Concerning The Saints Game This Weekend

The Seahawks play the Saints on Saturday.  For starters, don’t you just hate being the first game of the weekend?  I guess, in one sense, it’s nice to get it out of the way.  You also don’t really want to be the last game of the weekend either; the mounting pressure becomes too much to handle.  But, that first game?  Doesn’t it always seem like something weird happens in that first playoff game of the weekend?  It would’ve been nice to have been that overlooked second game of the Saturday slate.  Get in, get out, and you’re already forgotten by the time Sunday rolls around.

I don’t want anything weird to happen.  I want a regular, boring ol’ game with the expected outcome and no aggravation at the end.  The Seahawks are expected to win this game.  They’re favored by a good 8 points.  But, more than that, they’re a 1-seed playing a 6-seed.  They’re at home, with probably the best Home Field Advantage in the game.  They’re playing a team whose defense can be scored upon.  They’ve got the best secondary in the game (to combat New Orleans and their awesome passing attack).  This is, in short, the perfect playoff matchup.  We couldn’t have expected anything better.  There’s no reason why we should lose this game.

Then again, there’s no reason why we should have lost ANY of the games we’ve played this year!  We’re the best team in football!  Yet, the best teams don’t always end up winning it all.  And that’s what we’ve got left to worry about.

It’s that time of year.  You’ve got to play every single game like it’s your last, because a single loss will MAKE it your last.  This is what we’ve been looking forward to all this time.  When the season started, we expected the Seahawks to be great.  Through the regular season, the Seahawks HAVE been great.  Now, it’s up to these last three games.  But, really, it’s up to this game on Saturday.  All that stuff we’ve been hearing all season long, about how the Seahawks just want to go 1-0 every week, and about how every game is a “championship opportunity” … well, those chickens are coming home to roost.  That shit’s just a lot of filler.  It’s things athletes say to make it sound like they’re saying the right things.  It’s also something athletes say to stay focused.  These guys read all the press just like we do.  But, they need mantras to see past all that.  To keep their eyes on the prize, as it were.

There’s no reason for the Seahawks to EVER lose, but some losses are easier to understand than others.  Losing to the 49ers makes some sense, because their defense is great and their offense can do just enough to get the job done.  They’re like the evil, bizarro Seahawks.  But, to lose to the Saints?  That just sounds too absurd to compute.

I don’t necessarily expect it to be as easy as it was in Week 13 when we played the Saints last.  Then again, I have no reasoning behind that statement.  Why WOULDN’T we beat them by four touchdowns again?  Everyone points to the elite quarterback, as if that’s just the great equalizer.  In a sense, yeah, it is.  You’re not going to go anywhere in this league without an elite quarterback.  Just look at the remaining teams in this year’s playoffs:  Wilson, Newton, Kaepernick, and Brees in the NFC; Manning, Brady, Luck, and Rivers in the AFC.  More or less, these are 8 of the best quarterbacks in football!  But, how many times have you seen great quarterbacks get shut down in the playoffs?  Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning all have one Super Bowl win apiece.  Brady has three, but none since the 2004 season.  All of these quarterbacks have been shut down by solid defensive play.  Why, just last week, Aaron Rodgers was shut down by the 49ers!  Brady was taken down twice by the Giants in the Super Bowl; Manning was taken down countless times by the Patriots back in the day.  Is Drew Brees any different?  I would argue not.  He’s no more special than any of these other elite quarterbacks.

Are the Seahawks on defense any different?  I would argue so; I would argue that they’re BETTER than the Giants, Patriots, and 49ers of recent years.

When people compare the Seahawks and the 49ers on defense, it’s common to give the secondary to Seattle and the front seven to San Francisco.  The Seahawks have three All Pro-calibre players in their secondary, and a couple others in Maxwell and Thurmond who fall just short (but would likely be Pro Bowlers elsewhere if given a chance to start); so I don’t think there’s any question that the Seahawks have the better secondary.  It’s not even close, and you’re a fool to say otherwise.  But, I don’t think the front seven is as open-and-shut as many others like to make it out to be.  The 49ers certainly have the name recognition, with guys like NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith, and Aldon Smith (just to name a few), but the Seahawks compare very favorably when you look at the numbers.

