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Saints/Seahawks Preview

1 Dec
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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 5:40pm

The Seahawks kick off the final five games of the 2013 regular season this week on Monday Night Football as they host the NFC South leading New Orleans Saints. The Seahawks are 10-1 and currently hold a one game lead on the top seed in the NFC playoff race. Enter the 9-2 Saints, who are the ones that trail the Seahawks in the NFC standings. The winner of this game will have the edge for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The all-time series between these two teams is tied 6-6. Their last meeting came in a 2010 NFC Wild-Card playoff game when the 7-9 Seahawks upset New Orleans 41-36. Of course the iconic moment of this game was Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard “Beast Quake” touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that essentially cemented the Seahawks with the victory. There is a lot on this line this week and a nationally televised audience will witness one of the more highly anticipated games of the second half of the season. Here is what I will be looking for out of both the Seahawks and Saints in this game.

I start with the Seahawks defense because we will be without a key starter in the secondary. Cornerback Walter Thurmond has been suspended 4 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy thus he will not play this week. Byron Maxwell will start and Jeremy Lane will also see playing time opposite of Richard Sherman. The main key on defense this week is to play smart and to not give up big, game-altering plays. Facing an elite quarterback such as Drew Brees, it will be likely that the Saints offense will try to stretch the field and with younger players filling in in the secondary, the chances of coverage’s being blown could be greater than if Thurmond or Brandon Browner were playing. In order to prevent Brees from having time to make deep throws our pass rush needs to have one of their best games of the season. The Saints offensive line ranks 5th in the NFL in sacks allowed so it will be necessary to send various blitz packages to confuse New Orleans and to force Brees into sacks and bad decisions. I have full confidence in Lane and Maxwell to step up and play well but their matchups this week are not favorable, especially after having a long break following the bye week.

After scoring 41 points against Minnesota two weeks ago, the Seahawks offense is primed to breakout starting on Monday night. It all starts with the running game. If the Seahawks can get Marshawn Lynch going early, control the ball, and control the clock, the Seahawks will be well on their way to a victory. The problem is that Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is one of the best coaches in the game and he will certainly be orchestrating a gameplan that will put a focus on stopping the Seahawks running game. It will be very important for the Seahawks offensive line to protect Russell Wilson so he can utilize all of the weapons around him, especially since wide receiver Percy Harvin will not play due to a hip injury. Golden Tate will be Wilson’s go-to guy this week and Jermaine Kearse could also make a big impact this week. Keep your eye out for those two playmakers to get the ball in their hands often this week.

The New Orleans Saints boast one of the league’s most dominant offensive units. They are good because of a two-headed monster; the interchangeable and underrated running game featuring running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, and the powerful passing game led by quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is 353 yards away from becoming the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 this season. The Saints passing game ranks second in the league overall and it will be the primary emphasis for the Seahawks defense this week. After studying the Saints on film I took away an interesting statistic. In the “first 15” (the first 15 plays previously scripted for an offense to run) the Saints threw the ball at nearly a 2:1 ratio, more than any other team the Seahawks have played so far this season. Drew Brees is known for picking apart the weaknesses of opposing defenses and he does an excellent job doing so, which is why I believe he will try to throw to wide receiver Kenny Stills often this week since Stills will line up opposite of either Byron Maxwell or Jeremy Lane. There is also a big matchup to watch in the middle of the field, literally. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham is Brees’ favorite receiver and it takes multiple players to bring Graham down. Look for Kam Chancellor to shadow Graham on passing plays, as Chancellor is the biggest defender in the third level of the Seahawks defense.

The Saints dominant offense has been around for a long time but it is the Saints defense that has helped turn the team into an elite power. The Saints defense ranks in the top half of the league in both passing yards allowed (3rd) and rushing yards allowed (15th). When looking at the Saints defensive stat sheet there is one column that worries me greatly this week: the Saints do an incredible job of rushing the passer. The intimidating pass rush threat could force Russell Wilson into bad throws this week. Wilson must know where cornerback Keenan Lewis is lined up on the field, as Lewis leads New Orleans defenders in interceptions with 3. In regards to the Saints pass rush, 14 different players have recorded sacks this season and 7 of those players have recorded 2.5 sacks or more. Cameron Jordan leads all Saints defenders in sacks with 9.5 but my X-Factor player to watch this week is linebacker Junior Galette. Galette has 6 sacks so far on the season and has forced one fumble. Galette is New Orleans’s Bruce Irvin; a pass rush specialist who sees most of his playing time in third down situations. If Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch can move the ball effectively in early down situations Galette could become a non-factor much like how he was against Atlanta last Thursday night.

