Jimmy Graham returns to New Orleans as the NFC West-leading Seahawks venture into the Superdome to face the struggling Saints
Seattle travels to New Orleans to face the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time since 2010. If someone had not watched the Seahawks' previous game but only saw the final score, bewildered reactions must certainly have resulted. One might have assumed that had it taken place after the venue and participants had been teleported back to the era of leather helmets and a widespread phobia of the forward pass while playing in a blinding snowstorm.
Earlier last Sunday, New Orleans fought commendably against Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium. Two costly turnovers made the difference between victory and defeat. The first was Daniel Sorensen's interception of Drew Brees' pass in the final minute of the first quarter. He returned it for a touchdown, giving the Chiefs the lead that they never lost. The second was Mark Ingram's fumble deep inside the red zone midway through the fourth quarter. The Saints were on the verge of cutting Kansas City's lead to single digits.
Seattle leads the series between these two teams with eight wins and six losses. For games played in New Orleans, the Saints hold a 3-2 advantage. The Seahawks have won the three most recent contests against the Saints, all of which were played in Seattle.
Seattle at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Seahawks cobble together rushing attack?
Seattle has gained more than 100 yards on the ground in only two of six games; both were victories. In the four other games, the Seahawks are averaging just 64.3 rushing yards per game and have gone 2-1-1 in those contests. Last season, Seattle was 10-5 when running for more than 100 yards and just 1-2 when gaining less than that, including playoffs.
What explains the downturn? Thomas Rawls' fractured fibula has kept him on the sidelines since Week 2; and he is still a few weeks away from returning. Russell Wilson's rushing yardage has dropped compared to last season, due to a sprained MCL in his left knee and injured right ankle, and this week he has been limited in practice due to a pectoral injury. Last season, Wilson was the team’s second-leading rusher at 34.6 yards per game. This season, he’s rushed for a total of 33 yards in six games (5.5 ypg). And don’t forget that Marshawn Lynch, the No. 4 rusher in franchise history and third on the team last year (417 yards) retired before the season started.
Can C.J. Spiller begin to revitalize his career after fizzling out in New Orleans? Does he harbor a desire to prove himself to his former teammates? Could the return to the Superdome spur him into his first 100-yard rushing performance since the regular season finale of the 2013 season?
2. Jimmy Graham's return to the Superdome
Graham will face his former team for the first time since the Saints traded the All-Pro tight end to Seattle in March 2015 for center Max Unger and the Seahawks’ first-round pick (31st overall) in that year’s draft. Last season, Graham played in 11 games before tearing his right patellar tendon. This season, Graham has rebounded nicely has his 408 receiving yards are good for second on the team, just 22 yards behind wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
Will Graham’s knowledge of New Orleans’ defensive personnel prove valuable in exploiting the Saints' depleted secondary? He has had only three 100-yard games with Seattle; two of those occurred in the past four games. Is he motivated to show the Saints made a mistake in trading him?
3. Can Drew Brees vanquish the Legion of Boom?
Seattle's formidable secondary has only allowed two of six opponents to throw for more than 300 yards. One of those was Arizona, which finished with 311 passing yards last Sunday, but needed five quarters to get there. This statistic does not bode well for the pass-happy Saints.
If New Orleans plans on relying on the ground attack, those prospects are not any brighter. Only two teams have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game against the Seahawks this season. The other four were held to fewer than 70 rushing yards, as Seattle enters this game sixth in the league against the run (84.2 ypg).
The Saints' meager rushing attack has not held its own. The running game has been responsible for than a third of the team’s total yards (701 rushing vs. 1,722 passing). Obviously, Brees carries a much larger burden of the Saints' offensive production, and he faces a tough task, even at home, this Sunday against arguably the league’s No. 1 secondary.
Seattle has a little bit less time to prepare for this game after playing late into Sunday evening then traveling way down south for an early kickoff. The Seahawks presumably will face the thundering noise on offense that their opponents must endure in Seattle. This looks like another nail-biter. However, the Seahawks have a strong enough defense to keep Drew Brees and company from piling up a lot of points. Russell Wilson and his crew have enough talent to score multiple times on New Orleans’ depleted secondary and lackluster front seven.
Prediction: Seattle 37, Saints 20
— 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