Explosive Opponent Preview: The New Orleans Saints

Wesley Hitt

We know the Seahawks bread and butter is maximizing the explosive play. How explosive are their Week 13 opponent, the Saints?

"Monday, November 25th, 2013: Nothing of importance happened today." - Pete Carroll's diary, probably.

The Seattle Seahawks are now beginning their transition from a boring, uneventful bye week to their immense Monday night match-up against the New Orleans Saints. Both teams vie for the 1st seed in the NFC and the home-field advantage and first-round bye which accompany it.

We come into this game knowing full-well how explosive the Seahawks are. To update some numbers from their victory over the Vikings, the Seahawks have a total of 100 explosive plays this season. Remember that for our purposes, an explosive play is any running play gaining 12 yards or more and any pass play gaining 16 yards or more. The Seahawks also have shown some balance in their explosive plays, with 41 explosive runs and 59 explosive passes.

Seattle has 64 total drives with at least one explosive play (I call these "explosive drives"). The Seahawks have scored on 43 of those drives, good for 67%. However, this score-rate is under-performing the historical league average of 75%.

On defense the Seahawks are, as we expect, dominant. They have only allowed 64 total explosive plays on the season (26 runs and 38 passes). The Seattle defense has only yielded 43 explosive drives and opponents have a score-rate on those drives of only 53%.

But what about the team from the Bayou rolling into town on Monday? How do the Seahawks match up from an explosive standpoint? Are there any apparent trends the Seahawks need to be aware of on defense and offense?

The New Orleans Offense

Week

Opponent


Ex. Run

Ex. Pass

Total

1

vs. ATL

0

9

9

2

at TB

0

5

5

3

vs. ARZ

3

8

11

4

vs. MIA

1

10

11

5

at CHI

0

5

5

6

at NE

4

6

10

7

BYE

8

vs. BUF

2

5

7

9

at NYJ

1

5

6

10

vs. DAL

6

9

15

11

vs. SF

1

5

6

12

at ATL

4

7

11

Season Totals

22

74

96

Avg. per game

2.00

6.73

8.73

I've charted the Saints' explosive plays on offense from each game in the table above. As they are in the standings, the Saints are right on the heels of the Seahawks in terms of explosive plays generated. What jumps out is the clear lack of explosive balance. About 77% of the Saints explosive plays are generated by one man: Quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints only have 22 total explosive runs on the season, nearly half of the Seahawks' total. In fact, it took the Saints 2 1/2 games until their first explosive run of the season.

While this team doesn't heavily utilize the explosive run, they clearly don't rely on it, either. We know how good Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles are. However, Kenny Stills has emerged as a legitimate deep-threat for Brees this season. Stills has 12 explosive plays on the season, four of which are touchdowns. The Seattle secondary will need to own the red-line to negate Stills. Oh by the way, stop Jimmy, Drew and Darren while you're at it, too. Thanks.

Result For

Number

Touchdown

31

Field Goal

15

Turnover

9

Punt

5

End of Half

2

Season Total

62

Score Rate

74%

If the Saints have one thing down, it's explosive score-rate. The Saints are right around the neighborhood of the Seahawks in terms of total explosive drives (64 for Seattle and 62 for New Orleans). However, the Saints convert explosive plays into points and they do that very well. 46 explosive drives end in a score, with 31 of those as touchdowns. That means they score a touchdown on half of their explosive drives. That's pretty damn good.

The New Orleans Defense

Week

Opponent

Ex. Run Alwd

Ex. Pass Alwd

Total

1

vs. ATL

2

8

10

2

at TB

5

4

9

3

vs. ARZ

2

4

6

4

vs. MIA

3

4

7

5

at CHI

3

7

10

6

at NE

3

8

11

7

BYE

8

vs. BUF

3

4

7

9

at NYJ

3

4

7

10

vs. DAL

2

4

6

11

vs. SF

2

1

3

12

at ATL

0

4

4

Season Totals

28

52

80

Avg. per game

2.55

4.73

7.27

Rob Ryan receives plenty of justifiable praise for helping turn around the historically atrocious Saints' defense from last season. They're definitely better, which has spurred their success this season, but they aren't as good as the Seahawks on defense.

The Saints have given up 16 more explosive plays than Seattle on the season, which comes to about 1.45 more explosive plays per game. The difference can be attributed to the Saints' pass defense; while the Saints have given up on the season two more explosive runs, they've given up 14 more explosive passes. In fact, the Saints have been "beaten" in the explosive play battle 5 different times this year: against the Falcons, Buccaneers, Bears, Patriots and Jets.

Result Vs.

Number

Touchdown

19

Field Goal

13

Turnover

13

Punt

10

End of Half

3

Season Total

58

Score Rate

55%

While they don't dominate defensively in terms of explosive plays (or drives) allowed, the Saints are very effective in limiting scores from explosive drives. They've faced 15 more explosive drives than Seattle, they've only allowed scores on 55% of those drives, compared to the Seattle defense's 53% rate. Of course, I'd always rather my defense only allow 23 scores than 32 scores. That can make all the difference in a season.

The Verdict

Both offenses are explosive and will come to play on Monday night. The key for Russell Wilson and Seattle's offense is to finish explosive drives not just with scores, but with touchdowns. The Saint's defense will give up the big play through the air (probably around 5 times) and on the ground (around 4 times); the Seahawks can't afford to end those explosive drives with punts.

On defense, we see a defense allowing less than 4 explosive pass plays per game matched up against an offense and a quarterback that generate nearly 7 explosive passes per game. Something will have to give. I'm guessing the Seahawks allow 5 big pass plays; their job will be to allow nothing more than field goals to Sean Payton and company. Heaven help us if the Saints' run game becomes explosive. New Orleans has only gained 4 or more explosive runs 3 times this season. Seattle has only given up 4 or more big runs 4 times. Mark Ingram cannot be a factor in this game.

If Seattle can defuse the explosive Saints this week, Pete Carroll might be able to write in his diary about how exciting it was for the Seahawks to place a choke-hold on NFC home-field advantage.

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