This weekend the Seahawks will play the New Orleans Saints with the winner going to the NFC Championship game. To get to know the opponent a little better, I talked to John Hendrix at Who Dat Dish, the Fansided website for the Saints.
He offered an intriguing perspective from enemy lines and was as entertaining to talk to as he was the last time I interviewed him, when the Seahawks played the Saints in Week 13.
Here is this week’s conversation:
1. The Saints were outmatched the last time they played in Seattle, but this New Orleans team is not the same one that got blown out the last time these two teams played. What is different about these Saints, the ones who won their first road-playoff game in franchise history last weekend? What do they need to make sure they do on Saturday to upset Seattle?
The biggest change I see is the resilience and smarter play calling. Sure, we can joke that the team’s regiment of Popeye’s Fried Chicken and different Gatorade help (only weird if it doesn’t work, right?). However, when the Saints can out-gain you in yardage (which isn’t common) by rushing the ball instead of passing the ball, it sure makes you have to look at them quite differently. You could just see the team not in a panic frenzy from last week after being down with less than five minutes in the game, and with a hostile crowd, that spelled the difference.
In my opinion, the Saints have to accomplish two things if they want to upset Seattle on Saturday.
First, get off to a better start. It didn’t go right from the start against the Seahawks, and a lot of what happened — and has happened on the road for the Saints — are summed up by not coming out of the gate swinging. In every Saints loss this season (all on the road), they’ve trailed at halftime. I think a lot of the blame, whether anyone wants to agree or disagree with me, is on Drew Brees. He’s responsible for eight turnovers in those losses (seven interceptions, one fumble). We’re not going to sit here and say the Seahawks won’t put points up on the board, but at least go in to the half only down by a few, even, or hell, how ’bout a lead?
Second, win the time of possession battle, but be effective. The Saints went 6-for-15 on 3rd down against the Seahawks during the first meeting, and lost the time of possession battle 33:38-26:22. You can’t win the time of possession battle if you can’t convert third downs. We saw the Saints run out the final five minutes of the game against the Eagles, and they were at midfield. That’s impressive for ANY team. In other words, do what the Cardinals were able to do.
2. New Orleans has had a lot of issues winning on the road this season, including losing their last three regular season games away from the Big Easy which may have cost them the NFC South crown. Do you think Seattle was the toughest place to play on the Saints schedule? How big of a factor will the 12th Man make when the Saints coming marching into CenturyLink Field on Jan. 11?
There’s no doubt the game against the Seahawks was the toughest place for the Saints for their 2013 schedule. It was the worst loss in the Sean Payton Era for the Saints since 2007 (41-10 to the Colts). I honestly think that big of a loss, or butt kicking, was what the team needed at that point in time, and they responded accordingly by handling the Panthers at home. NFL players have to continue to be ‘students of the game’, so while the team knows the crowd will be loud, they hopefully learned a thing or two. Again, controlling the clock would work wonders for at least quieting the 12th Man for a few seconds at least.
3. Is there a player on the Saints not named Drew Brees that the Seahawks should keep their eyes on Saturday? How has this player affected the offense/defense/special teams in a positive way?
If I had to put someone on that list, it would be Khiry Robinson. A lot of the Saints fans were concerned when the team was going to be without Pierre Thomas, but he was able to be one of those guys who were able to come in and ‘clean up’ along with Mark Ingram. Any time you can take the pressure off of Drew Brees, it’s a win-win.
4. How much will the weather affect the Saints on Saturday? New Orleans is accustomed to playing in a dome but the weather in Seattle is going to be rainy with lows in the high 30s. The Saints played pretty well in “Chilly Philly” last weekend so will the weather really matter to the Saints?
The weather in terms of the ‘cold’ shouldn’t be the issue. What will be a slight concern is the rain, because everyone preaches and knows the importance of ‘ball security’. The Saints have played in some ugly weathered games this season, and they actually didn’t do too bad against the Panthers during that monsoon. I think the footing will be something to check early, depending on how field conditions are prior to kickoff. However, try convincing the rest of the football world that.
5. And, of course, what is your prediction for this game. You asked me a question that I would like to leap-frog off of and ask as well: Will the winner of this game make it to Super Bowl XLVIII?
I’ve told Saints fans through my site that I believe this is all part of the plan. I think it’s fitting for the Saints to have to battle their way to a Super Bowl on the road, and it’s coincidental that the team would get a ‘third time’s the charm’ type of chance against the Seahawks, and then potentially play the 49ers again in their backyard, or have to knock off the team that stole the division from them. We know that seeds aren’t worth much over the past several seasons, and I still think that Seattle has more pressure on them to walk away as winners. This is the team’s sixth first place finish in the past ten seasons, and they’ve only one Championship Game and Super Bowl appearance to show for (2005). I think the Seattle fan base has to be a little antsy.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, and I think the Saints will come out on top, and propel themselves to another one of those underdog showdowns. There’s a very favorable chance that the winner of this game will indeed represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
It won’t be easy, pretty, and I think this is the game I predicted earlier in the season. I’ll take the Saints, 24-21 winners.