So youre saying theres a chance? America isnt. The Seahawks were a Friday morning 11-point underdog at home, mind you to the New Orleans Saints in the first wild-card game of the 2010 postseason. A bit strange, considering the fact that Seattle lost to New Orleans, 34-19 at the Superdome in mid-November.
Is the 12th Man really only worth four points, or is Vegas looking too hard at the Seahawks 7-9 record and multiple losses by two touchdowns or more? Theres no question that with full rosters and on a neutral field, the Saints have the edge, but thats not whats going on here. As a result, here are seven ways in which the Seahawks can continue their improbable season and annoy a lot of oddsmaking yobbos.
1. Blitz whenever the opportunity strikes. With running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory on injured reserve, the onus is on Reggie Bush and Julius Jones to help protect quarterback Drew Brees. Jones is a mediocre blocker, and watching Bush block is like watching Deion Sanders tackle its hide your children time. Against the Rams in the season finale, the Seahawks went with more traditional defensive fronts and limited the Leo concept with Kentwan Balmer to a minimum. Setting the edge with ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock allowed Seattle to pressure Sam Bradford mercilessly, and a similar setup should be effective against a Saints offense looking to get the ball out in a hurry.
2. Go deep. Jeremy Bates offensive gameplans have come under fire at times for going too hard in the direction of the big play and away from the consistent drive, but against the Saints in Week 11, Matt Hasselbeck exploited the injury absence of free safety Malcolm Jenkins on several deep passes. Left cornerback Jabari Greer is a good cover guy, but he needs help up top. With Jenkins out, Usama Young was less effective, and Hasselbeck looked Greer off on more than one deep pass. Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu will look to hit that side of the Saints defense with quick-twitch routes that force Greer to recover.
3. Tackle the ball as well as the player. In their first two games, the Saints didnt turn the ball over once. In their last 14 games, theyve turned it over 31 times. Drew Brees has thrown a career-high 22 picks this season, and if the Seahawks can win the turnover battle taking possessions and field position away theyll have an edge upon which they can capitalize.
4. Give the Saints a heavy dose of I-formation. In the first Seahawks-Saints game, Seattle ran just 17 times for 58 yards. Ivory outgained the entire Seahawks team by 41 yards. Thats one primary reason the team kept giving up touchdowns in favor of field goals in the red zone they couldnt get a power game going near the goal line. Whether its with Marshawn Lynch or Justin Forsett as the halfback, Bates must implement plays in which fullback Michael Robinson blocks the Saints interior defense for big gains. Whenever New Orleans lines up in three-man fronts, especially when Sedrick Ellis is the nose tackle, they are vulnerable to blast and cutback plays. The challenge for Bates a challenge he has not always met this season is to stick with intelligently designed run plays even if they dont create great gains right off the bat.
And an additional note, from Brian McIntyre of the indispensable Mac’s Football Blog: “Michael Robinson missed that first Saints game, and Seattle used John Carlson in the “Tiger” role, lining up at fullback on 15 snaps. Removing the 8-yard loss on the botched flea-flicker, Seattle had 31 yards on 5 carries out an I- or Offset-I look.”
5. Set routes with quick reads. According to Football Outsiders game-charting metrics, Hasselbecks yards per attempt and overall efficiency are below average when enemy defenses rush three, four, or five defenders. But hes one of the games best when facing big blitzes of six or more, and no team blitzes six or more than Gregg Williams aggressive Saints defense. Especially on third down, having Hasselbeck read those blitz looks and getting the ball out quickly will be a key to extending drives.
6. Use Lawyer Milloy as a coverage variable. The Seahawks never found an answer for Saints receiver Marques Colston in the last game. They run a lot of Cover-3 (zone coverage with a single safety), which puts that safety on a string. Earl Thomas fell prey to Brees playfakes and eye fakes more than once; it got to the point where Brees could almost predetermine his reads based on his ability to move Thomas out of the way. In the rematch, it might behoove the Seahawks to present several two-deep looks, where Thomas is joined by Lawyer Milloy. This would split Sean Paytons frequent four-vertical route concepts, in which Payton sends multiple deep receivers to overwhelm defenses. If Milloy reads the routes from deep and comes up based on activity in the slot (especially when Reggie Bush is in that slot), Seattle may be able to dictate the action in the vertical passing game.
7. Use Leon Washington as the Swiss Army knife. Washington isnt just a special teams demon he can run, catch, and throw. If Bates sees different opportunities for Washington, now would be the time to use them. I especially like Washington as an option flaring out of the backfield, and it would be a good idea for the Seahawks to use their backs as the Saints use Bush as the coverage-busting wild card player.