Hey everybody, looks like I caught whatever my girlfriend has been laid up with for the last few days. SOooo... don't lean too close to your monitor.
Last week I presented the stat matchups in a fairly even split. That represented my belief that Seattle and Pittsburgh each had about an equal number of exploitable mismatches. The game didn't turn out that way, but I think my contention was true. This week Seattle faces a team in the midst of crisis. They're playing so bad I heard Visa is suing the city of New Orleans for defamation of character. So these matchups are going to favor the team that has the greater number of mismatches. People talk about trap games, or the Saints needing a win after starting 0-4, but I think the greater story line is just how much did Pittsburgh expose Seattle last week. Don't be surprised if the men from the moor don't sit on the Hawks pass and dare Seattle to run. After all, this is a copycat league.
Strength Versus Strength
Seahawks Pass Rush V. New Orleans Pass Blocking: This is a little misleading. The Saints have only allowed four sacks on the season against some pretty sorry pass rushes. Still, four looks pretty dang good on the surface, only juggernauts Indianapolis and New England have allowed fewer, three apiece. What doesn't get translated is how often Brees has been pressured. Tampa and Indy are both Tampa-2 teams, a system that deemphasizes the sack in favor of disruptive pressure. The best way to interpret the Saints pass protection is holistically. They may have only allowed four sacks and may have the sixth ranked adjusted sack rank in the NFL, but Brees has thrown nine interception and averaged just 5.2 yards a passing attempt. Seattle counters with 16 sacks and the sixth ranked adjusted sack rank. This may be a mismatch masquerading.
The Reggie Bush Factor: Nothing presents itself statistically as a ringing mismatch favoring New Orleans. One mismatch may be hiding beneath the surface, though. Remember last week when I said that the Seahawks had improved their ability to stop runs of ten or more yards, allowing such runs on just 17% of plays, but, how did I put it? "The bad news is that Seattle has faced some slow footed backs. The two backs Seattle has faced with quality second gears, Frank Gore and Kenny Watson, have averaged a run of 10 or more yards on 20% of all rushes collectively." Well, Seattle's ten plus is now up to 20% overall after facing Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport. You'd think big runs would be Reggie Bush's rushing animus, but the Saints have been one of the worst teams in football so far this season at creating runs of 10+ yards, recording such on only 4% of all runs. That's nothing new, either, the Saints were 25th last season in the same category, running for 10+ on only 13% of all runs. Further confounding assumptions is that Bush has never carried the ball more than 18 yards in the regular season. Now, I argue that Reggie Bush is easily the most overrated player in football, in the sense of his actual production compared to his perceived value, but when a player has a certain skill set, and a team a certain weakness to long runs, you don't want to bury your head into the statistical sand and not acknowledge the fact that if Bush breaks that second level of containment he's gone. Not a true mismatch per se, but one that could rear its ugly little head quite quickly and quite brutally in the Saints favor.
Power Success: And the beat goes on about the Hawks undersized front seven. Sure it's one of the best front sevens in football, but it's just so damned small! Anyway, enough teasing, the fact remains that Seattle has never regained their 2005 form stuffing short yardage. That year they were fourth in the league at preventing Power Success (54%), this year, minus Marcus Tubbs, they're back to the back allowing 82% "of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, [to] achieve a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer." New Orleans has, perplexingly, achieved a power success on 81% of their runs. If the first mismatch defied stats in its favor, this is the opposite. The Hawks aren't going to miraculously fix their skin thin short yardage stopping ability, but the Saints power success isn't for real either. In 2006, with a healthy Deuce McCallister (a much better short yardage back than Bush), New Orleans' power success was only 54%, 30th in all of football. If Seattle were to ever turnaround its third downs woes, now is the time.
Seattle's Passing Attack V. the Saints Pass Defense: A little iffy about counting on your run game? Feeling inadequate pounding the rock? Does your team have the ninth ranked passing offense but just the 27th ranked rushing offense? Luckily, the New Orleans Saints have just the cure: A 31st ranked 44.4% DVOA against the pass. Of course, they have the 8th ranked defense against the run, so maybe they'll just sit on the pass and dare the Seahawks to run. Nah, that'd never work. The Saints are particularly bad against #1 receivers, of which Seattle has none. So, uh, you might want to wear a hat.
Seattle's Pass Defense V. the Saints Passing Attack: Seattle owns the pass on both sides of the ball, or at least they should. The Seahawks pass defense is ninth in the league at -4.8%. The Saints mock our negative pass defense, their pass offense puts it to shaaame: -24.0%. Caveat: The Seahawks are weak against "other" wide receivers, slot receivers that is, 27th in the league. Devery Henderson may be listed as New Orleans #2, but he's still capable of long bomb death from the slot. If Josh Wilson can play some nickel and/or dime on Sunday, I'd feel a lot better about us not getting beat deep.
Olindo Mare and the Red Zone Defense: In year's past it's been feast or famine with teams facing Seattle in the red zone. In this situation, famine being better. They were ranked 4th in the league at defending the red zone in 2005, but 31st in 2006. The Hawks were looking better this year before they let Pitt go three for three against them last Sunday, but if they can right the ship against the Saints, they'll get a bonus: Olindo Mare, quite suddenly, sucks, hard. The Saints are -8.2 DPAR on Field Goals/Extra Points. Plus, he's injured. Kicking is basically unpredictable, so, I don't know, maybe Mare puts on a clinic on Sunday and salvages his season, but the sore groin won't help.
Shaun Alexander pwns Sunday Night: The waining Sabbath Sun is like, "Oh no, Shaun's gonna break his cleat off in my Photosphere" And Alexander is all "When I see Sunday Night coming, I'm all, "What's up, bitch?!" And the sun is all, "Not, much, Sir." And I'm all, "That's right, bitch! Now, go make me a sandwich!" And you want that kind of confidence in your running back!
...and if you get that reference you probably wasted your youth watching SNL reruns on Comedy Central.