Seahawks vs Saints: a Closer Look

Welcome to the CLink - Jonathan Ferrey

The latest prediction for the Seahawks’ next game.

Hey 12th man! It's been a while since my last prediction post. I hope you were happy predicting your own games over the weekend. It was a wild, wildcard weekend. Had I the opportunity, I would have predicted the Bengals, the Eagles, the 49ers and the Chiefs. Glad I didn't wager. Seeing those results, you must really be excited to see my next prediction (ha!). Wait no longer!

A Retrospect

The last game the Seahawks played was way back in 2013, but it was a good one. The Seahawks played well and handily beat their division foes - the Rams. The Rams' offense could not find any running room rushing for only 13 yards on 18 carries. They didn't have success passing either. 157 yards on 30 attempts with a couple of picks for good measure. The Seahawks' defense was truly suffocating.

The offense wasn't as dominant, but that side of the ball played well too. Lynch notably had 92 yards on 23 carries (4.2 yards per attempt) and Russell was his efficient self, posting another game with a passer rating over 100. On the receiving end of his passes was mostly Golden Tate who had his best game as a pro with 129 yards and a gorgeous TD. It was a nice game all around, and a nice way to end 2013 for Seattle.

This next section allows readers to assess how well my predictions have played out. As always, this post will rely heavily on stats (all stats through week 18), mostly from football outsiders. You can read more here.

On to the recap!

Where my predictions were right!

  • Kellen Clemens would have around 140 yards and a couple of picks.
  • Most of the Rams' pass catchers would have around 30 yards.
  • The Seahawks' offense would score more field goals and fewer touchdowns than desired.
  • The score would be around 23-13.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Kellen Clemens would be sacked 5 or more times.
  • Chris Givens would finish with around 50 yards or so.
  • Zac Stacy would finish with around 70-80 yards.
  • Doug Baldwin and Tate would each finish with around 60 yards.

Somewhere in between.

  • Marshawn Lynch would finish with around 80 yards and less than 4 yards per carry.
  • Russell Wilson would finish with around 200 yards, two touchdown and no picks.

At a Glance

Revenge! It's the easy narrative to go after in this game, but frankly I don't buy it. I just get the feeling that players don't fantasize about crushing an opponent who beat them. Instead, they fantasize about crushing everyone. Would the Saints like to win in Seattle on Saturday? Most certainly, but would that answer be any different had the Seahawks lost in the last game (all else staying the same)? Most certainly not.

I think the Seahawks player generally dislike the Rams and the 49ers, but they probably have buddies on either team. Further, the NFL is too much a fishbowl to be caught up in personal hostilities. I have a hard time believing that the Saints or the Seahawks will treat this as anything other than it is - a win or go home opportunity.

Simply put, this game is a game of two heavy hitters. A game that decides which team is one win away from the Superb Owl. The stakes are high, the teams are good, and the philosophies are opposite. New vs Old, future hall of fame QB vs brightest star in the sky, and we haven't even mentioned the atmosphere at the CLink. It's going to be a fun game.

The New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints' Offense

This may seem a bit like cheating, but I'm going to refer you to my previous article on the Saints. If you ignore the prediction and the reasoning behind it, I think it's a fairly well researched article on the Saints team.

I'm still going to go over the Saints, but this time it'll be briefer (probably).

As any report about the Saints should, I'm going to start with Drew Brees. He's pretty freaking good. A few years ago passing for 5,000 yards was truly amazing, now Brees has done it three years running. Not only that, but he really doesn't show any signs of slowing down either. Given his offense, his age, and his production, I think it's pretty likely Brees will end up as the NFL's all-time passing leader.

For now, he's second to Peyton Manning with 5,162 yards. To round out some QB stats, Brees has thrown for 39 touchdowns, 7.94 yards per attempt, and 12 interceptions. Efficiency wise, Brees owns a passer rating of 104.7 (QBR - 70.5) which would rank 5th if you don't count Josh McCown (6th if you do). He's also 5th in DVOA, so really it shouldn't be a surprise when I say he's one of the best quarterbacks in the game today (and possibly in the history of the game).

Catching his passes are two main receivers - Marques Colston (943 yards & 5 TDs) and Jimmy Graham (1,215 yards & 16 TDs). After those two receivers, a number of other pass catchers all have around 500-600 yards. Kenny Stills, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Lance Moore are all in that group. Such abundance speaks the diversity of the offense as well as Drew's mastery of it. Given their proficiency, it's not surprising to see them ranked 3rd in passing DVOA.

The total offense is 5th in DVOA, but because the running game is weighted less, the Saints rushing attacked ranks much lower - at 19th. That's not really surprising when you look at their general stats either. Pierre Thomas is the leading rusher, but he only has 549 yards on the season. After him Mark Ingram has 386. Sproles and Khiry Robinson round out at around 200 yards a pop. None of the running backs rank in the top 30 in DVOA and frankly, none seem particularly threatening.

