Two teams headed in seemingly opposite directions will face off Sunday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest when the New Orleans Saints match up against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks narrowly escaped Pittsburgh with a 28-26 win despite having piled up 164 more yards on offense than the Steelers did. Additionally, the Steelers played more than half of the game without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Perhaps Seattle's struggle in Pittsburgh should have been predictable, considering that the Seahawks had been shut out the last two times they ventured there.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees left the game in Los Angeles with an injured thumb on his throwing hand, taking much of the Saints’ offensive production with him to the sidelines. The Saints will not have their future Hall of Fame quarterback for six weeks at the minimum.
The Seahawks lead the all-time series versus the Saints, 8-7. For games played in Seattle, the Seahawks hold an advantage of 6-3. The Saints won the most recent meeting in 2016.
New Orleans at Seahawks
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 22 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks +5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill combine to lead a productive offense?
After Drew Brees left last Sunday’s game with an injured thumb, the offense floundered in a 27-9 loss to the Rams. The Saints scored their fewest points in a contest since December 2016. Is anyone capable of filling Brees' cleats?
Teddy Bridgewater took the field in five games last season. However, in the first four of those, he threw only one pass, an incompletion, and ran the ball seven times for -7 yards. In his one start, the meaningless regular-season finale, he completed 14-of-22 passes for a touchdown and an interception in addition to four rushes for twelve yards.
Taysom Hill appeared in every game in the 2018 season. He took some snaps from center as a threat to run or throw. He completed 3-of-7 passes with one interception and no touchdowns. He also rushed 37 times for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Can Alvin Kamara and the rest of the Saints generate a running game against the stingy Seahawks defense?
Whoever is at quarterback for the Saints will need an effective ground attack to relieve pressure. Kamara has carried the ball 13 times in each game. In the win over the Texans, he gained 97 yards. In the loss in Los Angeles, he picked up only 45 yards. The Saints collectively ran the ball 21 times versus the Texans for 148 yards. Against the Rams, they had 20 rushes for just 57 yards.
In the Seahawks’ first two games, they have smothered their opponents’ rushing attacks. The Bengals struggled for only 34 yards on 14 attempts. The Steelers managed to gain 81 yards and a touchdown. Three defenders, linebackers Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks plus defensive end Quinton Jefferson, each have recorded two tackles for a loss. Branden Jackson, Jadeveon Clowney and Poona Ford have registered one apiece.
3. Will the Seahawks secondary shut down Michael Thomas?
Despite starting 2-0, Seattle’s passing defense has shown vulnerability. Bradley McDougald has the sole interception so far. Their five sacks of Andy Dalton totaling 23 yards reduced the Seahawks’ net passing yards allowed below 400, yet their generosity still causes concern.
The Bengals’ passing combination of Dalton to John Ross burned the Seahawks for touchdown receptions of 33 and 55 yards. Those were the only touchdowns for Cincinnati. The Bengals piled up 395 net passing yards.
The Steelers were forced to insert backup quarterback Mason Rudolph late in the second quarter, and he responded by completing 12-of-19 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns in just one half. JuJu Smith-Schuster hauled in five receptions for 84 yards, including one for 45 yards from Rudolph.
Michael Thomas has justified his five-year contract extension worth $96.25 million so far. Against the Texans, he led the team with 10 receptions for 123 yards. In Los Angeles, he caught 10 passes, as many as the rest of his teammates combined. His 89 yards exceeded the combined amounts of the second- and third-most productive receivers, Tre'Quan Smith and Jared Cook.
Can the Seahawks clamp down on Thomas knowing that he has stood out as the only consistent receiving threat for the Saints? Smith left the game versus the Rams with an injured ankle, so his status for Sunday remains murky. Whoever is at quarterback will lean heavily on Thomas.
Football coaches notoriously desire consistent routines for their teams. Sean Payton has experienced nothing approaching the ordinary since Sunday. His team has practiced at Husky Stadium, not at their training facility outside New Orleans. He has had to alter his offense with the absence of Drew Brees. The Saints have not adequately replaced Mark Ingram’s contributions to the rushing attack, on which they relied the past two years.
Seattle has eked out wins over AFC North foes. This game is more important since it's a conference game. Fortunately for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, the NFL does not award style points based on how a team wins. They will grind out a victory over a shorthanded opponent.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Saints 16
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com