Seahawks preparing for these Saints, not those Saints

Posted Jan 6, 2014

Just because the Seahawks won easily over the Saints on Dec. 2 doesn’t mean Saturday’s rematch at CenturyLink Field sets up as replay in their divisional-round playoff game.

Was it really just six weeks ago that the Seahawks ran the Saints off the field at CenturyLink Field?

Yes, it was – to the day. It was Monday night, Dec. 2, when the New Orleans Saints came calling for a matchup of the teams with the best records in the NFC. The Seahawks were 10-1 and featured the No. 2-ranked defense in the league. The Saints were 9-2 and boasted the No. 3-ranked offense in the league.

Home field and defense ruled the night, as the Seahawks jumped on the Saints from the get-go and won going away 34-7.

Saturday, their 1:35 p.m. rematch at CenturyLink Filed has even more – much, much more – riding on the outcome.

The Seahawks, who finished 13-3 to capture the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, are coming off a playoff bye. The Saints, who finished 11-5 to earn the No. 6 seed in the NFC, are coming off a 26-24 victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia in a wild-card playoff game on Saturday night.

The winner of this Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Seahawks and Saints advances to the NFC Championship game against the winner of Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers.

And Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will stress to his players that it’s the Saints’ and Seahawks’ recent games that are more significant heading into Saturday’s rematch than anything that happened six weeks ago – no matter how impressive it was.

“We start all over again. It has nothing to do with what happened before,” Carroll said Monday. “We learned and we gained information in the game, as they did. But we start all over again and we’re going to start from scratch, and take a look at what’s happened since we played them.

“We compare the buildup, what had they done coming into our game, what did they do and what’s happened since then. But I think it would be a mistake to try to call it because of what’s happened in the past. We don’t care about that.”

And these are not the same teams that met on Dec. 2.

Since then the Seahawks’ defense has become No. 1 in the NFL in average points, yards and passing yards allowed, and also led the league in interceptions and turnovers. But the Seahawks also are 2-2 since that impressive showing against the Saints, when second-year quarterback Russell Wilson passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

The Saints, meanwhile, also finished the regular season 2-2 – losing to the St. Louis Rams and Panthers on the road, and scoring a combined 29 points while doing it. Their offense dipped to No. 5 in the league, but a defense that ranked No. 5 in the NFL entering the Week 13 game in Seattle improved to No. 4 overall and No. 2 against the pass.

The New Orleans’ offense remains the productive domain of Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees, but the Saints have been running the ball more – and more productively. In Saturday night’s win over the Eagles, they ran for 185 yards and did it by committee with leading rusher Pierre Thomas out with a rib injury. Mark Ingram had 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries; Khiry Robinson added 45, on eight carries for a 5.6-yard average; Darren Sproles chipped in 29, on four carries for a 7.3-yard; and even Brees, who had run for 52 yards all season, picked up 13 yards.

In their past three games, the Saints have averaged 32 running plays for 136 yards and scored three of their 11 rushing touchdowns this season.

“They run the ball a little bit more, on the road they have,” Carroll said of the Saints running for 126 yards against the Panthers’ No. 2-ranked run defense in Carolina in Week 16 and then going for 185 against the Eagles.

“That’s a little bit of a change.”

The Saints’ defense, in its first season under coordinator Rob Ryan, allowed 17 of fewer points in three of the final four regular-season games.

“They’re really physical up front on defense,” Carroll said. “A very tough, tough-minded group on that side of the ball. It poses a big challenge for us.”

All of this made knowing on Saturday night that the Seahawks would play the Saints beneficial, as opposed to waiting until late Sunday for the outcome of the 49ers game against the Packers. It allowed Carroll and his staff to hit the preparation trail running when they arrived at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Sunday.

“It was hours of difference,” Carroll said. “In that regard it helps us, that they won and we got to jump into the plan.”

It also gave Carroll a jump on his plan to not let the players rely too much on what transpired six weeks ago.

“They’re going to hear about it,” Carroll said. “I think it’s just human nature that you like to think it’s going to be the same. But we know better than that. So we need to respect this opportunity for what it is. It’s a great championship matchup for us.”

Not against a Saints team that the Seahawks defeated on Dec. 2, but a Saints team that found a way to win the first road playoff game in franchise history on Saturday night.