In what amounted to their worst effort of the season, the 9-3 New Orleans Saints were demolished by the 11-1 Seattle Seahawks by a score of 34-7. Billed in some circles as the game of the year, this contest resembled a fight between Mike Tyson and one of the earlier opponents in his career.
The Saints took a stiff jab in the opening round and were punch drunk the rest of the fight. After only managing 188 total yards, it may be safe to wonder if those were replacement players in the Saints uniforms.
With many fans feeling like the Saints were virtually unstoppable on offense (and defense for the most part), this has to be the wake-up call that puts pressure on the Saints to vary their approach.
There's a lot to be said about a team's ability to adjust. When it was clear that the Saints were not going to be able to dampen Seattle's pass rush, they continued to try to push the ball down the field—for the most part.
Although dictating to the defense is the Saints style, the ability to switch your pitch should take precedence in these particular situations. This column has consistently questioned if the Saints have the ability to go blow for blow with the more physical teams of the NFL.
But after the performance against the San Francisco 49ers, it seemed as though that question was answered. But could it be the 49ers were actually the softest of the teams perceived to be tough?
All three games were outdoors, and all three were on the road. But furthermore, all three of those teams play a physical brand of football (offensively and defensively).
The great Bill Walsh, of San Francisco 49ers fame, once said, "A team must have an offensive system that is sufficiently innovative to keep abreast of changing circumstances."
So when the question was posed as to whether head coach Sean Payton is holding the Saints back, it wasn't a slight to how great Payton is—or has been. It was directed at Payton's ability to change with the times.
This particular game was a changing of the guard. Seattle is what the Saints were in 2006. When most teams operated as run-based outfits, the Saints blew the doors off the competition with their aerial artistry.
Now that most teams want to be like the Saints, the Seahawks have shifted the landscape by relying on power to open up their version of the air-raid offense. But make no mistake about it, Seattle can win in any shape, form or fashion.
That's how the new breed operates. It's all about innovation and evolution.
Do the Saints have the talent, scheme and coaching to evolve? You be the judge...
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Well it finally happened. The Carolina Panthers have come roaring back from a 1-3 start to take a share of the lead. When the Panthers travel to New Orleans to face the Saints on Sunday Night Football, the loser will drop to the No. 5 seed, with the winner hanging onto the two seed in the NFC.
So needless to say, winning this matchup is paramount.
The Panthers were defeated by Seattle 12-7 in the opening game of the season. As we know, the Panthers didn't quite have their sea legs at the time, and it could be argued that Carolina has the style that will give the Seahawks fits nine out of 10 times.
Seattle and Carolina sit first and second in total defense respectively. But it's the Panthers who sport the No. 1 ranking, as far as points allowed per game. Allowing only 13.1 points per outing covers up deficiencies in other units.
A silver lining for the Saints in the Seattle game had to be the performance of their run defense. While Seattle did gain 127 yards, the fact that it took 38 attempts (3.3 average) shows how impressive New Orleans' run defense was.
But there was one caveat; the performance was clearly at the expense of the Saints' pass coverage.
One play in particular was unnerving.
Here we see the Saints defending twin crossers (Hi-Lo concepts) which are a staple of the West Coast offense. Seattle sends receivers Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate across the formation simultaneously.
The Saints are in an inverted Cover 2 with man underneath. It's zone outside, with anything inside getting man coverage.
As the play unfolds, safety Malcolm Jenkins is beaten by Tate out the gate, as corner Corey White goes with Baldwin. Before the play started, safety Kenny Vaccaro gave a signal to White to stay with anything in the inside.
White obviously didn't get the memo.
Instead of staying with Baldwin, White decides to freelance back to his original side essentially doubling Tate, who looks to be the primary target.
This left Baldwin wide open for the score. Now these types of situations are learning experiences for young corners like White. But as this column has stated, it's rare for Super Bowl contenders to rely on inexperienced players at this position—especially with a veteran like Nnamdi Asomugha sitting out there.
The Seahawks put out a blueprint on how to attack the Saints offensive and defensively. It will now be up to the Saints to destroy it.
Due to having a mini bye week, the Saints were about as healthy as you could get this late in the season. Defensive end Glenn Foster and linebacker Keyunta Dawson were the only contributors to miss the Seattle game.
Thankfully there weren't any new injuries in the game. Well, with exception to the team's pride. But that's nothing a win over the Panthers can't cure.
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