"Losing is the first step towards winning."
This quote and variations of it have permeated the NFL for years. As children we’re taught to learn from our mistakes and not to make them again. This mentality is complete malarkey. At least in the NFL it is. The first step towards winning is preparation. The second: Execution.
The Saints went 11-5 last season, along with a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs. This means that 6 different times, the Saints were outmatched on gameday. There is a blueprint to defeat every team in the NFL, and the Patriots, Jets, Seahawks, Rams, Panthers, and Seahawks again found New Orleans’.
The rhetoric leading up to a matchup is always the same: We need to pressure their quarterback and force him to make tough decisions. We’ll also need to control the clock and make sure that we keep their high powered offense off the field. This is every team’s strategy for beating every other team in the league, but it’s merely the foundation for how to do so. So how did New Orleans get beat last season? Today we look at their first loss to the Seahawks.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the Saints Seahawks Monday Night Football matchup. Many thought that first place in the NFC could well be decided as early on as this game. However, only one team came out of this game #1, and it was the team that was absolutely dominant for the entire night. This is one of the only games where the statline tells the story. New Orleans was held to 188 total yards on the night, 12 first downs, 3.8 yards per pass . . . it was catastrophic.
This is a game that was basically "take your pick" in terms of defensive plays, so the first third down of the game should be adequate to show the tone that was set. Robert Meachem is matched up with Richard Sherman 1v1 on this play, and Brees decides to test Sherman early on 3rd and 7.
Meachem actually isn't Brees's first read on this play. He looks towards the seam in the middle, but 3 Seahawks are already there in position. Meachem has created no separation up top, and Jimmy Graham is just now starting to shed his rusher to leak out for a route.
However, once Brees commits to going up top, he's going up top. Sherman is 1v1 with Meachem, and Brees loves testing corners 1v1. The problem is, when that corner is Richard Sherman and he's 1v1 with Robert Meachem, the scales get tipped a little in Seattle's favor. Meanwhile, Graham is sitting alone underneath, but he's not past the marker, so Brees can't give him a second glance.
Watching the play in its entirety shows Sherman's ability to close the gap between himself and the receiver and use his length to ultimately break up the play. Brees actually hits Meachem in stride on the route, but Sherman catches up to Meachem and is able to create enough contact to prevent Meachem from making the catch, but not enough to draw the flag; a hallmark of the 2013 Seahawks.
Offensively, the Seahawks just looked like a juggernaut. They rushed for 127, passed for 302, and seemed to get solid yardage on nearly every play. They didn't beat New Orleans down the field, they beat them by consistently picking up yardage, whether it was 3, 5, or 7 yards, just running the defense into the ground.
To this point in the year, teams hadn't really beaten the Saints over the top. Nickel and diming the defense and tiring them out was the way to do that. The Saints would get in trouble in 2013 when they beat themselves, whether it was missing tackles or just being out of position, and Seattle knew this.
At the snap, Russell Wilson takes a little hop step drop. At the top of the screen, Golden Tate has shed his corner to get inside, and Keenan Lewis's hands are out of position.
This is at the point of the catch. Tate catches the ball with little room, but enough, as Lewis had to sag back to compensate for misreading the route. Malcolm Jenkins is 20-25 yards back from the line of scrimmage, and he is forced to sprint up to make a play on the ball.
Seattle beat New Orleans in about 30 ways, but the biggest key was patience. They made plays when they got a chance and they didn't try to do too much. Wilson barely threw for 300 yards, but he had 3 touchdowns and no picks. That's an efficiency game, and it's where he thrives. Meanwhile, the Saints' offense was out of rhythm all night. We all know about the atmosphere in Seattle, but somehow I feel like Sean Payton didn't peg that as the reason that his offense couldn't even break 200 total yards. The Saints were dominated in every facet of the game by Seattle, and at the end of the day their kryptonite became very clear: a strong, physical team that's careful with the ball.