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.
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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
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.
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.