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High-Flying Offense vs. Stifling Defense: This Should be Fun

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The Seattle Seahawks invade the Big Easy on Sunday afternoon to take on the New Orleans Saints in a matchup that could either revive the Saints' season or further bury them into the NFC abyss. But is Russell Wilson healthy? How does Seattle's great defense plan to slow down Brees and Co. on the fast Superdome turf? Kenneth Arthur of Field Gulls answers these questions and more.

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Canal Street Chronicles: The Seahawks at 4-1-1 are still one of the best teams in the NFL, boasting what I consider to be the best defense in the entire league. Yet, offensively they are ranked 20th overall by Football Outsiders and even more striking, they're 30th in rushing offense. What's going on?


Kenneth Arthur: Number one, I think it's fair to point to the loss of Marshawn Lynch. He's a unique talent and there will never be another player like him. That being said, number two is that Thomas Rawls has been out for basically of the year and he was number one in DYAR for running backs last season, also a number from Football Outsiders. Rawls was a spectacular player for the team last season and simply put, Christine Michael, while good, is not on that level. Michael's faced a couple tough run defenses over the last few weeks and is averaging 3.35 YPC over that period of time. He's just not the special player that Rawls was last season, so until Rawls comes back, I'm not sure much will change. Rawls has a fracture fibula and won't be playing this week. Perhaps by the time the playoffs roll around, if the Seahawks are there, Rawls will be ready to remind the country just how good he was last season. Hopefully there aren't lingering effects from the most injury or the broken ankle he suffered last season.


Number three, the offensive line has been wildly inconsistent and is frankly just horrid against good defensive linemen. Center Justin Britt (the third or fourth guy to take over since Max Unger was traded to New Orleans) has been the best player on the line, which is weird considering how bad he used to be at tackle and guard. Rookie Germain Ifedi's been pretty good at right guard since returning from injury but is still just a rookie. They have new starters at every position there except right tackle, which is where Garry Gilliam is really struggling. Now left tackle will be manned by George Fant following an injury to Bradley Sowell, who hadn't played in a game in over two years. Fant is an undrafted free agent who not too long ago was a college basketball player. It will be really interesting to see how that goes. They like Fant's potential because of his athleticism, and he seemed to do okay after coming into the game on Sunday, but he's super raw.


Fourthly, Russell Wilson hasn't been able to run this season because of a sprained MCL and high ankle sprain. I don't think he's 100% there and without the assurance of Lynch, they aren't running the zone read option with as much frequency or efficiency. That's gonna play a big difference. They're trying to protect the quarterback. Wilson was an elite running threat and now he's almost no threat there. Which is okay because he's a great pocket passer (not that anybody wants to acknowledge it) but yeah, they've had to change their offensive gameplan and it doesn't include as much running.


CSC: Russell Wilson is great, but he just doesn't seem to have the same explosion on running plays this season. How healthy is he truly? And is this going to be something he deals with all season long?


Kenneth: He says he's super healthy and so does Pete Carroll, but how can I be sure? He was hurt badly by Ndamukong Suh in Week 1 and then again by Eli Harold in Week 3, so honestly the results of his running game for most of the season are heavily skewed by those injuries. His recovery and ability to not miss a start is truly remarkable. The fact that he hasn't thrown an interception since Week 1 and has maintained efficient results against the defensive fronts of the Jets and Cardinals is a testament to how good he really is at a time when his running game has been nullified.


How he feels over the course of the whole season? Who knows. But I am confident that Carroll, Wilson, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will make the adjustments necessary to finish strong, which Wilson does every season. If that means fewer touchdowns but also fewer turnovers, so be it.


CSC: The Seahawks played five quarters of football last Sunday night in Arizona, especially their defense, which was on the field for over 90 plays. How do you think that will affect them this coming Sunday in New Orleans if at all?


Kenneth: I think they'll be okay. They came out of it pretty healthy and might get Kam Chancellor back next week. He was a gametime decision (groin) and getting him back would obviously be a big coup. It was a tough, long battle for them with few breaks, but that's what any pro team is built for, I hope. It's not like basketball where you can play a double OT game on the road and then have to go play somewhere else on back-to-back nights. That being said, maybe I'm wrong. It'll be tough to judge from our perspective unless they appear gassed on Sunday. If they do, that could also just be a result of playing New Orleans' ridiculously fast and talented offense.


