The Seahawks host the Saints on Monday night looking to bounce back after consecutive losses, while New Orleans is coming off its bye looking for a second straight win. Unlike past years when Seahawks and Saints meant Russell Wilson vs. Drew Brees, neither quarterback will be playing Monday with Wilson on injured reserve and with Brees retired, but that doesn't mean there aren't intriguing matchups all over the field in this one.
If the Seahawks are going to get the win and avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2011, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Saints running back Alvin Kamara vs. Seattle run and pass defense.
The last time these teams met, the Saints won in Seattle behind a huge performance from Kamara, who had 161 total yards (69 rushing and 92 receiving) and two touchdowns, allowing the Saints to win despite Brees missing the game with an injury.
And as was the case two years ago, Kamara is the player who makes the Saints offense go in 2021, not only by leading the team with 368 rushing yards, but also with a team-high 15 catches for 113 receiving yards and three touchdown catches.
The Seahawks have had mixed results this season when it comes to run defense, holding explosive Colts running back Jonathan Taylor in check in Week 1, then having a good first half against Derrick Henry before he had a monster second half to lead a Titans comeback, a game that was followed by a big game from Vikings backup running back Alexander Mattison in a Minnesota victory. But the numbers have been better the past two weeks for Seattle, including last week against Pittsburgh rookie Najee Harris, a player who, like Kamara, is a dual-threat back. Keeping that trend going won't be easy against the Saints, but it's important the Seahawks limit Kamara's damage.
"He's a very special player," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They move him around all over the place. They've got screens for him, he runs fades from the backfield, and so you just need to be mindful of when they like to take those shots with him, where's he's at. Sometimes they look to put him out in empty and leave him by himself on a linebacker. You just have to be mindful that their game plan is either going to be centered around handing him the ball or finding a way to get him the ball in the pass game. If we can have eyes on him and make sure he doesn't have a crazy game, I think that's definitely a start."
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2. Seattle's pass rush vs. the Saints QB Jameis Winston and the pass protection.
With 11 sacks in six games, Seattle's pass rush hasn't gotten off to the start the Seahawks were hoping for, but at least some of that has had to do with the opposing offenses. According to NFL Next Gen stats, no quarterback gets rid of the ball faster than last week's opposing quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and the Seahawks have also faced numbers three and five on that list in Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins. Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, meanwhile, holds the ball longer on average than all but two quarterbacks, meaning there could be more chances for the pass rush to get home.
And if ever there were a good time for the pass rush to get going, this game would be it for the Seahawks, because Winton has been two different quarterbacks when pressured vs. not pressured. While no quarterback likes being under duress, few have bigger disparities in their numbers than Winston, who has an 8-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 131.9 passer rating with a clean pocket, and a 4-3 ratio and a 59.3 rating under pressure, which according to Next Gen stats is the second biggest disparity among quarterbacks. Winston also averages 9.1 yards per attempt when clean vs. 4.8 under pressure.
3. Who wins in the red zone?
The Seahawks have been pretty good in the red zone this season, but no team in the NFL has been more efficient inside the 20, or better on defense in that area, than the Saints. And seeing as both teams have been pretty good at taking care of the ball this season, the red zone could very well be the biggest determining factor on Monday unless one team gets uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball and the turnover margin tilts heavily in one's team favor.
The Saints have been outgained by opponents by nearly 60 yards per game, yet they still have a winning record in no small part because they've turned 13 of 14 red zone trips into touchdowns, by far the best rate in the league. The Seahawks have also been good if not quite as strong, converting at a 75 percent rate.
And the Saints are nearly as good on the other side of the ball, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on only 35.7 percent of red zone possessions, also ranking No. 1 in the NFL. The Seahawks, meanwhile, rank seventh at 50 percent.
"They communicate, they stay connected, and they have veteran leadership," quarterback Geno Smith said of New Orleans' red-zone defense. "You have Malcolm Jenkins out there who has seen it all and he knows all of the looks, so you have to scheme things up when it comes to those guys. For the most part, they have been playing with great technique and playing good ball."
The Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints will meet this Monday in Seattle at Lumen Field for Week 7 of the 2021 season. Take a look back at photos from the past games between the two teams.