The Saints come to Qwest Field for the Wild Card round as the largest road favorites in playoff history. They carry the expectation of being the defending champions, but also carry the burden that comes with defending their title; the Seahawks will look to "play our ball and see if we can get a win." The Saints are simply looking to take care of business. Here are five more keys to victory for the Seahawks.
The early momentum: As I noted in part 1, the energy in Qwest field well before kickoff of the Rams game was reminiscent of the 2005 NFC championship game. It's imperative the Seahawks recapture that energy and come out of the tunnel, nearly an hour before kickoff, with the same tone. Coach Carroll noted "We know they are well equipped and will jump out fast. We have to play fundamentally right from the start." The champs will aim to come out fast and firing, using play action to give Brees easy throwing lanes and seam routes to accomplish the big play. Trust that Sean Peyton has made his team fully aware that falling behind early at Qwest is different than other stadiums; the 12th man is relentless on all downs, especially during a four quarter football game. The Saints will aim to make the fourth quarter a non factor; I'd be surprised if the Seahawks let that happen.
Ball control: The Seahawks need to formulate a game plan reminiscent of the week 15 loss against Atlanta; the Seahawks created a horizontal passing game early, aimed at slashing the middle of the Falcons defense with the run game. More importantly, it was a game plan focused on chewing time off the clock, keeping the ball out of the opponent's hands. Coach Carroll," We have to be efficient and keep that mentality. We have to find opportunities: In the kicking game, remain balanced in our approach, do the whole game well. We're going to use what we have to be dynamic, but I'm not going to say we have to extend our package to win this game. We must stay inside the game plan." The Seahawks will lose this game if they try and out gun the Saints; the Seahawks must take care of the ball, and the clock, to prevent the Saints from finding their rhythm.
The second time around: The Seahawks two biggest struggles in the first matchup was their inability to tackle and poor disguise of defensive coverage. The Seahawks took extra time this week to work on the fundamentals of tackling, an elementary yet savvy move to make sure poor tackling is not a factor for the Seahawks. The Seahawks are cognizant of the fact that the Saints big play offense presents defensive opportunities and a large part of creating those opportunities comes with coverage schemes; the Seahawks must mix and match their defensive coverage so the Saints are unable to key on tendencies. Expect defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to use blitzes and stunts in spurts, as well use motion to counter the Saints ability to find matchups.
Reggie Bush and Julius Jones: The Saints come to Qwest banged up; they are without power running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, as well as Tight End Jimmy Graham and Safety Malcom Jenkins. Increased playing time for Bush and Jones change the complexion of the Saints offense; Bush may be uncharacteristically used as a traditional running back, running between the tackles on first down and staying in for pass protection on third down—when split out wide, the Seahawks must press Bush at the line of scrimmage and throw off his timing. Jones was cut by the Seahawks before the season; he is a fast straight line runner with decent hands, but has poor vision and an inability to run through piles. The Saints are lacking their power run game, but do not expect them to abandon the run; the Saints will use draws and sweeps to complement the passing game. The Seahawks must stay disciplined against the run and not give away an unexpected advantage.
This opportunity: In the 2006 season the Saints made an unexpected run to the NFC Championship game, ultimately losing to the Bears; though it took four years to reach their goal, the organization showed the NFL they had arrived and they were for real. The Seahawks find themselves in a similar position.
Just four weeks ago no one, including myself, expected this team to be hosting a playoff game.
They are a double digit, home underdog in the most raucous stadium in American professional sports, as the first ever sub .500 playoff team.
To quote a fan made sign from last week's game, "7-9, No Body Cares."
Coach Carroll on Monday, "After last night, more than ever, our guys believe in what we are setting out to do. Lofa, Lawyer, Matt, Leon, Mike Rob kept the message alive and in line, not distracting from the mission."
He added, "There is something about the playoffs that is unlike college football, the suspense and opportunity to play again."
This week's message is simple; if we play our ball, we can play again; lord knows very few are expecting that.
Welcome to championship football. Win or lose, enjoy the suspense. Expect the unexpected.