The New Orleans Saints (12-5) travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the Seattle Seahawks (13-3) in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs. The first matchup was not a close one, and the Saints will be looking for a better showing and possibly a victory this time around.
In the first matchup, the two lynchpins of both teams, Drew Brees and Marshawn Lynch, underperformed, though for Seattle it ultimately didn’t matter. Both team will try to come close to duplicating that effort. Here is what needs to happen in this matchup for the Saints to have a chance.
Containing Russell Wilson
This is obvious. However, the Saints need to contain Wilson’s running ability. In the first matchup, the Saints were absolutely burned by the read option for first down after first down.
The Saints’ defensive line didn’t have a problem getting to Wilson, but had trouble bringing him down. He was able to evade tackle after tackle, escape the pocket, and find his receivers downfield on the run. It seemed the Saints underestimated Wilson’s athletic ability, and were therefore undisciplined in their rush.
Against Carolina and San Francisco earlier this season, they did a great job keeping both Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton in the pocket. The defensive line will have to try to match the same effort against Wilson and force him to consistently beat them from the pocket.
Corey White must play big
In the first matchup, White was making his first start and didn’t play great. To be fair, the bright lights may have got to him and really no one on the Saints team played well. Since then, White has improve every game and really hasn’t made any noise (which is good for a corner).
The Saints will need one of his best games this season. Rob Ryan will try to take away the run by bringing down an extra safety which will leave White and Keenan Lewis (who is expected to play) in one on one situations. Lewis has proven to be one of the least talked about shutdown guys, so White will be targeted a fair amount. If he can hold his own, the passing game will be hindered a good bit for Seattle.
At least one of the Saints’ receiver has to make an impact
The Saints’ receivers have been inconsistent and at times anemic in their production this year. Over 70% of Brees’ completions have gone to tight ends and running backs. This is partly because of immy Graham and Darren Sproles being dynamic players, but it is also due to the Saints’ receivers not getting consistent separation.
This game must be different. The Seahawks will be without KJ Wright, arguably their best cover linebacker. Without him, covering Graham will be difficult. In addition, Sproles, who didn’t play too many snaps in the first matchup because of injury will also draw attention.
With all the attention there, the receivers will have one on one opportunities, and someone has to win against the best secondary in the league whether it be Marques Colston, Lance Moore, or Kenny Stills. If they can’t win, and the Seahawks are able to give extra attention to Graham and Sproles, Brees will have nowhere to go with the ball and it will be a long day for the Saints’ offense.
Terron Armstead cannot be exploited
Armstead has been a key in every game since he made his first start in Week 16, as he should be because his responsibility for Brees’ blindside. He did a solid job against Trent Cole last week and will be asked to hold up against Cliff Avril and the other Seattle pass rushers.
Besides keeping Brees upright, Armstead has to avoid getting penalized and putting the offense in compromising spots. More specifically, he cannot constantly be called for false starts, which tends to happen to lineman at CenturyLink Field. This is first time Armstead will be playing at CenturyLink Field so hopefully this doesn’t overwhelm him too much.
X-Factor: Sean Payton
Sean Payton is a very good big game coach. Sometimes, however, he can be a wild card. His “genius” makes fans love him, like when does surprise onside kicks, and hate him, like when he tries to throw in monsoons, abandons the run game, and runs random reverses on 3rd and 1.
Payton has pushed all the right buttons so far in the playoffs whether it be changing the Gatorade flavor, eating Popeyes, or whatever. This week he painted the Seahawks logo on the Saints’ practice field to try to simulate the environment.
I will be very curious to see what new wrinkle Sean Payton will have for Seattle whether it be a fake punt, fake field goal, or whatever. At the same time, I hope Payton stays calm and patient when he faces adversity early. One way or another, Payton is going to have some lasting imprint on this game, it is just a matter of where and when.