There are two other added elements to keep your eye on this week. The first of which is the weather. The temperature at kickoff is expected to be in the mid to low 30’s and the last forecast I saw calls for a 40 percent chance of snow showers. The last time the Seahawks played a primetime game in the snow was in 2006 and the Seahawks were able to run for 235 yards in that game against the Green Bay Packers. Although it is unlikely, if snow becomes a factor this week I give the edge to the Seahawks, as the Saints do a better job stopping the pass than the run. The other thing to keep an eye on this week is the noise factor. I always emphasize that the 12th Man seems to have a bigger impact in primetime games and this week the intensity inside CenturyLink Field will definitely be higher. To make matters better, the 12th Man will be attempting to regain their status as the world’s loudest fans as they try to once again break the Guinness World Record for “loudest roar at a sports stadium” as was announced earlier in the week. Bad weather and noise could be the ultimate recipe for the Saints to struggle so the Seahawks must take advantage of these circumstances.

Random Thoughts: The blue jersey/blue pants combination will be seen once again this week. I expect the Saints to wear black pants with their white jerseys… Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden have the call for ESPN this week… It would be cool to try to get a picture with the ESPN pregame crew consisting of Stuart Scott, Trent Dilfer, Steve Young, and Ray Lewis. I tried to get a picture with Bob Costas back in 2011 when Sunday Night Football came to town but I failed… Expect to see an iconic Seattle sports figure raise the 12th Man Flag. It has become customary for a well-known Seattle icon to raise the flag before bigger games… Ray Dalton will sing the national anthem before the game. I guess he’s taking a break from the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis world tour… One of the coolest things to see at a primetime Seahawks game is when the video board says “ESPN, can you hear us?” If you’re going to the game on Monday night you should know what to do when you see this… The giveaway this week is roller banners that say “LOUDER” along with a Seahawks beanie. Can I get a rally towel one time Seahawks?!?! I guess they are saving towels for our home playoff games… Ed Hochuli is the referee this week. In my opinion Hochuli is one of the best referees in the NFL. He does a really good job of explaining his calls… I wonder if the weather will prevent Hochuli from showing off his trademark muscles. We’ll see… It’s going to be a long pregame on Monday before the game. Good thing we’ll be down there before traffic really gets bad… I love late season primetime games because it is dark by the time kickoff rolls around… I love the cold weather, also… I’m sure a lot of memories of the last time we played the Saints are going to run through my brain on Monday. It is hard to rank that game but that playoff game is no doubt in my top 3 of sporting events I’ve ever been to.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: The Seahawks currently hold a one game lead on New Orleans for the number one seed in the NFC playoffs and we hold a 3 game lead on San Francisco and Arizona for first place in the NFC West. If either Arizona or San Francisco loses on Sunday, the Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth with a win. Here are the matchups to keep an eye on this week that could affect the NFC playoff race. Teams to note are bolded.

Tampa Bay (3-8) at Carolina (8-3)

Chicago (6-5) at Minnesota (2-8-1)

Arizona (7-4) at Philadelphia (6-5)

St. Louis (5-6) at San Francisco (7-4)

Prediction: The way I see it, if a 7-9 Seahawks team can beat Drew Brees and the Saints, a 10-1, Super Bowl contending Seahawks team can surely beat Drew Brees and the Saints. With the Saints in town and a healthy, rested Seahawks offense a lot of people may think this game will be an offensive shootout much like what happened in the playoffs three years ago. I do not believe this game will be as high scoring and both defenses will make their presence known. The Seahawks will make one or two bigger plays than New Orleans this week and that will lift Seattle to victory. Marshawn Lynch and Golden Tate will score touchdowns for Seattle and linebacker K.J. Wright will intercept a Drew Brees pass in the fourth quarter that will seal the win. The Seahawks will go to 11-1 and will all but officially clinch the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Seahawks 27, Saints 17

Following Monday night’s game will start a very busy week on the blog. Check back Tuesday morning for a review of our game against the Saints. Enjoy the game everybody. Go Hawks!

Packers/Seahawks Preview

23 Sep

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Matchup: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 5:30pm

The Seahawks have a big task ahead of them in week 3, as they host the defending NFC North champion Green Bay Packers in front of a nationally televised audience on Monday night. The Seahawks are coming off a much needed win last weekend over Dallas and the Packers are also coming off a dominating victory over Chicago last Thursday night. The Seahawks are 5-10 all-time against Green Bay. In their last meeting, the Seahawks were blown out by the Packers at Lambeau Field 48-10 in 2009. Here is what I will be looking for this week.

This week the Seahawks need to make sure the best players start along the offensive line. This means having Russell Okung at full strength. Although the Packers have struggled recently as a whole on defense they have some pretty spectacular players. Clay Matthews in particular is a player the Seahawks must keep in check. Through two games Matthews already has 6 sacks. I always touch on the fact that Russell Wilson can make plays happen with his feet but it would be much easier to have the offensive line give him the time and the protection to make throws from within the pocket. In addition to Matthews, the Seahawks also have to keep a keen eye on B.J Raji along the defensive line and Tramon Williams in the secondary. Raji can singlehandedly give Marshawn Lynch fits this week and Williams can make the Seahawks pay if Russell Wilson is not on target with his throws.

