The New Orleans Saints 27-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday took a heavy toll. Obviously, a loss to one of their conference contenders stings, particularly in an emotional rematch of last January's playoff fiasco. The game took a physical toll on New Orleans as well though. Linebacker Alex Anzalone was lost for at least half the season due to injury, and guard Andrus Peat as well as wideout Tre'Quan Smith also suffered injuries that could keep them out this week. The biggest loss however, was to quarterback Drew Brees, who suffered a torn ligament in his throwing hand that will sideline for the next 6-8 games. In steps Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback for the 1-1 Saints, who hope he can maintain their title course. Up next for Bridgewater and New Orleans is the tough defense of the 2-0 Seattle Seahawks on the road, a daunting task for anyone. Let's see how the New Orleans offense with Bridgewater now behind center might look against an aggressive Seattle defense.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS PASS DEFENSE
The New Orleans passing game will look vastly different for the next 6-8 games without the future Hall of Famer Brees lining up behind center. Bridgewater completed 17 of his 30 passes against the Rams after he came into the game, but only totaled 165 yards. The Saints gameplan this week will undoubtedly be tailored to Bridgewater's skillset and feels most comfortable with, but the quarterback also must prove that he can make plays for his offense. He'll have plenty of help available. Michael Thomas has caught 20 passes for 212 yards so far, although he has yet to reach the end zone. Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. must be more involved in the offense. Ginn caught all 7 of his targets for 101 yards in the opening week win over the Houston Texans, but was not targeted a single time against Los Angeles. He is the team's best deep threat, whose ability to clear out underneath opens up routes for the other receivers. Second year receiver Keith Kirkwood (hamstring) was placed on injured reserve and Smith could also be out for this one. Smith, who has five catches for 75 yards and a score, left last week's loss with an ankle injury. An offensive disappointment so far has been tight end Jared Cook, who was signed to a lucrative free agent deal this offseason. Cook has just 4 catches on ten targets thus far for 62 yards, including a handful of drops or bobbles. Cook's receiving ability does give Bridgewater a gamebreaking threat in the intermediate zones, where the quarterback is most comfortable operating. Running back Alvin Kamara is arguably the best receiving back in the league. Even though he was limited to only one catch against L.A., he had 7 receptions for 72 yards against the Texans and is expected to be an extremely big part of the passing game. Probably the biggest key to Bridgewater's success though will be protection. After outstanding pass blocking against Houston, the Saints offensive front struggled against Los Angeles, who heavily pressured both Brees and Bridgewater all afternoon.
Most observers were shocked when the Seattle defense surrendered 418 passing yards to the Bengals' Andy Dalton in their opening game. The Seahawks did rebound to hold Pittsburgh to just 187 yards through the air last Sunday, but do have some questions in their secondary. Cornerback Tre Flowers is a converted safety, and while physical and aggressive, he can get lost in coverage against a precise route runner. Third year corner Shaquill Griffin is Seattle's best cover man, and has drawn some comparisons to former Seahawk star Richard Sherman. Safety Bradley McDougald had an interception against Pittsburgh last week, and tied for the team lead with 3 picks last year. He is a veteran presence with good coverage skills on the back end, but fellow safety Tedric Thompson has struggled with play recognition that's led to a few big plays. Seattle's doesn't play a great deal of tight man coverage, relying instead on complex coverage packages in hopes of limiting big plays and creating turnovers. That strategy is predicated on getting pressure up front, and the team had 43 sacks and caused 26 turnovers a year ago. Despite secondary letdowns, they did have five sacks in the season opener. The Seahawks hope to finally get defensive end Ezekiel Ansah into the lineup after inking him to a free agent deal this offseason. End Jadeveon Clowney was added in a preseason trade, and gives Seattle a Pro Bowl caliber defender at the edge who can bring heavy pressure. Quinton Jefferson, Branden Jackson, and Rasheem Green have combined for four sacks, and have added quality play both inside and outside with the absences of the injured Ziggy Ansah and suspended Jarran Reed. Seattle has one of the league's best linebacking corps, with a unit that can pressure the passer on occasion, but also provides outstanding coverage on tight ends and running backs.
Matchup to Watch:
Bridgewater vs. Bridgewater
Teddy Bridgewater must trust his offensive weapons to make plays. He's shown the ability to lead a team, and does have respect of the players in his huddle. His drawback is that he's often hesitant to take chances though, particularly down the field. The New Orleans offense was stagnant once he came into the game against Los Angeles. Bridgewater has good understanding of the offense, but must be faster and more decisive with his decision making for the offense to be productive.
SAINTS RUSH OFFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS RUSH DEFENSE
After rushing for 169 yards in the season opening win over Houston, the Saints managed just 57 yards on 20 attempts against L.A., again due to the line's struggles at the point of attack. Kamara was bottled up for just 45 rushing yards after a 97-yd. outing against the Texans, and showed some hesitation at the line of scrimmage on several plays. Although he is the Saints top rushing option, more production is needed from Latavius Murray. The free agent replacement for Mark Ingram, Murray had a beautiful 30-yd. scoring run against Houston, but has had only 20 yards on 10 carries in two games otherwise. He is a powerful runner between the tackles with a nice open field burst, and the 1-2 combo of he and Kamara would certainly help ease the pressure on their second string quarterback.
Seattle has a big and powerful defensive line that often stonewalls the point of attack. The Seahawks have held both the Bengals (34 rushing yards) and Steelers (81) in check on the ground while allowing just 3.8 yards per carry. Jadeveon Clowney may be best known for his edge rushing skills, but he is an outstanding run defender. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner is one of the best in the game, but he is flanked by K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks to give them an active and dominant unit.
Matchup to Watch:
Kamara vs. Wagner
The Seahawks trio of linebackers is the key to everything they do defensively. Wagner, Seattle's leading tackler, is the catalyst. Kamara's sideline to sideline and vertical abilities test all defenses, but the athleticism of this linebacking corps makes for a must-see battle.
Many might assume that the Saints will rely heavily on the run with Brees out of the lineup. Expect Sean Payton to tailor his game plan to revolve around what Bridgewater does best though, a controlled passing attack early that gets the ball out quickly to the Saints receivers and builds confidence, with deep shots as the game progresses. The offensive line must protect their signal caller against a Seattle rush that needs pressure to protect a suspect secondary from being in coverage for prolonged periods. The New Orleans line must also control the point of attack better for a successful run game, and to set up Kamara for much-anticipated battles against the Seattle linebackers. Payton will be challenged to stay patient with his running game to maintain balance, and the Saints receivers will need to give their quarterback open targets and make plays. Bridgewater must certainly do his part. He has spectacular offensive weapons around him and an elite offensive line in front of him. It's his responsibility to get the ball to his playmakers with a chance to make plays in the open field. His ability to do so will dictate whether a talented roster can still push for a championship even without their Hall of Fame quarterback.
What is the biggest key for New Orleans to have success against the Seattle defense?
This poll is closed
Bridgewater vs. Bridgewater
Sean Payton vs. patience
A better offensive line performance
Kamara vs. Seattle's LB's
Michael Thomas vs. Seahawks secondary
Production from Jared Cook