HB: How big of a loss was Jabari Greer? Who becomes the nickel corner with White moving outside, and how good is he?
TSN: It’s funny, I was asked this question last week and had supreme confidence in White. He was playing terrific in the slo/tnickel. But then he was moved to the outside after the Greer injury and Atlanta picked on him mercilessly. It was the only thing their offense could do well, so they kept going back to it. So, Greer’s injury is proving at least one week in to be a bigger problem than I anticipated. Rookie Kenny Vaccaro has done a great job in the slot, and in general the Saints’ pass rush has been awesome… so depth is less of a concern. But Corey White is the big question mark on the defense right now. He didn’t look like starter quality last week, that’s for sure.
HB: The Saints have some really poor run defense numbers, but have been playing a little better lately. Why have they struggled against the run, and are they better now?
TSN: They have played pass heavy teams so they have given a soft box in an effort to improve pass rush and coverage. Some teams will run against that formation and have some success with a nice long run. The stats don’t really tell the whole story though. Seattle won’t see those fronts as much, and when they played the 49ers and Falcons the run was contained the last two weeks. The run defense hasn’t been giving up the steady 5 to 8 yard runs. It’s been more like 3, 2, -1 and then a 37 yarder. So while the big play is not ideal, it skews the stats a bit. This defense has been a lot better against the run than the numbers suggest. And against the Seahawks I can promise you priority #1 will be stopping Marshawn Lynch. That’s not to say they’ll do it, but I feel good about the defense’s ability to slow him down.
HB: When you look at the Seahawks, what concerns you the most as a Saints fan?
TSN: The run game. There is no question Marshawn Lynch is one of the best in the business. And he had one of the best games of his career against the Saints in the playoffs a few years ago. That performance still haunts me. Obviously the defense is incredibly good, too, but Drew Brees is good enough to put up points on anyone if he’s playing well.
HB: The forecast is for freezing temperatures, and possibly snow. How do you think that will impact the Saints?
TSN: They’ll definitely go more run heavy. The Saints can run the ball if they commit to it. If i’m being honest, though, there’s no question the Saints are built to win indoors. These conditions clearly benefit the Seahawks, a run first team that’s built for physicality. If the Saints can’t spread out the offense and throw the rock in ideal conditions, then it becomes more difficult. But they still have to play the game and the Saints’ defense is top 5 in the NFL this year. This team can compete with any team on any field.
HB: Lance Moore is the guy I think can give the Seahawks fits with their cornerback situation, but he has not been himself this year. Is he ready to break out, or does he look like he has lost a step?
TSN: He was injured earlier this year and since he hasn’t really had as meaningful of an impact. But Lance is a veteran that can take advantage of a favorable matchup. That’s the thing about Brees, a receiver can go dormant for weeks and then blow up when you least expect it. This offense used to do that with Devery Henderson much to the frustration of fantasy owners. Don’t sleep on Kenny Stills, though. The rookie has been the field stretcher and big play maker for the offense this year.
HB: What are the types of teams that give the Saints fits? What do you see as their biggest weakness that could keep them from reaching the Super Bowl?
TSN: They somehow lost to the Patriots despite dominating the game from top to bottom. But officiating was the issue in that one. Against the 49ers, both lines completely manhandled Frisco. That was probably the most encouraging thing to see. The game was close because of three awful uncharacteristic turnovers, but the Saints manhandled the 49ers in the trenches. As physical as the 9ers are, that proved to me the Saints can match anyone in terms of physical play. I would say the Jets are the only team that outplayed the Saints, and that’s also the one team that consistently ran the ball at will on them while getting good pressure on Brees. The Jets won despite Geno Smith, as he hardly threw the ball at all. Certainly Seattle qualifies as a team that could run the ball very effectively and get pressure on Brees, especially in poor weather. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses, though. We’re talking about the #2 offense in the NFL, #5 defense and rock solid special teams. I definitely think they are one of five teams in the NFL, Seahawks included, that have a legitimate shot of winning it all.
HB: Have they considered a formation where Brees carries Darren Sproles around in a Baby Bjorn? That guy is tiny!
TSN: Ha, that might slow Sproles down. Sproles is everything to this offense that Sean Payton hoped Reggie Bush would be. He is so quick, decisive with his cuts, has the best hands of any back in football and will always make the first guy miss. But yeah, he’s not breaking many tackles. I have to say pound for pound he’s the toughest player I’ve ever seen. He’s another guy that’s much more dangerous at home than on the road, though. I don’t think he’ll make as much of an impact in this one