Monday, January 6, 2014

Seahawks vs Saints: A Look At What Has Changed

No two games are the same. The teams may be the same. The location may be the same. But football teams morph across a season, and even after just five weeks since the last time the Seahawks played the Saints, there are key differences between the teams that battled that night.



Saints Personnel Changes

The Saints have suffered some key injuries, while only getting back one rotational player. 

OUT: SS Kenny Vaccaro  / IN: SS Roman Harper
Vaccaro is one of the big losses for the Saints. He was having a good rookie season before landing on the IR with a fractured ankle a few weeks back. He still finished third on the Saints in tackles, third in tackles for loss, and fourth in passes defensed. He had 10 tackles, and a tackle for loss in the first game against Seattle. In his place will be aging vet Roman Harper. Harper is a significant liability in pass coverage. He had over 90 tackles in his past four seasons before losing his role to Vaccaro, so he can still play. 

OUT: LT Charles Brown / IN: LT Terron Armstead
Brown was not cutting it at left tackle, and has been replaced by rookie Terron Armstead. Brown actually played one of his better games against the Seahawks the first go-around. Even after being replaced for most of the final two games of the year, Brown still was second in the NFL among tackles in penalties. Armstead is a superior player, probably both as a run blocker and as a pass protector, but he is far from perfect. He has totaled three penalties in his three starts, which is a higher rate than Brown, and has only one positive grade in pass protection from ProFootballFocus. This would be as good a game as any for Chris Clemons to make his presence felt. 

OUT: K Garrett Hartley / IN: K Shayne Graham
Hartley missed two field goals against the Rams and was cut. Graham has been a reliable kicker throughout his career. He had a bad playoff game for the Bengals in 2009 when he missed two kicks that largely cost them the game. Seahawks fans hoping he is a choke artist should probably look elsewhere as those are his only two misses in 15 playoff attempts, including a clutch 4-4 performance in Philadelphia this past weekend.

OUT: CB Chris Carr / IN: S Rafael Bush & CB Rod Sweeting
Carr was modestly used dime corner that sometimes moved into the nickel spot after the Saints lost starter Jabari Greer for the season. He was cut the same week Hartley was let go, and that has led to increased snaps for Bush and rookie Sweeting. Bush is a solid player, but has made few impact plays (only 1 tackle for loss, no interceptions, no forced fumbles). Sweeting is a young one, and only started playing a handful of snaps the last two games (14 vs TB, 17 vs PHI). If Sweeting plays at all, look for the Seahawks to attack him with any of their top four receivers.

LIKELY OUT: LB Parys Haralson / IN: LB Will Herring
Haralson is a former 49er who joined the Saints this year, and has been a bruising addition. He does not make a lot of tackles, but was a good pass rusher (3.5 sacks) and playmaker (4 tackles for loss). It was reported on Saturday night that he tore his pectoral muscle versus Philadelphia. That is not an injury that automatically means a player is out. Tarvaris Jackson played a season with one on his throwing side. We will learn more this week, but this would be another significant loss. Haralson had one of his sacks and one of his tackles for loss against the Seahawsk in Week 13. Herring was originally drafted by the Seahawks, and is a special teams player. He is nowhere near the playmaker Haralson is.

POSSIBLY OUT: RB Pierre Thomas
Thomas is a big part of the Saints team. He led the team in rushing, and is a tough interior runner. He missed the Eagles game with a back injury. It is not clear what his prognosis is. Thomas had four carries for zero yards in the first game, and would surely have something to prove. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson get the snaps if Thomas is out. Ingram did not fare much better in the first game (8 car 22 yds 2.8 YPC). Both are tough runners. Neither are feature back material.

POSSIBLY OUT: CB Keenan Lewis
Lewis is the team's best corner, and had to leave the Eagles game with a concussion. He was desperate to return, but the team would not allow him to. Expect him to play against Seattle. If he does not...yikes.

BACK: DE Glenn Foster 
Glenn Foster is a rotational defensive lineman who has 3.0 sacks on the year. He missed the first game with the Seahawks, but is back to being available.

Seahawks Personnel Changes

Seattle is much the same team the Saints faced in Week 13 with a few notable exceptions.

OUT: LB K.J. Wright / IN: LB Malcolm Smith
Wright was a major part of the victory over the Saints. He shadowed Jimmy Graham around the field, holding him to 3 catches for 42 yards and one touchdown. He also had a tackle for loss. Linebacker play is absolutely crucial when facing the Saints as they spread you laterally with swing passes to backs like Darren Sproles and vertically with Graham. Smith is no slouch. He even played a bit in the first Saints game, registering 3 tackles in only 6 snaps. He does not have Wright's length, but he has significantly more speed. Smith was known as a coverage linebacker at USC, and that has proven true in the NFL. Smith has been adept at sniffing out swing passes to backs and screens, which will be important against the Saints.

POSSIBLY PLAYING: WR Percy Harvin
The Saints gave up 310 yards receiving in the first game, and Russell Wilson had 3 touchdows and 0 interceptions to help him to 139.6 rating. Add even a limited Harvin to the mix, and the Saints defensive coaches will have their hands full. A Saints team featuring an older safety in Harper and an inexperienced corner in Sweeting makes the sledding that much tougher. If Harvin plays and Lewis somehow doesn't, the disparity grows to a massive mismatch.

IN: CB Walter Thurmond
Thurmond missed the first game due to suspension. He was eased back in versus St. Louis, only playing about 30% of the snaps, but will be a useful weapon against the likes of Lance Moore and Kenny Stills. Byron Maxwell has played so well in Thurmond and Brandon Browner's absence that people forget just how good Thurmond is. He is a Pro Bowl talent at corner, and a welcome addition to the secondary.

POSSIBLY OUT: TE Luke Willson
Willson looked out for sure after having an air cast administered on the field against the Rams, but he has been running, and sounds like he may play. That would be a big deal, even though he had only 1 catch for 2 yards in the first game. Zach Miller had 5 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in that game, so the tight end position matters, especially with Harper taking over for Vaccaro.

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