The Saints will travel back to the scene of the crime to face the Seattle Seahawks, who committed the football version of grand larceny when the pair met in Week 13. After destroying the Saints 34-7, in what was previously dubbed the biggest game of the year, Seattle went on to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Saints faltered at the end of the season going from a potential No. 1 seed all the way down to the lowest seed in the NFC (sixth). But as the playoffs have revealed recently, it's usually the team that gets the hottest that prevails in the end.
By accomplishing a rare road win against the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round, the Saints may very well be the next team to have one win galvanize the entire roster, much like the New York Giants in '07. But for that to happen they must defeat possibly the best team in the NFL...on the road.
It will take bullying the bully to get it done, and the Eagles' game exemplifies that approach.
For the first time all season the Saints ran the ball more than they threw it. While this strategy would normally be asinine, considering Saints quarterback Drew Brees may be the very best signal-caller in the NFL, it may have been the only way the Saints could've won the game.
Meaning that head coach Sean Payton put his ego aside and called the perfect game to advance his team to the next round. Pressure can burst a pipe—can you imagine what it was doing to Payton? Having Brees throw the ball 50 times a game may work against a team like the Buffalo Bills; it becomes a form of football suicide against the upper-echelon teams—especially in the playoffs.
Most of which are physical on both sides of the ball.
The Saints took it to the Eagles to the tune of 36 rushes for 185 yards. That's usually a two-game total for the Saints. Brees went 20-of-30 for 250 yards with one touchdown opposed to two interceptions. Needless to say, he wasn't the driving force behind the victory.
And he doesn't always need to be.
In fact, having Brees operate as a co-pilot would certainly be of benefit to the pass game—especially against the league's premier defense in Seattle. Most think Payton will undoubtedly design a similar plan as he did against Philadelphia.
But one must ask the question: Was that Philly game fool's gold?
Going into the first tilt with Seattle it was clear that achieving balance on offense was the primary way of procuring victory. Lowly and average teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the St. Louis Rams had major success, albeit in losses, against Seattle on the ground.
|Close calls and losses for Seattle|
|Team||Score||Rushing yards||Rushing attempts||Passing yards||Passing attempts|
|Carolina Panthers||12-7 (W)||134||26||125||23|
|Houston Texans||23-20 (OT) W||151||35||355||31|
|St. Louis||14-9 (W)||200||37||158||15|
|Tampa Bay||27-24 (OT) W||205||38||145||24|
|San Francisco 49ers||19-17 (L)||163||33||175||15|
|Arizona Cardinals||17-10 (L)||139||43||178||25|
|New Orleans||34-7 (W)||44||17||147||38|
Although the Seahawks finished as the No. 7-ranked defense against the run, opposing teams that committed to a ground attack found a great deal of success as opposed to, uh, the Saints. Besides, it's rare that Seattle's secondary has an off day, as it finished as the No. 1-ranked unit against the pass. When you factor in that Seattle's pass defense allowed only 16 TDs and forced 28 INTs, you can plainly see that passing the ball is right in its wheelhouse.
Here we see Seattle corner Richard Sherman matched up in man against Saints receiver Marques Colston. Normally leaving a corner on an island with Colston is insane, but Seattle welcomes any receiver in the league to line up across from Sherman.
This means that the Seahawks can literally take away one half of the field and focus its efforts on the middle and right side of the defense.
Sherman gives Colston a free release because he's not in the least bit afraid of his speed. With Colston running a 9-route (fade), it's all about being physical at this point.
Sherman gets on top of Colston and virtually turns himself into the receiver. As Sherman is the best corner in the NFL, the Saints should proceed with caution when attacking him, but they should still go at the guy.
And they should do that by running to his side and forcing him to come up and support the run against backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. Corners can be softened up like linebackers, so the run game could be even more prevalent than we imagine.
The Seahawks did a great job at defending tight end Jimmy Graham and didn't need to alter anything they did prior to seeing him. Linebackers K.J. Wright (who will not be available due to injury) and Bruce Irvin are athletic enough to hang with the physical freak that is Graham. Irvin is one of the very best athletes on the defensive side of the ball regardless of position.
With linebackers who move like safeties, Seattle's zone coverages are extremely effective. Here the Saints found a void in the zone with Graham running a corner route.
Graham did complete the reception, but the fun was only beginning.
Irvin and fellow linebacker Bobby Wagner will separate your soul from your carcass on any given play.
Just ask Graham.
While Graham is left to search for his soul after this play, the Saints should be searching for ways to exploit a suspect Seahawks run defense.
Earlier, the question was posed on if the rush-centric game plan against Philadelphia was fool's gold. You have to wonder if the first few carries against the Eagles hadn't been that successful, would Payton have gone back to the aerial attack exclusively?
Against Seattle, it's more about the threat of the run than the actual result. The Arizona Cardinals didn't generate much production from a yards-per-attempt standpoint (3.2), but the 43 tries on the ground forced Seattle to defend all areas of the field.
This would only make the Saints' play-action fakes much more effective.
Here we see the Cardinals executing an off-tackle run. They employed a pulling guard to go right at Sherman. It doesn't matter how tough a corner is, he will think twice when he know runs are coming toward him with linemen leading the charge.
As you can see, Sherman curled up into a ball bracing for impact. In addition, Seattle's run fits and gap integrity left a lot to be desired. But most importantly the threat of the run provides cause to pause for its entire defense.
A QB like Brees only needs an inch to take a mile against ideal coverage.
The run went for 26 yards, which is demoralizing for a team that considers itself the best defense in the NFL.
Fans and pundits alike have to be confident that the Saints defense will perform up to standard as long as the offense provides help. Help comes in the form of balance. If the Saints can control the clock (by running), limit turnovers and force the Seahawks to defend the entire field, victory may very well be in the cards for the Black and Gold.
It all comes down to Coach Payton...