The Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints haven’t played each other since the 2013 playoffs (a 23-15 win for Seattle on their way to a certain Super Bowl), which feels like a real letdown. In an era of the Seahawks producing perhaps the best defensive run of the 21st century, it’s always great to get it tested by arguably the best quarterback and offensive gameplan of the last decade.
On Sunday, we get to be reminded of the potential of this non-rivalry rivalry in New Orleans.
To find out what the Saints have been up to, I exchanged Qs and As with JR Ella over at SB Nation’s Saints blog Canal Street Chronicles.
Q: Believe it or not, I picked the Saints to win the NFC South and I felt like that would be my big gloat of 2016; that I saw what no one else saw coming. I felt the defense could only get better from last year, so maybe with Drew Brees this was a 10-6 team. They're far from "out of it" of course, just 1.5 games behind the slumping Falcons, but the defense is still 32nd in points allowed and they're giving up more points per game than they did a year ago. So is the defense getting better? Is it painful to watch or does a lot of this have to do with a brutal schedule?
A: Way to go out on a limb for us, Kenneth. Thank you! But as much as I would love to say that New Orleans’ defense is getting better, by almost all the metrics you want to look at, the Saints defense is as bad as advertised. And yes, it’s as painful as having a root canal procedure. The reason is fairly simple: the Saints have drafted poorly on defense (for example, last year’s first round pick linebacker Stephone Anthony can barely see the field), they’ve also had disastrous defensive free agents signings (safety Jairus Byrd is the highest-paid decoy for 60 minutes every Sunday). Injuries have also played a role, but every NFL team has injuries, the problem in New Orleans is that the “next-man- up” is often an undrafted free agent no one has heard of and that’s the result of terrible talent management by the front office. If you thought the Seahawks offense was struggling a bit at Arizona, you’ll fell giddy after the game on Sunday, because your fairly average offensive line (all due respect) will look dominant.
Q: Who is a player starting on New Orleans defense right now because there simply aren't any better options that you can't wait to see replaced in the offseason?
A: That, without a doubt, would be free safety Jairus Byrd. When the Saints got him as a free agent from Buffalo in 2014, Byrd was supposed to be what Darren Sharper was to the New Orleans Saints during the 2009 Super Bowl season: a ball hawk centerfielder, who picks up passes at will and delivers big hits over the middle. Instead, Byrd has spent his entire Saints tenure either injured on the sideline or playing not to get hurt. He has been a major disappointment and the six-year, $54 million contract that he signed with the Saints is just another one of the ongoing blunders made by New Orleans’ front office since the aforementioned 2009 season. With the Saints selecting safety Vonn Bell in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, Byrd’s days in NOLA are likely numbered. And although he’ll leave with a boatload of dead money still owed him by the team, I say good riddance and I think that most of the Saints fanbase would probably sing the same tune.
Q: Despite the defensive struggles, the Saints drafted Brandin Cooks in the first round in 2015 and Michael Thomas in the second round this year, both wide receivers. Some may call that questionable, but they're both on pace to top 1,000 yards, and so is Willie Snead. I'm fearful of those three especially, so help put me at ease -- what's one thing that Cooks, Thomas, and Snead each do that frustrates you?
A: Sean Payton for all his talent management flaws, is truly an offensive wizard, and he can’t ever resist the urge to draft offensive skill position players, hence the selections of Cooks and Thomas, while Snead was an undrafted hidden gem that had a breakthrough last year. I might have to disappoint you a bit when it comes to things that Cooks, Snead and Thomas each do that frustrate me, because so far this year, there hasn’t been anything flagrant from those three to be upset by. Thomas leads the team in receptions (36), while catching 74% of this targets. He also has three touchdowns and is clearly the heir apparent to the retired Marques Colston. Cooks has caught a lower percentage of passes thrown his way (64%) but with a lot of go routes called for him, he has seen a lot more underthrows/overthrows from Brees and is often double-covered by opposing teams. He still leads the team in touchdown receptions with four. Finally, Snead is mister reliable, he’s the surest hands on the team, the guy Drew Brees will often go to on third down. He has caught 77% of his targets (28 of 36) with two touchdowns. All that said, neither of these three guys has seen a secondary as gifted as Seattle’s so far this season, so Sunday afternoon in the Superdome figures to be their biggest test yet.
Q: The Seahawks are coming off what will be one of the most famous "kicking" games of all-time. New Orleans has a rookie kicker by the name of Will Lutz who has missed four kicks this year, including three from beyond 50. Is he a worrisome kicker or are his misses pretty understandable? I need to prepare myself for anything.
A: Wil Lutz is an interesting story. He is a worrisome kicker because he is young and a rookie, and thus likely impressionable. Although touted to have great accuracy and an even better leg, he has indeed missed four of eleven field goals so far this year, and most of his misses have been long tries. On the other hand, he has also made a 52 and a 57-yarder, with the 52-yard field goal coming in a pressure-packed last minute against the Carolina Panthers in the Superdome to give the Saints the lead and eventually win the game. I would advise to prepare yourself for anything because as Saints fans, that’s exactly what we do. We don’t know what to expect from Lutz game in and game out and the sample size is still too small to have a definite opinion. At least he has made all 21 of his PAT attempts, so there’s that.
Q: The Saints are coming off of a 27-21 loss to the Chiefs, a team that I think shares a lot of similarities with Seattle in style and personnel and coaching. New Orleans was very close to getting the ball back with time left and only down a field goal but a tough penalty on Nick Fairley made it practically impossible. Do you think the Saints played their asses off and just came up short? Do you feel they left a lot on the field? What was your general feeling about the Saints' performance last week?
A: Very nice of you to call Nick Fairley’s personal foul in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs “tough.” It was dumb, a dumb penalty that was unfortunately one of many that doomed New Orleans that day (10 penalties for 75 yards). The Saints indeed played their asses off at Arrowhead, but they simply could not get out of their own way. However, here’s the good thing about this New Orleans team: despite their 2-4 record, they’re still playing very hard for Sean Payton. Unfortunately, they do not always play smart. The performance in Kansas City was akin to what we’ve been seeing all season long with New Orleans: untimely penalties and sloppy play, especially on defense. With Drew Brees at the helm, the Saints always have a shot to score with the best of them, and thus a chance to be in every game. Alas, when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, it’s another story for New Orleans, a bad one. As we all know, you need more than a great offense to win consistently in the NFL.