas as a single deep safety, while having a linebacker free in the center of the field closer to the line of scrimmage.

This is similar to how the Patriots and Jets defended the Saints in New Orleans' only two losses. 

NFL Rewind

This alignment provides extra help where it's needed most against the Saints offense, like against crossing routes, inside slants and short passes to the tight ends. 

 

Don't Ignore the Run 

The Saints' rushing attack is fairly unexciting. They rank just 23rd in rushing and 25th in yards per carry. While those numbers aren't impressive, they are very similar to rankings that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought into their game with the Seahawks in Week 9. The Seahawks expected a pass-heavy attack in that game, and instead gave up 205 yards on the ground.

New Orleans has the ability to turn to running back Pierre Thomas to grind out yards. If the Seahawks don't respect the run, Thomas will be able to quickly chew up yards against Seattle's fairly average run defense. 

Because of the Saints' prolific passing attack, the temptation for Seattle will be to keep its pass-rushers on the field for much of the game. The Seahawks need to avoid this trap and make sure that they guard against the run as well. Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Red Bryant, Seattle's trio of big-bodied run stuffers, should all get their share of snaps in this game, even if they don't all see the field at the same time. 

 

Seattle's Offense vs. New Orleans' Defense

Get the Protections Right 

The Saints like to attack the QB from all over the field. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan isn't afraid to send defensive backs into the backfield, and linebacker Junior Galette will line up and blitz from any of the four linebacker spots. 

The Seahawks are finally healthy on the offensive line, with all five starters in place once again. That won't matter if center Max Unger and quarterback Russell Wilson don't get the protection calls at the line right. They have to make sure that all the blitzing players are accounted for, and that everyone on the offense is on the same page. 

This hasn't been a strength for the Seahawks this season. Wilson has faced unblocked pass-rushers far too often. Against a Rob Ryan defense, there is little room for error in this regard. The Seahawks have to make sure they have their protections set correctly on each and every play. 

 

Pound the Rock

The Seahawks should have little trouble running the football in this game. Seattle is among the best in the running game, and New Orleans is only an average team at stopping it. 

Because of Seattle's run-first approach on offense, the Saints are likely to sell out to try to stop running back Marshawn Lynch, but the Seahawks need to make sure to stick with the run anyway. 

There's no reason to get cute and try to use Lynch as a decoy all game like they did against the Rams in Week 8. In that game, Lynch had just eight carries, and that led to Seattle's offense stalling completely. 

This is a game where the Seahawks need to give the ball to Lynch and let him carry them to victory. A strong and consistent commitment to the run will also help keep pass-rushers like Galette and defensive end Cameron Jordan in check on the plays in which the Seahawks do pass the ball.

 

A Heavy Dose of Play Action

The success of the New Orleans pass defense is primarily due to the pass rush. This is a secondary that Seattle's receivers can beat, provided that Russell Wilson has sufficient time to throw the ball.

The solution for Seattle is to couple a run-heavy game plan with an abundance of play action mixed in. This will prevent the pass-rushers from attacking the quarterback, and provide Wilson and the Seattle receivers with the necessary time needed to create big plays in the passing game. 

For the Seahawks, this is nothing new. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Russell Wilson's 34.3 percent of passing thrown off of play action is more than any other QB in the league. 

Russell Wilson and Play Action
Standard Passes Play-Action Passes
64.6 Completion Percent 62.9
7.7 Yards Per Attempt 10.3
10 Touchdowns 9
4 Interceptions 2
97.2 Passer Rating 119.7

Pro Football Focus

 

Game Stats and Facts (via Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL.com)

Predict the Outcome

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Surprisingly, the defense and run-orientated Seahawks have actually outscored the pass-heavy Saints through 11 games. The Seahawks have scored 306 points while the Saints have scored 305.

The Saints lead the all-time series 6-5.

The last game between these two teams ended with the Seahawks winning a 41-36 shootout in Seattle back in 2011. 

The last time the Saints were able to win in Seattle was back in October of 2007.

Both of these teams have 33 sacks on the season. Seattle has given up 28, while the Saints have given up just 23. 

The Seahawks are fifth in the NFL in punt return average at 12.3 yards per return. The Saints are 31st with just 6.1 yards per return. 

The Seahawks have not lost a home game since December of 2011. 

The 12th Man in Seattle will once again attempt to break the world record for crowd noise during this game. The fans of the Seahawks broke the record back in Week 2, only to have fans in Kansas City top their effort just a couple of weeks later. 

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