New Orleans Saints senior writer John DeShazier provides a closer look at Seattle's Week 8 opponent:
1. Obviously 2-4 is not the start the Saints would have hoped for. What has gone right so far this season, and what has gone wrong? With nobody running away with the division and three of those four losses coming by one score, is it safe to assume the Saints still feel like they have a chance to get things turned around and contend for a playoff spot?
DeShazier: The biggest thing that has gone right has been the offensive line, which entered the season with legitimate question marks but has protected Drew Brees about as well as any team has protected its quarterback this season. Brees has been sacked nine times in 282 pass attempts and while sacks don't always totally tell the story, he also hasn't been hit an inordinate amount of times. The left side of the line, particularly, has been in flux with Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat and Senio Kelemete mixing and matching to step in due to injury. Brees simply has been himself, and we've grown accustomed to a high level of production from him. The significant blight is that defensively, there has been a tendency to yield "chunk" plays and there has been an inability to consistently string together four quarters. There have been flashes of good play, sometimes sustained for as long as a half or most of three quarters. But when the lapses occur, opposing offenses have gone on runs that have been debilitating, to say the least. That said, yes, the Saints still feel like they can contend. They're one game behind in the loss column in the NFC South, and they have 10 remaining games to erase that deficit and to forge ahead. Winning the division equals a playoff spot, and the Saints currently still are in position to do just that.
2. As is the case seemingly every year, Brees and the Saints have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. Which of their weapons figures to test a tough Seahawks defense the most, and what about Seattle's defense could challenge New Orleans the most?
DeShazier: Willie Snead IV could be the guy, and here's why: The Saints don't necessarily look to "feature" a receiver as much as they simply look for the open man. Brandin Cooks will demand attention because of his ability to take the top off a defense, so he might loosen up the Seahawks from that perspective. And rookie Michael Thomas rightfully is gaining attention because of his production out wide. But Snead works the underneath routes well and if those are the yards Seattle is willing to concede, then Snead could hurt the Seahawks there. The challenge for Seattle is pressuring Brees. He has averaged 421 passing yards in three games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and while it would be optimistic to think that number will hold up, he's on a nice roll. If Brees has sufficient time, he's as accurate as anyone and no matter how solid Seattle's secondary is, Brees will find an opening. So the Seahawks, I'm sure, already know that they have to get to Brees.
3. The Seahawks are trying to find more consistency on offense after being held to six points last week, while, based on the stats, at least, the Saints have had their struggles on defense. What do the Saints need to clean up defensively to keep this from being a "get-right" game for Seattle's offense?
DeShazier:The Saints have been best defensively when they don't give up big plays. It sounds simple, but that part of the plan hasn't been executed consistently enough. The odds aren't in favor of a team compiling three, four or five 12-play, 75-yard drives in one game. So keeping the ball in front of them and tackling have been crucial for the Saints when they have been effective. And if New Orleans can prevent Seattle from having success in the running game, as it appears most opponents have this season, getting the Seahawks to be one-dimensional is a plus.
4. Jimmy Graham's return to New Orleans will obviously be a big storyline in both cities. How do you think he'll be received by Saints fans and former teammates? And more significantly, how well-equipped is the Saints defense to handle a tight end who has 23 catches for 355 yards in his last four games?
DeShazier: I think fans and teammates alike remember him warmly and will treat him that way. The decision to trade Graham wasn't an easy one; few tight ends in league history have been as lethal as was Graham during his Saints years. The best way to handle him is to get to his quarterback and speed up his timing. A comfortable Russell Wilson has time to look for Graham and exploit mismatches. Few teams have a player that comfortably can cover Graham – you guys have witnessed firsthand how freakishly athletic he can be. But if Wilson is forced to improvise and is flushed – or, better for the Saints, if he's corralled and sacked or often hit – that could help limit Graham's impact.
5. On the flip side of that, how has former Seahawks fan-favorite Max Unger been for the Saints since that trade? Has he expressed any thoughts on facing his former team?
DeShazier:Let's just say this: If a team is going to trade a player like Jimmy Graham, acquiring a player like Max Unger absolutely lessens the possible sting. Truthfully, the Saints' offense hasn't skipped a beat in Graham's absence and a large part of the reason is having Unger at center, solidifying the offensive line and playing at an extremely high level. He has been very, very impressive as a player and leader. We haven't yet heard him speak about playing against Seattle. My guess is that whatever he may or may not be feeling inside, he'll have a professional exterior and go about his business the same way.
Get to know the faces of the New Orleans Saints' offensive and defensive units heading into the team's Week 8 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.