Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cross-Talk: Saints Nation Blog Answers My Questions

Andrew Juge, over at The Saints Nation offered to do some Q & A about our respective teams before the big Monday Night showdown. Andrew fired off his questions first, which I answered here. Here are my questions for him and his answers.

HB: What does the loss of Parys Haralson mean to the Saints defense, both run and pass?


TSN: In pass defense it means really no difference as he's not part of the nickel package and he's seldom



ever used in coverage. He's a run stopping specialist only and he only plays maybe a third of the defensive snaps in obvious run situations. As for stopping the run it's a loss, but Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are by far the most trusted and critical linebackers for tackling and making plays. He's been a nice veteran presence and leader in the group, but I don't think this really represents a huge loss. Ramon Humber is a young linebacker that plays the run physically and well, and Will Herring is a guy that can come in and cover a little bit. The Saints should be ok with this loss. Don't get me wrong, I'd obviously prefer to have him, especially against a run heavy team that has a strong and powerful back.


HB: How has Roman Harper been playing in place of Kenny Vaccaro?


TSN: He hasn't really. Vaccaro is a hybrid safety and he played some safety this year for the Saints, but by and large he's been in the slot in a nickel role. He's really more of a slot corner so far. Harper and Vaccaro would switch off at strong safety depending on the game plan in base, but because so many teams run 3 receiver sets or more these days on the majority of snaps, they ended up both being on the field together (with Malcolm Jenkins at free safety). So the Saints have had 3 safeties on the field. With the Vaccaro injury (as well as injuries to starting corners Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson), the Saints will keep Jenkins and Harper as the safeties in base, then move Jenkins to nickel in pass situations. You'll remember Jenkins was a corner coming out of Ohio State and he does a solid job covering the slot. A matchup with him against Percy Harvin would certainly be one to exploit, though. Rafael Bush then comes in as the free safety and replaces Jenkins in his base role. So it's really Jenkins that's covering for Vaccaro, though Harper does assume some of his responsibilities. Vaccaro could do so many things that now that has to be split up among a few players a little bit. Harper can play the run well but he is pretty poor in coverage. One on one with a tight end he can absolutely be exposed and opposing teams often target him. Rafael Bush, on the flipside, has been pretty solid at free.


HB: Did Saints fans like what Sean Payton did the team's practice field, painting a Seahawks logo on there?

TSN: No real opinion, that is just classic Sean Payton. The fans find it slightly amusing and just chalk it up to "Sean being Sean". He's very creative with his motivating tactics and I have to give him credit for never repeating the same thing twice. He will always come up with random and off the wall ideas as a way to motivate the troops. I think not knowing what to expect on any given week is an effective way to get a message across and make sure guys are focused and paying attention. Some ideas have worked better than others over the years but he's never afraid to think outside the box, a quality I really appreciate in him.


HB: What gives you the most confidence heading into this rematch? What makes you most worried?

TSN: I don't know how confident we can be after what happened last time. But there is a sense of "house money" at this point. Look, the expectations before that Seattle road game were squarely "Super Bowl or bust" for the fanbase. After that loss, and the road loss to Carolina, expectations had to be re-adjusted. All of a sudden the Saints went from a possible 1 or 2 seed, to the 6 seed looking awful on the road and needing three straight road wins, IN JANUARY, to get to the Super Bowl. Oh, and the Super Bowl is in New York. So that doesn't really stack up as a path the Saints are built to navigate. I think most Saints fans are realistic about that. So anyway, the franchise had never won a road playoff game ever and beating the Eagles in Philadelphia was a big historical win for the franchise. I think fans feel good that the team accomplished something historical this season. That's special, and a huge monkey off our back. Based on that, the season could end in Seattle and we could all live with it. Sure, we'd be disappointed, but it wouldn't leave long lasting emotional scars like a loss in Philly would have. So from a confidence standpoint the Saints can play loose, they have nothing to lose at this point. Seattle is a very good team that's even better at home, and the Saints are 8.5 point underdogs. Everyone expects them to get skull dragged. And yet this is still the #4 offense and #4 defense in the entire NFL. This team can play. So I have confidence in the recent form and the ability to play free.


Most worried? I guess the Seattle defense. The Saints put up 7 points last time and you can't win scoring that low. And this time they are calling for 100% chance of rain and 20mph winds. So scoring doesn't get any easier. Seattle is better at stopping the run and better at running the football than the Saints, so if this turns into a throwback style game the advantage is squarely with Seattle. Not that it wasn't already.


HB: If Percy Harvin plays, how do you think the Saints will try to defend him?


TSN: Keenan Lewis is a top notch corner and he'd man up one on one with him most likely. He left the Eagles game with a concussion but he had held DeSean Jackson deep into the 3rd quarter without a single catch. Once he left, Jackson immediately caught a 40 yard pass, and later got a 40 yard pass interference penalty. Lewis being out changed the whole complexion of the game. Lewis is practicing and he's been cleared to go. So I wouldn't be surprised if Lewis is manned up on Harvin wherever he goes. I'm hoping we'll see a little rust from Harvin, though. I'm also hoping the horrid weather we're expecting will stop Harvin all by itself. It certainly makes game planning more simple if both teams aren't really able to pass much.


HB: When you heard Harvin might play, what was your first reaction?


TSN: I actually hope he plays. I know Seahawks fans think he's like this larger than life missing piece to the Seahawks scoring 80 points every week, but as much time as he's missed this year I think he'll be a bit rusty. I know he played well in his first game back and people point to Crabtree's return, but every player is different, and every game is different. Seattle's offense has operated all season without him, and it takes time to get into a rhythm. I think Harvin may confuse the Seahawks' offensive identity a little bit, hopefully, especially with any rust he has. It's one thing to practice a little bit, but game speed under the lights takes time to get acclimated to. Of course he's such a special player and he's so explosive there's always the chance he'll go nuts for three scores and put up 180 yards on us. But the Saints' have the 4th best defense in the NFL. Honestly I can't picture many scenarios where their performance would be worse than what we saw in Seattle a month ago regardless of who plays. My only point is it's not a given that his first game back he's going to turn Seattle into this unstoppable offense, and there might even be some growing pains. Of course, he may go off too. I'm hoping for the former.


HB: What surprised you most in the first game between these two teams?


TSN: Russell Wilson's play. I knew he was very good, but he looked like the second coming of Steve Young in that game. The Saints held Lynch to 16 carries for 45 yards. If you had given me those stats before the game I would have guessed there was no chance the score would be 34-7 Seattle. I would have liked our chances. But Seattle was able to move the chains on 3rd and long with Wilson's ability to scramble and make throws downfield. It was really and truly impressive. Wilson was accurate, decisive and flat out awesome. If the Saints are able to slow Lynch down as well as they did last time, which is a tall task, I guess we just have to hope that Wilson will come back down to earth a little bit. Of course I was also shocked to see the Saints put up 7 points. I know the Seahawks defense is special, maybe on par with the Ravens' Super Bowl heyday defense, but I didn't expect them to utterly embarrass the Saints who are no slouches offensively.


My parting thoughts are that everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Saints in that game. 3 and out, Hawks field goal. 3-0. Next drive, turnover for a touchdown. 10-0. 3 and out, punt, touchdown Seattle on the next drive. 17-0. That sequence was in the 1st quarter alone and the game was over before it started. The Saints have to avoid the early onslaught of getting blown out of the game from kickoff again. If they can survive the early crowd intensity and opening drives and avoid being down multiple scores 10 minutes in, then I think they can play their way into the game and make it competitive. So that will be key.

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