CSC: Jimmy Graham was a beloved player in New Orleans and many fans were heartbroken when he was traded to Seattle. How is he perceived by Seahawks fans? Also at this point, do you think he was worth the trade Seattle made to get him?


I thought he was worth the trade to get him when it happened and my opinion has not changed.


It was a very divisive move by the front office at the time. As he failed to put up a bunch of 100-yard games last season, the fans who never liked the trade felt their points were proven. But I didn't see anything that made me think he wasn't a special player -- his per game numbers were basically the same they were with the Saints in 2014. He had a few dominating performances. He just wasn't scoring much. It was really sad when he hurt his knee and nobody was really sure what to expect, but the fact that he's been playing at 100% and performing at the All-Pro level he did with New Orleans after less than a year of rehab from a torn patellar tendon is unbelievable.

I don't think any Seattle fans dislike Graham. They just liked Unger. They like first round picks. They like cap management and believed that $9 million would be better served on the offensive line. That's fine to have that opinion. My opinion is that Graham isn't a player you can easily find in the draft. They weren't going to find a player like him with the 31st overall pick. I take an elite tight end right now at $9 million over a late first round pick and a rookie any day of the week. They need players who are going to help them win now. That's Carroll's mode.

Don't get me wrong, they love rookies to, they have 14 or 15 of them right now, but they also like unique athletic talents who can do things nobody else can do. Graham was a difference-maker in OT against the Cards. He moves the chains in a way that's going to drastically improve Wilson's career for as long as they're together. It's great to watch.

I don't think there is a better quarterback in the NFL than Drew Brees. -Kenneth Arthur


CSC: As good as it has been, the "Legion of Boom" has had a few more busts this season than we're used to seeing. Are there any perimeter matchups when the Saints have the ball that worry you? And how do you think the Seahawks will defend the Saints' quartet of pass catchers consisting of Brandin Cooks, Mike Thomas, Willie Snead and Coby Fleener?


Kenneth: Hmmm. I don't know if the secondary has had a few more busts this season or not. Maybe some more high-profile ones like Julio Jones finding a weakness in the assignments (and he's Julio freaking Jones) and Brandon Marshall getting the better of Richard Sherman on a play (literally the only first half touchdown Seattle has allowed this season) but they just went up against Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson for 75 minutes and didn't allow a score. Earl Thomas is playing on another level, even for him. Richard Sherman's drawn a few tough matchups but has handled himself well. It's so damn tough to play corner these days. The other corner, DeShawn Shead, is a massive upgrade over Cary Williams, who was there for the first half of last season. Jeremy Lane is a good slot corner but had a few tough moments last week. And Kelcie McCray is the backup strong safety; he's not Chancellor by any means, but he's got his strengths. Would love to see Kam come back for this one.


I don't think they're gonna have Sherman trail anyone. They'll put him on a side of the field and trust the zone. He might get a few nice one-on-ones for the fans to see vs Thomas. I would be interested to see Earl and Cooks in a foot race. Thomas probably isn't as straightline fast as Cooks, but man, he gets from one place to another in an unbelievable damn hurry. The fact that he ran down Johnson at the goalline last week, I still can't believe it. They've done a much better job against tight ends this season than they did last season. I think Cooks probably scares me the most. But I'm super interested in the life and times of Willie Snead.


Furthermore, I don't think there is a better quarterback in the NFL than Drew Brees. Seattle defended against him pretty well in the last two games, but now it's in New Orleans. The Seahawks are getting some incredible play out of defensive end Cliff Avril and I think he's going to play a big part in defending against Brees. If he can get to him and knock the ball out with a strip sack, that may turn the game. If Brees has time in the pocket, it'll be Seattle's toughest test in the secondary possibly since things began to came together in 2012. Should be an interesting game.

Many thanks to Kenneth Arthur for taking the time to answer our questions. For more coverage of Saints-Seahawks with a Seattle perspective, check out the outstanding work of Kenneth and his crew at Field Gulls.