The New Orleans Saints' Defense

Once again I'll go ahead and refer you to the previous article. The Saints' defense remained well ranked even after the defeat to the Seahawks. It's a defense that works best against the pass. In combination with a potent offense, defending the pass makes comebacks unlikely and consequently, leads to a lot of wins. It's a strategy that the Seahawks employ themselves and if you haven't notice, it works well.

To defend the pass, the Saints rely on their pass rushers, Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks to generate pressure up front. Rob Ryan isn't scared of blitzing either. An astounding 14 players have registered a sack with Saints this year - many of them secondary and linebackers. The Seahawks have 13 in comparison, but mostly from the defensive line.

Behind the dangerous pass rushers are a group of good secondary players. Keenan Lewis has played well this season and is the closest thing to a shutdown corner the Saints have. Opposite him is often times a safety because the Saints enjoy using a 3 safety look on defense. It's an interesting wrinkle, but one that might not continue against the Seahawks. Unfortunately, the Saints rookie dynamo Kenny Vaccaro has been put on injured reserve, calling that 3-safety strategy into question while simultaneously making the Saints' secondary more vulnerable.

I'm not sure how the Saints will respond to Vaccaro's injury, but regardless, the Saints have not been effective against the run. As of now, the Saints rank just 20th against the run in DVOA. That complements the rush per attempt stats too where the Saints rank just 28th giving up 4.6 yards per attempt. I think part of that weakness is philosophical - they don't mind opponents running the ball because Brees and the offense is so effective. However, even if you include that kind of philosophical consideration, the rushing defense remains subpar.

The Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have finished 1st in the league in DVOA. Kenneth's articles can give a bit more depth but that's quite an accomplishment (two years in a row). This is an impressive team, and while Seahawks fans may have to worry about how the team will fit all its players under the cap and maintain dominance for the foreseeable future, for now fans can just enjoy how good this team has been.

Aside from K.J. Wright, not much on the team has changed. However, there seems to be cautious optimism surrounding the return of Percy Harvin and if he's healthy he can have a monumental impact. My philosophy about predicting injuries has always been similar to the NFL teams in that they assume health and productivity. I was a bit tentative before when Harvin was coming back from long-term rehab, but his rehab over the last few weeks has been different. I still don't think he'll be at his pinnacle, but I do think he'll have an impact.

One other note has been the promising return of the rushing attack. Before the Rams game I was convinced that injuries to offensive lineman were a cause for concern. I've reversed course largely on Lynch's effectiveness against Arizona and St. Louis. The Seahawks may still potentially face Carolina or San Fran if they advance, but I think this running game is back. Any struggles now seem to be explainable by great competition.

The Matchups

The New Orleans Saints' Offense vs the Seattle Seahawks' Defense

In the last game, the Seahawks gained an early lead against the Saints after a fumble return for touchdown and subsequent quick score by Seattle. Because of that score, the Seahawks were able to put the Saints in a bit of a hole. Because the Saints went down early, the rushing game became less feasible. Of course, they didn't have success running when they tried, but that only added to the problem. As a result, Brees was forced to attack the Seahawks' greatest strength - their pass defense.

Attacking the Seahawks' pass defense is like when extra-terrestrials attack the US in doomsday movies. It makes no sense to attack an enemies' point of strength unless you have to, and if they can avoid it, I think the Saints will try and run the ball more.

Will the Saints have success running the ball? In short, I don't expect them to. In the last game they averaged 2.6 yards per carry and only rushed for 44 yards. Part of that stat line is influenced by their needing to pass, but the Seahawks didn't give up any ground regardless. I think the previous stat line is probably unlikely, but I still don't think the Saints will have too much success. I think they'll end up with around 60-70 yards and about 3.3 yards per carry. As of this writing Pierre Thomas is still out, so I'll assume Mark Ingram doesn't continue his good play of late. He'll receive the bulk of the carries and the other running backs - Sproles and Khiry Robinson, will receive a few more, but not be particularly effective.

As for the passing game, I think it's almost a given that Brees will be more effective. It's not that I'm skeptical of the Seahawks' ability to defend the pass, but that the Seahawks performance last game was just completely bananas. Brees throws for about 322 yards a game, so I think something closer to 230 is reasonable considering how effective the Seahawks' secondary has been. Unfortunately for Seattle fans, Jimmy Graham is probably going to play more effectively this game if only because K.J. Wright will not be playing. Malcolm Smith and Kam Chancellor may try, but I don't think they can replicate his truly amazing performance.

I think Graham can finish with 80 yards and a TD. Filling out the rest of the receivers will be mostly a group of guys finish with around 30 yards. Lance Moore, Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, and maybe Daren Sproles all fit into that category. In all, the Saints offense should perform better than before, but not enormously so.

