I was joking with a friend of mine the other day, talking about how we were going to call each other Sunday and talk about the beat down we were going to lay on the New Orleans Saints. That talk was obviously more sarcastic than it was serious. It is hard to beat any team at home, and it will be a colossal feat to overcome the defending Super Bowl champs in their Superdome of a home. However, I have a feeling that not only do the Seahawks have a chance this Sunday, but I am willing to bet this game will be more of a nail biter than the 20-point blowout some people seem to be fond of predicting.
Everyone likes to point to the Saints pass defense as a key reason they will shut the Hawks down this week, but considering what the Saints have faced, that ranking looks very inflated.
Look at it this way, in nine games played this season, the Saints have only faced three legitimate and established quarterbacks—both in play this season and in longevity as a starter in the league. Those quarterbacks are Matt Ryan of Atlanta, Josh Freeman of Tampa Bay and Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh. For the other six games this season, they have played against Brett Favre (10TD / 16INT - 72.2 RTG), Jimmy Clausen (1/4 - 53.8) twice, Alex Smith (9/9 - 75.0), Max Hall (1/5 - 41.0) and Colt McCoy (2/2 - 85.2).
These quarterbacks combine for 23 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. If you throw in Freeman, Roethlisberger and Ryan, the totals pan out to 60 and 50 respectively. In other words, the Saints haven't exactly faced the cream of the quarterback crop as three of these QBs have been benched, one is close to being benched (Favre) and one is only playing because two players in front of him on the depth chart have been injured (McCoy).
For six games this season, the Saints, arguably haven't even had to pass defend all that aggressively, meanwhile teams with legitimate running backs have torched them as they have lost to the Cleveland Browns who bruised them to death, and Atlanta which completely dominated them with Michael Turner. Beyond that, San Francisco made it a game on Monday night, letting Frank Gore exceed 100 yards while they somehow managed to lose to a Arizona team that couldn't pound the rock or air it out.
If anything, it is dreadful that the Saints still allow 110 Rushing YPG to these teams, against this schedule when your defense (with the exception of the Atlanta game) should have been able to freely stack the box against the run. I don't want to be too tough on this team since it has had to face Adrian Peterson, Turner, Gore, and Mendenhall, but it has also had to face a DeAngelo Williams who has played awful this year but managed to exceed 80 rushing yards with no passing game to help him.
I want to make the argument that not only is the Saints passing D far worse than the stats depict, but its rush D is also suspect, especially when facing a legitimate Quarterback.
Lets look at those three games they played against a legitimate Quarterback.
Atlanta - The Saints were out gained 417 to 398 in total net yards as Michael Turner ran for 114 yards on 30 carries, Jason Snelling ran for another 62 on 14 carries... and even Matt Ryan got in on the action running for 26 yards. Meanwhile the same Ryan passed for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 19/30 (63 percent) passing completions. In other words, the Saints were stomped defensively, but Atlanta is a good team so maybe there's something more to it.
Pittsburgh - In this game, the Saints out gained the Steelers, 279-318. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 4.7 YPC to a tune of 71 yards, while both backups combined for 38 more yards on 5 carries combined. Big Ben still threw for a modest 195 yards on 17/28 (60%) passing completions but also threw an interception. I have always believed that Ben had a cannon arm but didn't quite have the head to go with his physical talent. I view him more like a Brett Favre gunslinger than I do a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady game master. So while he is impressive, he is more prone to having bad INT games, this was one of them. The Saints were once again...out rushed.
Tampa Bay - The Buccaneers managed 28 yards rushing the entire game. It doesn't matter on how many carries; the fact is that they only managed a pitiful 28 yards, this was prior to the emergence of Blount as their starter, they did not have anyone with talent pounding the rock in this game.
One thing I find odd is that with the lead, the Saints should be in pass defense mode, and the Bucs should be chucking the ball to make up ground. Josh Freeman threw the ball 43 times—he completed 25 of those passes (58 percent) for 219 yards and a touchdown. It should be noted that of all three of these teams, this team has the worst defense, and it's not even close. That means that the Saints were essentially able to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted—that creates a lopsided game.
My final conclusion on the Saints is that a good quarterback can make this passing defense look average, if not bad. The Saints are not the best overall passing defense, and they look to me like a mediocre run defense to go with that. I have faith in Matt Hasselbeck to expose the defensive deficiencies of the Saints as a player who is better than Josh Freeman (in experience and accuracy) but not at the Matt Ryan sort of level, falling somewhere between the two quarterbacks in efficiency when all three are comparably healthy.
On the flip side, a lot of people like to think that the Saints are going to run the ball down our throats just as easily as they will pass on us. To them I assure that I still believe that the Seahawks field a top 10, if not a top 5 rushing defense when healthy. Everyone overlooks the fact that in the Oakland and Giant games, three-fourths of our defensive line was either playing injured or absent.
Last week we got Brandon Mebane back and shut down the Cardinals (not an amazing feat but we did do it), and we are looking to progress as a unit with Kentwan Balmer starting in place of Red Bryant at the Elephant position, as Big Red is done for the year. I look forward to what Balmer has to give us.
Here are my projected stats for QBs and RBs for both teams to wrap up
QB} M. Hasselbeck: 18/30 - 265 yards - 1 TD 0 INT
RB1} J. Forsett: 10 carries for 60 yards
RB2} M. Lynch: 14 carries for 55 yards TD
QB} D. Brees: 21/33 - 310 yards - 2 TD 1 INT
RB} R. Bush: 8 carries for 38 yards
RB} C. Ivory: 5 carries for 16 yards
RB} J. Jones: 5 carries for 10 yards
Defensively, Kelly Jennings or Earl Thomas comes up with a pick that turns out to be the deciding factor in the game as our rush defense contains a Reggie Bush that isn't at 100 percent and a pair of nobodies. Not only will we prove that this pass defense is susceptible to good play from under center, but we will make it look vulnerable on offense by our third drive. I'm going against my original prediction with this one, but I was way wrong about the Chicago game in the right kind of way.
New Orleans 20