So much of the focus this week has been about who would start for the Seahawks at quarterback and how big of an underdog Seattle is, that one of the most important story lines has been largely ignored. The Saints are among the most prolific offenses in the NFL, ranking sixth in total yards/game and third in passing. Drew Brees is a top quarterback in the NFL, leading his team to five straight touchdowns in the first game against the Seahawks, and going a nearly perfect 9-10 passing on third down. The Saints convert a league-leading 48.8% of their third downs, helping them to sixth in the NFL in time of possession.
The Seahawks defense started out as a strength of the team, boasting the 2nd-best rush defense in the NFL for seven weeks. Injuries and lack of depth were a major factor in changing that. The defense has been beaten like a member of the Jackson Five for the last few months. There have, however, been glimmers of hope of late. The defense held Atlanta, the #1 seed in the NFC, to what was its season-low in yardage at that point (266 yards). The powerful Falcons rushing game was held almost completely in check with an anemic 2.6 yards per carry. Then again, in the final week of the season, the Rams only managed 184 total yards and six points.
Defensive Coordinator, Gus Bradley, has his work cut out for him today. He doesn’t have the horses to beat the Saints on talent. He’s going to need to create a scheme that can at least slow Brees down. Holding the Saints under 20 points may not be realistic, but keeping them under 30 is a must. This can’t be a situation where the Seahawks sit back in a zone defense all afternoon while Brees picks them apart. Blitzing him is not wise either, given Brees’ savvy in exploiting those blitzes. These are the situations that make names for coaches. Bradley has done an admirable job with the talent he has this year, but this will need to be his Mona Lisa. For my money, I’d take an early 15-yard penalty to let Brees know he’s going to get hit. I’d love to see Marques Colston doubled all day. The Seahawks have not been able to take away an outside receiver all season. The did a masterful job in taking the Rams Danny Amendola out of the game with his underneath patterns. If Colston is too hard, perhaps, the team focuses on Jeremy Shockey. The point is that one player needs to be removed from the equation. As good as Brees is, he has thrown a boatload of interceptions this year. There will be plays to be made.
This is Bradley’s first go-around in the playoffs. How will he approach it? We will learn if he’s going to rise to the moment or be overwhelmed by it. Expect the former.