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Seahawks vs Saints: 3 matchups to watch

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Divisional Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks, fresh off an ugly-yet-kind-of-awesome tie against the Arizona Cardinals, head to New Orleans to face off against the Saints in a similarly ugly situation: on the road at 10 AM PST. In the past, 10 AM road games have been Seattle’s bogey time slot. That has turned as the team has grown into an NFL powerhouse, and they’re 1-0 in that slot this season – their win coming at MetLife Stadium against the Jets in Week 4.

The Saints are constructed nearly the exact same as they have been for the past three seasons; high-flying offense led by an all-time great in Drew Brees, and a shockingly terrible defense. New Orleans is the league’s worst when it comes to managing the salary cap, and while their offense continues to thrive under the brilliance of both head coach Sean Payton and Brees, their defense suffers on a yearly basis. The lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball is something the Seahawks can exploit this week as they try to get back on a roll, but the potential for an offensive outburst is not highlighted in my three key matchups.

A fatigued Seattle defense vs The high-powered New Orleans offense

It’s no secret that Sunday night’s overtime marathon took a toll on Seattle’s defense. Richard Sherman couldn’t talk and needed help walking. The defense was on the field for 46:21 – 95 total snaps – and carried the entire team all the way to the finish line (which they crossed at the exact same time as the Cardinals). A letdown is very possible for the defense, especially with a quarterback such as Drew Brees on the other side. I will never, ever question the heart or ability of the Seahawks defense, but it’s fair to question whether a week-long drop off is coming after such a mentally and physically draining contest last week.

To combat this, the secondary must be lights out. Even on short rest, the defensive line rotation should be good enough to stop Mark Ingram and the Saints’ running game. The real test will be if the linebackers and secondary will be able to keep going 100-percent versus Brees and his bevy of options. Jeremy Lane in particular has to bounce back from his head-scratching Sunday Night Football performance if the defense is to slow down Brees’ most dangerous weapons in Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks.

George Fant vs Cameron Jordan

New Orleans’ most talented defensive player by a large margin, Cameron Jordan, has been playing great football again this year. He’s collected 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble despite being the only player that opposing offenses have to scheme for. On Sunday, the two-time Pro-Bowler could find himself lined up across from a guy who last started a football game at the peewee level. And that right there is a recipe for disaster. Last week, Markus Golden and Chandler Jones wrecked the game for Seattle’s offense and added another injury to Russell Wilson’s growing injury report. We could see a similar thing happen on Sunday in New Orleans.

The Saints and Cardinals are night and day when it comes to defensive talent and it’s safe to assume the ball is going to come out of Wilson’s hands much quicker against the Saints defense. However, Jordan is still a top-tier pass rusher and absolutely will get home if he’s given a one-on-one matchup against Fant, Rees Odhiambo, or whoever starts at left tackle. With Luke Willson still injured, it’s imperative that the Seahawks park Nick Vannett or Brandon Williams next to whoever starts at left tackle and try their best to negate the Saints most dangerous weapon on defense for 60 minutes.

Edge rushers vs Andrus Peat

It’s not just Seattle that’s dealing with left tackle issues; it seems more and more likely that New Orleans will again be without stud left tackle Terron Armstead on Sunday, instead turning back to sophomore Andrus Peat. And just like Frank Clark, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett feasted on DJ Humhpries last week in Arizona, they are in line to devour another poor over-matched offensive lineman.

Peat, the Saints’ usual starting left guard, has been forced outside to left tackle for most of this season as Armstead has been out with an injury. Getting beaten with power has become the norm for Peat inside at guard, and he hasn’t done any better against the frightening toolkit that edge rushers carry with them. The Legion of Boom, along with Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright, have a massive task ahead of them on Sunday – it’s one that can be made a lot easier if Seattle’s pass rushers take advantage of the opportunity in front of them and get to Brees early and often.

A quick turnaround from Sunday’s performance in prime-time certainly isn’t out of the question. The Seahawks are one of the NFL’s elite and hanging 30 or more on the sad New Orleans defense is very possible; it’ll be on the defense to make sure that it’s less of an arms race and more of a beat down in the Bayou.