Presumptuously, I'm trying my hand at a regular column. Non-Danny-sanctioned, of course (DK note: now with Danny Sanctions!) . But I want to write something like this every week, right before the game, after much of the conversation has grown stale.
"Swept Under the Turf" is the cheesy name bestowed to three topics that didn't get a lot of airtime or blogpixels in the run-up to the game. The unpublished Week 11 draft went something like this:
1. Tight ends are real things that are a real part of the game. (Four catches for Zach Miller, most among Hawks.)
2. Richard Sherman on the injury report what nonono make it stop! (He got burned deep once but looked fine otherwise.)
3. John Carlson makes his return, both from injury and to the CLink. (He made a couple plays. Heartwarming, sorta.)
Week 13 brings three different thoughts out of neglect and into the lemon-limelight.
1. The Saints have a lot of sacks, but the raw numbers are somewhat misleading.
Much has already been made of the fact that the Saints have tallied 37 sacks in just 11 games and that they lead the NFL (!) in sack percentage. Oh no. Seattle should fear the revamped pass rush of Rob Ryan's suddenly competent defense. Run for your life, RW! That's usually the end of the conversation. After all, sacks bad.
I call balderdash on all the worrying. New Orleans' sack total is inflated specifically by NOT playing the Pete Carroll Seahawks. In examining the Saints' biggest sack outbursts, we find this:
Tom Brady, sacked 5 times on 48 dropbacks
Matt Ryan, sacked 8 times on 85 dropbacks
What do those guys have in common? Lousy run games, and boatloads of passing plays. New Orleans' last three opponents elected to attempt the forward pass 64 percent of the time.
Yeah no, Russell won't be throwing the ball anywhere near that often unless the Saints slow down Marshawn Lynch. Which those guys would love to do. Except that they're allowing 4.8 yards per carry, so probably no on the whole slowing down bit.
One can reasonably expect a number of Seattle pass plays in the 20-26 range, which might result in two sacks for New Orleans. Or no sacks at all, if Russell does his usual Houdini routine.
In addition, the Saints are essentially a one-man sacking crew. Their fancy new Cameron Jordan has 9.5 QB takedowns. That is lots, and also many. But take a closer look: behind him are three guys with three sacks apiece, including one David Hawthorne. Yes, that David Hawthorne. You stop Cameron (which is easier said than done) and there are no scary Saints for whom to account.
Finally, it's worth noting that the Saints live off their sack differential. They have out-sacked their opponents 37-23. But the Hawks are also on the positive side of the ledger, with a 32-29 advantage. Something's got to give, then, right? Ehhh. Given the teams' styles, the quarterbacks involved, and the location of the game, I'd be surprised to see the sack numbers favor either team. We'll call it a probable wash.
2. Kickers will matter, probably even more than usual
Whether tonight's contest ends up a 42-41 shootout (probably not) or a 17-14 grind in the sleet (more likely) or something in between (it's almost always something in between), the outcome could easily hinge on a kicker's frostbitten toe. Should that happen, advantage Seattle.
Steven Hauschka is second in the NFL in scoring, at a 9.5 ppg clip, trailing only that Gostowski fellah. The Seattle kicker's lone miss this season came on a blocked kick somewhere in the Midwest, sometime around Week 5. Hard to say when or where, really. We don't speak of that play beyond generalities.
Meanwhile, Garrett Hartley, the Saints' extremely so-so kicker, has missed six times on the season. Twice from 30-39 yards; four times from 40-49 yards.
Hauschka is as automatic as Hartley ain't. In a close game, in lousy weather, kickers have a tendency to matter.
Not "turnovers." Everyone talks about protecting the ball, all the time, before every game, after every game, always, every game. And with good cause.
No, I mean actual roster turnover.
When Beastquake is shown for the first time on the end zone screens, and Sean Payton pretends to ignore it, and the crowd whips itself into a zero-percent-racist Lynch Mob, you'll already know that the effect of that legendary play will be lost on most the guys in actual uniforms.
Eleven Hawks from the final 2010 roster are still on the team. Fifteen Saints remain from three years ago.
That's it. Yup: about three quarters of the players from that game are with other teams. No Tracy Porter to pick on -- at press time here, he's STILL trying to tackle Marshawn -- because of an almost complete defensive overhaul. Only one DB, one LB and one DL from New Orleans have made the return trip. (One of those guys is Roman Harper, so there is hope for an encore.)
So while it'll be fun to re-live the greatest run in postseason history, it likely won't have as large an impact on the paid participants as it will on the paying customers.
Enjoy the game fellow Hawk fans. If you'll be attending, feel free to leave a comment with your section number; if you'll be watching, feel free to leave a comment with your reasonable (or not) prediction.