The Seattle Seahawks' Offense vs The New Orleans Saints' Defense

Before I begin predicting any outcomes, I want to point out some injuries on the Saints. First, Kenny Vaccaro has been placed on IR. Likewise Parys Haralson has also been placed on IR. Keenan Lewis left the wildcard game with concussion-like symptoms. He was able to practice early this week, but and looks good (Wednesday) so I'll go ahead and predict his return and subsequent quality play.

With those considerations in mind, I have a hard time believing that the Seahawks will not score in bunches on Saturday. In the first game against the Seahawks, the Saints focused heavily on stopping Marshawn Lynch. Unfortunately, this strategy was to their detriment as Russell was able to take advantage of holes in the defense to the tune of 300+ yards and 3 TDs. In what was maybe Wilson's best game he proved that you can only shut down part of the Seahawks' offense.

Considering their breakdowns in the last game, I doubt the Saints will repeat their strategy again. Recall that there may be new secondary and line backing corps members playing, and holding up coverage during the blitz becomes increasingly difficult with new members. Further, if the strategy didn't work last time (and it really didn't work), then why would it work this time? There were some events that seemed wonky, but for the most part the Seahawks' offense simply played well.

Assuming the Saints will not repeat their Lynch heavy, blitz centric game plan, Marshawn should have plenty of running room. Or he should at least make more of what he was given last time around. The Saints haven't played well against the run most of the year, and while they performed well last week, I'm going to stick with a whole season's worth of data over just one game. Lynch should have a typical beast day - 100+ yards and a TD (or two).

When Lynch runs hard, this offense is hard to slow down. With the added bonus of Percy Harvin, I think that the receivers should acquit themselves of criticism nicely - especially considering secondary concerns. I think Baldwin and Tate will be in for nice days with around 70 yards a pop. Zach Miller should have another nice day (no 60 yarder this time) for about 40, and the rest of the Seattle receiving corps should round out the rest of 250 yards or so.

With the receivers getting open against an injured secondary, a more conservative game plan, and Lynch running wild, it's hard to see how Wilson won't have a typical efficient day. I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish with 30 or 40 rushing yards, but he'll do most of his damage through the air and leave everyone talking about how lucky Seattle is.

X Factors

Seattle's offensive line vs New Orleans' defensive line. They didn't pressure Wilson much the last game despite a blitz heavy strategy. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wilson sacked a couple of times, but if their line can pressure Wilson without blitzing, then scoring may become more difficult.

Percy Harvin. I believe I've said this before, but if he can contribute in a meaningful way, the offense may be unstoppable.

Jimmy Graham. When Graham plays well, he opens up opportunities for other teammates. He didn't play well against Wright, but Wright is out. If Graham can play well then their offense could pose a serious threat.

Mark Ingram. What a neat turn of events. I never like to see players bust, so despite my skepticism, I'm happy to see Ingram play well. I don't think it will continue against the Seahawks, but if Ingram plays well, he could help the Saints stay away from the Legion.

The Narrative

While the game is closer for the first half, the Seahawks pull away after the half way mark. Behind a wholly efficient offense and surprising special teams, the Seahawks score with aplomb. Percy Harvin returns to show why his acquisition was so expensive and the questions about the Seahawks' offense are answered. On the other side, the Seahawks' defense looks shaky at the start but they tighten up the ship to strangle the Saints' offense in the second half to seal the win.

Prediction: Seahawks win 34-17

Recap Stats

This section is dedicated to me owning up to my predictions. The predictions are graded on a 10 point scale where 1 is completely wrong and 10 is completely right. As always, if anyone submits their own grades of my predictions I'll include them in the average.

On to the recap!

Where my predictions were right!

  • Kellen Clemens would have around 140 yards and a couple of picks. - 9- Nailed that one.
  • Most of the Rams' pass catchers would have around 30 yards. - 8 - Lance Kendricks was the lone exception.
  • The Seahawks' offense would score more field goals and fewer touchdowns than desired. - 7 - I won't give myself too much credit here, it was a broad prediction.
  • The score would be around 23-13. - 8 - Give the Seahawks 4 from the Rams and you get the real score. Not bad by me.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Kellen Clemens would be sacked 5 or more times. - 2 - Only twice! That was really surprising.
  • Chris Givens would finish with around 50 yards or so. - 1 - Laid a big old goose egg. I banked on him having success based on his history. That was a mistake.
  • Zac Stacy would finish with around 70-80 yards. - 2 - He was bottled up nicely.
  • Doug Baldwin and Tate would each finish with around 60 yards. - 3 - Tate obviously had a nice game, but he vastly outperformed my prediction.

Somewhere in between.

  • Marshawn Lynch would finish with around 80 yards and less than 4 yards per carry. - 5.5 - I was right about the yards, but wrong about the efficiency. Nice to see Lynch back.
  • Russell Wilson would finish with around 200 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. - 5 - Fewer yards and one fewer touchdown, but I was still very close here.

This Week's Average: 5.05

Total Average: 5.2410...

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