The Seahawks (2-4) host the Saints (3-2) this week looking to get back on track after consecutive losses, while the Saints are coming off of their bye looking for a second straight win after an up-and-down start to their season.
To learn more about Monday night's opponent, we reached out to NewOrleansSaints.com senior writer John DeShazier with five questions about the Saints.
Q: For 15 seasons, Drew Brees was synonymous with Saints football. Obviously nobody is expecting Jameis Winston to be Brees, but how is the former No. 1 pick handling the tough task of replacing an all-time great?
DeShazier: I don't think anyone could argue that he hasn't handled it well. So far, arguably, the most impressive thing about Winston hasn't been the touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (12-to-3). For my money, it has been his decision-making; just the willingness to take an incompletion or a sack when circumstances have dictated that it'd be better to do that instead of force a throw. He's had two or three shaky decisions that have worked out in his favor for touchdowns, but he also has had a couple that bit him for interceptions. He's been poised in the pocket for the most part, but he also has flashed some agility that, frankly, we may have forgotten that he possessed. Everyone knows about his arm; he can flat-out throw the football. But he's been accurate on the deep balls (even the Hail Mary touchdown was exactly where the pass was supposed to be, and gave his receiver a great chance to come down with the ball). The Washington game showed that if teams stack the box and dare the Saints to throw, they're becoming more and more willing to do so. There's still some adapting to do – as you mentioned, Brees was the starter for 15 years – but the process seems to be moving along positively.
Q: It's been an up-and-down season so far for New Orleans, which blew out Green Bay in Week 1, then lost by 19 points in Week 2, and later lost to Giants who are currently 1-5. What do you make of New Orleans start?
DeShazier: The Saints have walked a fine line because the margin for error has been small. The offense has been fabulous in the red zone (13 for 14), but the offensive flow hasn't been fluid for a good portion of the first five games. Part of that is because it hasn't had to be; in the three wins, the defense has allowed three touchdowns and pretty much ruled the day. But when the defense wasn't at its peak, and the offense needed to carry a little more of the load, it didn't do so in the two losses to Carolina and the Giants. It didn't protect Winston well, so the passing game suffered, and those two teams were able to gum up the run. New Orleans' defense looks like it's for real, so if the offense settles in generates a little more consistency, the Saints get a lot closer to being the team they hope to be. It doesn't have to be the Brees-era offense, because the defense is more than capable of holding its own. But when the time comes, the offense has to be able to do its part or the inconsistency could continue.
Q: The Saints aren't going to get a lot of sympathy from a team with its starting quarterback, starting running back and top 2021 draft pick on injured reserve, but how have the numerous injuries to Saints players affected the team so far this season, and how much did the bye help New Orleans get healthier coming into the game?
DeShazier: Honestly, if the Saints had won the Giants game – where they lost an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter – and were 4-1 entering this game, it would have been one of the best stories in the NFL. As it stands, 3-2 still ain't bad, all things considered. Their best receivers (Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith), best defensive lineman (David Onyemata) and Pro-Bowl caliber kicker (Wil Lutz) haven't played a snap this season, and their starting center (Erik McCoy) played part of the opening series of the season opener, and hasn't played since. Add in the Hurricane Ida evacuation/relocation to Texas for a month, a rash of COVID cases among the coaching staff and the regular bumps and bruises, and the Saints really have shown a ton of resolve so far. I'm not sure who will return right now (Thomas won't, Onyemata's suspension lasts one more game), but it sounds like Lutz and Smith are close, as well as starting linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Marcus Davenport. Getting back McCoy and left tackle Terron Armstead would be huge, as New Orleans has played without two-fifths of its starting offensive line for a good portion of the first five games, but Lutz's return could steady what has been an abysmal kicking game, and Smith could add some juice to the receiving corps.
Q: There's usually a pretty strong correlation between pass rush and interceptions, yet the Saints have nine interceptions, the third most in the NFL, with only eight sacks, tied for the second fewest. How are they making all those takeaways happen?
DeShazier: The sacks aren't there, but the pressures and quarterback hits are at a decent level. They've been able to get quarterbacks off their marks and off schedule. When they haven't – against Carolina and the Giants – it hasn't worked out so well. But they've been able to generate pressures and hits, and the secondary simply has been phenomenal. We've seen cornerback Marshon Lattimore play at a high level in past seasons, but with dips. He hasn't had any dips this year and if he continues to play the way he has, he makes the defense so much more effective because he essentially can take away an opponents' best receiver.
Q: What are a couple of the matchups you're most looking forward to seeing play out on Sunday?
DeShazier: The sexy one is Lattimore against Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf; it doesn't get much better than that one. In Lattimore's career, he usually has been his best when matched against elite receivers and Metcalf fits that category. The pass rush against quarterback Geno Smith is worth noting, because the Seahawks have allowed 18 sacks this season and the Saints, who only have eight, have to have seen some weaknesses they'll look to exploit. Of course, there's also Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner against Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara has to be accounted for on every snap, and Wagner is an elite accountant. Kamara's touches have been a little higher than usual this season because of Michael Thomas' absence and injuries at running back, and if Taysom Hill (concussion) and/or Deonte Harris (hamstring) can't play against Seattle, Kamara's load could be heavy again. Wagner will have a big say in whether Kamara breaks loose.
The Seahawks face the Saints for Week 5 of the 2022 season at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. Take a look back at photos from the past games between the two teams.