I have heard a lot of talk early this week about the Seahawks perhaps using a ground-and-pound strategy this week. Marshawn Lynch is averaging 103.5 yards per game and I have no reason to believe why Lynch will not break 100 yards again against the Packers. Maintaining a steady run game against the Packers enables many things that would carry momentum to a victory. If the Seahawks are effective running the ball, expect them to win the time of possession battle and put themselves in position for many scoring drives. However going off of this point…

The Seahawks cannot afford to settle for field goals on every drive. I have full confidence in our defense to keep the Packers offense in check but I do expect the Packers to score touchdowns. Russell Wilson needs to improve in the passing game. The Seahawks rank last in the NFL in passing yards per game and a strong performance by Russell Wilson will put us in a great position to win. This week I predict that Sidney Rice will be our leading receiver. I think the Packers will give up a couple big plays that will carry Rice over 100 receiving yards this week.

Our pass rush has not shown significant improvement acceptable to my standards. Because we are up against a talented gun slinging quarterback this week I think our pass rush will struggle again this week. On defense, if we can hold the Packers offense to less than 150 yards in each half I think we will be in great shape. Look for our secondary to be in the spotlight on Monday night. I will not predict any interceptions or big plays but I think all four starting secondary players will play up to expectations.

The Green Bay Packers are a very talented team. Aaron Rodgers is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league and the weapons he has around him scare me this week. Cedric Benson saw expanded play last week so I would expect to see the Packers try to establish the running game early. As far as receivers, Rodgers has Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley to throw to. All five of these guys can put up big numbers and all can find a way to get open. Jennings will most likely be back this week after missing the Chicago game with a groin injury. If we cannot put pressure on Rodgers, these receivers will put up big numbers.

The Seahawks this week will be keeping a close eye on the Packers special teams. Last week, Green Bay ran a fake field goal that turned into a touchdown pass and a relatively easy seven points. I do not expect Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to pull trick plays out of his hat again this week but the Seahawks need to be aware that fake plays are included in the Green Bay playbook.

The Seahawks have not lost a home game on Monday Night Football since 2004. Since then the Seahawks are 4-0 at home on Monday night. This week the 12th Man will be on fire and it will be up to the Seahawks to make sure we stay that way. Bad play and Green Bay scores will take the fans out of the game so the Seahawks need to keep up their Monday night momentum. Best case scenario to keep the crowd alive is to score. Score early, score often.

Random Thoughts: The last time the Seahawks played on Monday night I showed up at halftime due to a final exam for school. This year I am sacrificing my first day of the 2012 school year to be at the game. It better just be syllabus day in both of my Monday classes… The Seahawks are giving out white rally towels to the first 50,000 fans this week. Looks like I may have to cut my prefunction short this week to make sure I get one… Kris Allen of 2009 American Idol fame is singing the national anthem Monday night. Usually for primetime games the home team is able to book a well-known artist so Allen is a breath of fresh air in my opinion… There has been buzz online this week about the possibility of Chris Hansen raising the 12th Man flag on Monday night. The new Seattle arena is on track to be officially approved on Monday so I think it would be only fitting to have Hansen raise the flag. However, according to multiple Twitter reports, former Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer will be raising the flag. Dilfer works as an analyst on Monday Night Countdown so he will be in town for the game… I have been used to cold weather primetime home games recently. It will be nice to go to a primetime game with no sweatshirt and shorts instead of jeans… The Seahawks will most likely wear blue this week. I want to know what games we will be wearing gray for… Honestly I don’t want Greg Jennings to play for Green Bay. I would be fully content with starting DeSean Jackson and Mike Williams of Tampa Bay in fantasy football this week… The offense will be introduced this week. I cannot wait for Russell Wilson to run onto the field on national television in front of the 12th Man and all the fans who cheered him on at the University of Wisconsin… I will be bringing lots of Skittles this week. Fair warning: If anyone is sitting in or around section 340 on Monday night, be prepared for a Skittles shower if Beast Mode scores a touchdown… I’m so happy I won’t have to listen to Jon Gruden’s horrible analysis on television… Maybe if we win I’ll try to go down to field level to get a picture with Stuart Scott of ESPN. That would be pretty cool, even though I have heard he can be a d**k sometimes… Speaking of ESPN, it will be nice to get a lot of national media coverage this weekend leading up to the game. I just hope all the talk is not about the Packers. Who am I kidding? Of course it will be. The Seahawks get ZERO national media respect… If we win the talk on ESPN better not be about how the Packers lost. That happened last week against the Cowboys. Nobody wanted to acknowledge the fact that we played an incredible game. Stupid east coast bias.

Prediction: This game will be a lot closer than most people think. At this point however, I’m not convinced the Seahawks can pull it off. They have the pieces and the talent to win but I am not convinced right now that it will all come together. The lack of a pass rush will be the difference in this game. I think we could be in for a track meet early on in the game. I see Aaron Rodgers passing for at least 275 yards and a couple touchdowns. The Seahawks will be competitive throughout the entire game but the Packers will sneak out of Seattle with a victory.

Packers 31, Seahawks 27

Check back Tuesday afternoon as I review the Monday night matchup with the Packers and preview the next upcoming week of practice. Thanks for reading everybody. Go Seahawks!

ESPN: CAN YOU HEAR US NOW?