The Seahawks have 44 sacks this year, and another 39 tackles for loss.  The 49ers have 38 sacks and 41 tackles for loss.  The 49ers have their Pro Bowlers and their All Pros along the front seven, but the Seahawks have guys like Bobby Wagner (who led the team in tackles again with 120, and also added 5 sacks and 2 INTs), Michael Bennett (who led the team in sacks with 8.5, while being an all-around force both inside and on the end), Cliff Avril (who tacked on 8 more sacks), Chris Clemons (who came all the way back from an ACL tear to net 4.5 sacks and play very solid run defense), Clinton McDonald (who added 5.5 sacks on the inside after being cut and missing the first game of the season).  Not to mention guys like K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith getting it done at outside linebacker (combining for 134 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble).  And Bruce Irvin was quietly effective in transitioning from a pass rushing specialist in his rookie season last year to a strong-side linebacker this year.  He ended up with 40 tackles, 2 sacks, and a pick.

What you’ll notice from the Seahawks is that no one guy really stands out from a national perspective.  But, when you put them all together, and you factor in glue guys like Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane (who arguably had the most dominant season of his career), this front seven as a unit did just as good, if not better than the 49ers.

So, getting back to my original point:  even WITH Drew Brees, why would anyone even remotely consider the Saints a threat?  If elite defenses shut down elite quarterbacks with regularity, and the Seahawks have the best defense in football, are you really telling me that I should fear the Saints because they have one of the five best quarterbacks in football?

And yet, to harken back to my other main point:  anything can happen in the National Football League.

If the Seahawks are going to blow this game, it’s not going to be because we couldn’t force the Saints into a punt.  It’s going to be because our offense shit the bed.  In our two recent losses – to the 49ers and Cardinals (because I still feel like that Colts loss was an anomaly) – the Seahawks struggled to move the ball; and when they did move the ball, they struggled to get it into the endzone.

The Saints’ defense isn’t on par with that of the 49ers or Cardinals, but they do enough things well to be of concern.  They actually gave up the 4th fewest yards and points in football.  Their secondary gave up the second-fewest yards per game, which is pretty impressive when you consider that they were an 11-win team and often held leads that required their opponents to pass to get back into the game.  Of course, the Seahawks gave up the fewest passing yards, and 22.1 yards fewer per game to boot.  The Saints were 19th in rushing yards per game allowed, so that’s something we can hang our hats on (though, they did just hold the best rushing attack in football – the Eagles – to only 80 yards on the ground, in a game that was never really TOO out-of-hand).

What we really need to watch out for is the pass rush.  The Saints were fourth in sacks, which sounds about right when you think about a Rob Ryan defense.  They probably blitz a lot, which means there are big plays to be had.  If we struggle like we did against the Cardinals in hitting on the big plays, then we might be doomed.  We’ll need to watch out for the likes of Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, who each had at least 12 sacks this past season.  I fear those two guys WAY more than I fear someone like Drew Brees.

So, yeah, we’ll lose if our offense lets us down.  That’s if all things are equal.  I don’t even want to think of how this game will turn if we have to deal with the kind of injuries the Chiefs had to deal with last week.  Or the kind of botched refereeing we’ve come to expect out of this league on its biggest stage.  It’s not quite Pac-12 Refs-bad, but it’s getting there.

Mostly, I’m just concerned because I’m a worrier.  That’s why my friends call me Whiskers.  I’ve been here too many times over the last 15 years.  I’ve endured pretty much everything you can possibly endure in the playoffs with this team.  The Trace Armstrong Game in 1999 against the Dolphins.  The “We Want The Ball & We’re Gonna Score” Overtime Game against Green Bay in 2003.  The Bobby Engram Dropped Pass Game against the Rams in 2004.  The officiating fiasco that was Super Bowl XL in 2005.  The Rex Grossman long bomb in overtime against the Bears in 2006.  The six consecutive touchdowns by the Packers in 2007 (after notching a 14-0 lead thanks to two fumbles on their side of midfield).  The 28-0 lead by the Bears in 2010 (before the Seahawks made it a marginally interesting 35-24 defeat, with 21 points in the fourth quarter).  And of course, who could forget the 20-point halftime deficit to the Falcons last year, which we made into a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left, only to lose thanks to a field goal with 13 seconds left in the game?

This is our 9th time in the playoffs in the last 15 years.  The previous eight have ended in defeat, in spectacularly embarrassing fashion.  This is the team we need to end a couple generations’ worth of losing.  It all starts on Saturday.  Take care of business and move on to the NFC Championship game.  Fail and … well, that’s something I’d rather not think about right now.

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