2014 NFL Playoffs: 5 Key Matchups in Seahawks vs. Saints
Five Key Matchups in Seahawks vs. Saints
The New Orleans Saints will be looking to leave CenturyLink Field with a better result than they did the last time they visited which was a 34-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in a highly-anticipated Monday Night Football showdown between the two NFC powerhouses.
Since that game both teams finished the regular season with two wins and two losses. For Seattle that would be enough to clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. For New Orleans they would fall all the way to the No. 6 seed, lose the division to the Carolina Panthers and have to play in the Wild Card round.
New Orleans survived a very chilly night in Philadelphia thanks to a very good game from the running backs and four field goals from newly-acquired kicker Shayne Graham to win 26-24. Their defense played great football as well holding the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles to only 256 yards of offense.
The Saints know that CenturyLink Field is a very difficult place to play let alone win at -- since the Seahawks moved into the building in 2002 they have amassed a winning percentage of .696 (71-31). In the Pete Carroll era this number improves to .758 (25-8) having won 17 of their last 19 games there.
These are also two of the best defenses in the NFL; the Seahawks are ranked No. 1 allowing only 14.4 points per game while the Saints are ranked No. 4 allowing 19.0 points per game.
5. Saints Offense vs. 12th Man
The Saints have already had the luxury of playing in Seattle about a month ago so the current crop of players will know what to expect as they make the trek to CenturyLink Field.
New Orleans will need to do everything they can to take the crowd out of the game as early as possible. Look for them to take the ball first if they win the coin toss. Receiving the ball to start the second half will be less effective if you are already down by 20 points like they were in December.
4. Cameron Jordan & Junior Galette vs. Russell Okung & Breno Giacomini
Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette are the two leading sack men for the Saints this season with a combined 26 sacks that equal just over half of the mark for the entire team.
Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini are finally getting healthy as they have both dealt with nagging injuries all season. Giacomini has played in nine games this year while Okung has played in just eight. The Seahawks' offensive line has given up 44 sacks on the season.
Jordan and Galette were contained by the Seahawks in the first meeting with the two being limited to eight tackles, two for loss and zero sacks. They will need to find ways to confuse Okung and Giacomini to disrupt the timing of the Seahawks offense.
3. Jimmy Graham vs. Malcolm Smith
Jimmy Graham is arguably the best tight end in the league after finishing the season with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. In the first match-up with the Seahawks, though, he was limited to just three catches on nine targets for 42 yards and a touchdown in one of his worst performances of the season.
Graham was covered most of the game by Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright, but this time Wright will not be available after breaking a bone in his foot during the game at the San Francisco 49ers a week later. If the Seahawks stick with their "next man up" mentality it will be third-year Malcolm Smith as the guy to shut down Graham.
Smith does have interceptions in each of the last two games, including one returned for a touchdown.
2. Drew Brees vs. Playing on the Road
Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL; there is no doubt about that, but he has struggled away from the Superdome this season. Brees had a record of 8-0 at home with a completion percentage of 73.6 percent (229-for-311) with 27 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
On the road, however, Brees had a record of 4-5 with a completion percentage of only 64.2 percent (237-for-369) with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Factor in that when Brees has played outdoors this season his numbers drop even more with a 62.5 percent completion rate (175-for-280) with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Drew will need to overcome his road struggles if there is any chance for the Saints to emerge victorious, especially since the team has thrown the ball on 61.4 percent of their total plays during the 2013 season.
1. Rob Ryan vs. Russell Wilson
When Rob Ryan was hired at the end of the 2012 season the Saints defense was the worst defense in the league. Since that hire Ryan has overhauled the schematics changing to a 3-4 system which has shot the Saints all the way up to the fourth best defense according to yardage given up.
Ryan is known as a risk-taker who will blitz from everywhere. He prides himself on making the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket causing him to rush his decision making.
Russell Wilson had his second-best game of the season yardage-wise in the other meeting with the Saints this season with 310 yards on 22-of-30 passing and three touchdowns. Wilson tore apart the Saints' secondary by completing passes to nine different receivers.
What will be interesting to see is how often Ryan calls up the blitz with all of the injuries in the Saints' secondary. The Saints are without Jabari Greer and Kenny Vaccaro with season-ending injuries, and top corner Keenan Lewis will be questionable after suffering a concussion in the Wild Card game in Philadelphia.
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