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Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks vs Saints

Posted Dec 2, 2013

An already enticing “Monday Night Football” matchup between the Seahawks and Saints at CenturyLink Field has extra incentive for the Seahawks, who can clinch a playoff berth with a victory.

Greetings from CenturyLink Field, where so much already was riding on the “Monday Night Football” matchup between the 10-1 Seahawks and the 9-2 New Orleans Saints.

Now, because the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Seahawks can become the first team in the NFL to clinch a playoff berth with a victory. That’s just the latest perk of having the best record in the league.

But to get that done, the Seahawks will have to do what has got them this far with only one loss – play their game, rather than getting caught up in everything surrounding this game.

So at the top of their do-to list is containing Saints QB Drew Brees and his favorite target, Jimmy Graham – a 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end who has wide receiver speed and skills.

STAT DU JOUR: RUSSELL WILSON ONE TD PASS AWAY

The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson needs one touchdown pass against the Saints on Monday night to become the fourth quarterback in NFL history with at least 20 in each of his first two seasons. Here’s a look at the elite group Wilson is trying to join:

QBs with 20-plus TD passes in their first two seasons
Player, team TD passes, Years
Dan Marino, Dolphins 20 in 1983/48 in 1984
Peyton Manning, Colts 26 in 1998/26 in 1999
Andy Dalton, Bengals 20 in 2011/27 in 2012
Russell Wilson, Seahawks 26 in 2012/19 in 2013

Most TD passes in first two seasons
Player, team TDs
Dan Marino, Dolphins 68
Peyton Manning, Colts 52
Andy Dalton, Bengals 47
Russell Wilson, Seahawks 45
Jeff Garcia, 49ers 42

Brees entered Week 13 ranked among the NFL leaders in completions (2nd with 300), attempts (4th with 439), passing yards (2nd with 3,647), completion percentage (.683), touchdown passes (28) and passer rating (4th at 107.3); while Graham led all tight ends in receptions (65), receiving yards (946) and TD catches (11).

But Brees and the Saints, who play their home games at the Superdome, have not won outdoors in seven weeks – at Chicago in Week 5. And Brees has not been the same QB on the road as he has been at home.  

While going 3-2 on the road, Brees’ passer rating is 89.7 – where he is completing 62 percent of his passes (125 of 201) for 1,506 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. While going 6-0 at home, Brees’ passer rating is 122.2 – good for a 74 percent completion percentage (175 of 238), 2,141 yards, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions.

So you don’t need to ask why winning this game and taking control of the top seed in the NFC for the postseason is so imperative for the Saints and their prolific passer.

Then there’s Graham, a big target and even bigger part of the Saints’ offense. The Seahawks not only will have to deal with him, they’ll have to do it with Byron Maxwell making his first NFL start at right cornerback because Brandon Browner is out with a groin injury and backup Walter Thurmond began serving a league-imposed four-game suspension this week. That also puts Jeremy Lane at nickel back for Thurmond.

So, who covers Graham? As coach Pete Carroll said during the week, “We have to cover him in multiple ways. There are a lot of things we have to do to get that done. It takes everything we have to slow a guy down like this.”

From Carroll’s lips, to the game plan, to the practice field. Saturday, at one time or another, seven different defenders were involved in covering the player who was playing Graham on the scout team.

Also on the Seahawks’ Monday night do-to list are running the ball to control the clock and keep Brees on the sideline, and forcing turnovers. They’ve been very good at both while winning 10 of their first 11 games.

Marshawn Lynch is averaging 84 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards on an average of almost 19 carries. The Seahawks are averaging 147.9 rushing yards and 4.5 yards a carry. The Saints’ No. 5-ranked defense is 15th against the run, allowing averages of 111.9 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry.

The Saints, of course, will stack their front to combat Lynch, who had that ridiculous 67-yard TD run the last time these teams met – when the 7-9 Seahawks knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in a 2010 Wild Card playoff game in Seattle. So second-year QB – and longtime Brees fan – Russell Wilson will have to make them pay for that tactic by hitting some early throws to force the Saints to play the Seahawks honest.

Then there are the turnovers. No team in the league had more than the Seahawks (26) entering this week, only one had as many interceptions (the Bills, also with 16) and only one had a better turnover differential (the Chiefs, at plus-13; with the Seahawks at plus-11).

As Carroll is so fond of saying, “It’s all about the ball.” That has never been more appropriate.

So try to sit back, but definitely enjoy, what is about to unfold before a revved up 12th Man crowd of 68,000-plus and a national TV audience – with kickoff and coverage on ESPN and KONG 6/16 set for 5:40 p.m. PT.

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