It’s the battle of the NFC for tonight’s Monday Night Football match-up as the New Orleans Saints face-off against the Seattle Seahawks. Now keep in mind that this is a potential playoff battle we could see in this year’s playoffs, possibly for the NFC Championship seeing that both teams have the best records in the NFC right now.
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However, since it isn’t time for the playoffs yet, I will just focus on the here and now and I must say this game is big for both teams. When it comes to Saints, they are currently 9-2 but they are in fight to win the NFC South and a loss tonight would tie them with the Carolina Panthers who are sitting 9-3 and waiting for an opportunity to take over. When it comes the Seahawks this also an important game, while they don’t have to worry about winning the NFC West since they have control with a current record of 10-1, they are still fighting for the best record in the NFL. Plus they are also playing without cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond and it will be interesting to see how the defense fairs without them. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that both teams are playing good football this season and both teams are capable of coming out of this game with a victory but only if they follow certain keys to victory.
Saints Keys to Victory
Going into this game, the Saints must play at a high level on both sides of the ball starting with the defense. Normally I would say the goal should be for the Saints to slow down the Seahawks run game. However, I don’t think they will be able to do so, considering they allow opponents to rush for 111 yards a game. Instead I encourage the Saints to focus on slowing down the Seahawks passing game. Now that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t focus on slowing down the run game because there is no doubt that the Seahawks are a better team when they are balanced. If the Saints want to have success against the run game, the defensive line specifically the defensive ends must step up when it comes to controlling the edge and the linebackers must be patient and not over pursue when making a point to make plays in the backfield. Most importantly, they must wrap up and finish tackles if they plan to slow down the run game.
However, I do still feel that this Seahawks offense leans on running back Marshawn Lynch when it comes to leading this offense, which is why I feel the Saints must be prepared to slow down the passing game. Now that won’t be easy because quarterback Russell Wilson is dynamic and versatile along with his receiving core but the Saints are capable of slowing them down. So far this season, the Saints have limited opponents to 198 passing yards a game, ranking them 3rd in the NFL. I look for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to be creative as always and throw some creative blitzes out there. However, Ryan must still be aware that Wilson can make plays with his feet in the open field and must have some form of safety net to prevent him from making big plays while scrambling.
When it comes to the Saints secondary, they must take away the Seahawks short and intermediate passes, something they have done extremely well this season. However, the area they need to be concern with is the deep ball. The Saints can’t afford to let the ball go down field and they must also be aware of play-action because the Seahawks love to use that to confuse defenses and give Wilson more time in the pocket. If anything, their goal should be to bend but not break. If they can force the Seahawks to settle for a couple of field goals instead of touchdowns or force a turnover or two, the Saints have a chance to win.
However, if the defense does their part, the Saints offense must do their’s as well starting with protecting quarterback Drew Brees and giving him time in the pocket. The Seahawk defense is very consistent, constantly putting pressure on quarterbacks and making plays in the backfield, the Saints can’t afford to let that happen if they want to win. After that, Brees must take what the defense gives him and avoid all turnovers. The Seahawks will be without Browner and Thurmond, so Brees should look to challenge the back-ups who will be replacing them, specifically Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. The Saints can expect that the Seahawks will throw man-to-man coverage and zone coverage at them in this game. If I were Brees, I would look to expose the man-to-man coverage with short and intermediate passes and allow his receivers to make plays after the catch. Then when the Seahawks play zone, that’s when Brees can attack the secondary with his big arm and execute on some big plays. However, the receiving core must do their part as well, varying from tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Kenny Stills.
The Saints run game is also very crucial in this game, arguably because the Saints play some of their best football when they are balanced. Plus while the Seahawks may have a talented defensive line and secondary, they still don’t always do the best job of containing the run. Running the ball obviously helps to keep the offense balance but it also helps to take pressure off of the passing game and hopefully open up some big play opportunities. It also helps to control the clock and keep the Seahawks offense off the field. Most importantly, the Saints must get off to a good start and try to take an early lead mainly because the Seahawks are known for slow starts. However, while I feel the Saints must start strong they must also finish strong because the Seahawks have made plenty of comebacks in games this season and won.
Seahawks Keys to Victory
When it comes to what the Seahawks must do, it all starts with their defense. The defense must perform well and it all starts with containing the run game and making the Saints one-dimensional. The Saints run game hasn’t been great this year but they play better offensively when the running game gets going. So I look for the Seahawks defensive line to control the line of scrimmage and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to make plays in the backfield and keep the run game contained.
Which leads me to the pass defense, going into this game the Seahawks must be prepared if they plan on winning this game. It all starts with pressuring quarterback Drew Brees, now pressure doesn’t mean blitzing. The Seahawks defensive line is good enough and consistent enough that they can pressure without blitzing. If the Seahawks are able to establish pressure it will be huge in slowing down the passing game. Now when it comes to coverage, the Seahawks should definitely be ready to give back-up to cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane who are replacing Thurmond and Browner. Now I expect the Seahawks to still play some man coverage but they also need to have some form of safety net through the linebackers or safeties. Linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner have been playing good football this season and should be capable of covering the slack. Same goes with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Overall the defense should be fine but again the main area to watch are the back-up cornerbacks Maxwell and Lane.
Offensively, it all starts with the running the ball early and often. As I mentioned earlier, the Seahawks have a great running back in Marshawn Lynch and one of the best run games in the NFL, so they need to execute on it. The Saints defense has improved but their run defense isn’t great. The offensive line must control the line of scrimmage and allow Lynch to do what he does best, demolish defenses. Running the ball will help to keep the defensive line cautious and aware which will limit how they attack quarterback Russell Wilson. It also helps the Seahawks control the clock and keep the Saints offense off the field which is always key.
When it comes to the passing game, the Seahawks offensive line must first step up and protect Wilson. The Saints may not have the most elite pass rush but they can initiate pressure at times. Plus defensive coordinator Rob Ryan does a great job of disguising blitzes, so the offensive line needs to be ready and Wilson needs to make the correct pre-snap reads. If they do that, then the Seahawks are already in good shape. The next step has to be Wilson playing well along with his receiving core. Wilson must take what the defense gives him and make a point to not turn the ball over. However, his receiving core must play their part as well, varying from Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse. I look for Wilson to use Baldwin and Tate in the short-intermediate game, because they both have good hands and make a point to gain yards after the catch which will be huge in this game. However, I encourage Wilson to also use Kearse as a deep threat and challenge the Saint linebackers to make plays.
Seahawks must also make a point to try to and execute on some play-action plays. This once again helps to keep the Saints defense specifically the defensive line on their toes. It also helps to provide some extra time for Wilson and his receiving core to make plays. Most importantly, the Seahawks must start strong, they are known for slow starts this season and while they have been able achieve some comebacks win this season, they must keep in mind that every team won’t allow that. If the Seahawks get off to a slow start in this game, the Saints are more than capable of making them pay for it, which is why they don’t want to put themselves in that position.
So again I must say that I expect this to be a good game, both teams are fighting for different things but both teams have capable offenses and defenses and both teams are capable of beating each other. If both teams follow the keys to victory above both teams will have a chance to come out victorious but to win this game, it will be more than just about the keys to victory but the little things to such as turnovers, penalties, mental errors, missed tackles and slow starts. I don’t know about you but I am excited for this game and I am even more excited to see who will come out victorious, I guess we will have to watch to find out.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com