Seattle – In their first glimpse into what life without Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees might look like, the New Orleans Saints (1-1) drew a formidable opponent (the 2-0 Seattle Seahawks) at a difficult venue (CenturyLink Field).
But to a man, the Saints certainly didn't sound like a panicked bunch during the week. It's a challenge they appear to have embraced.
There's an opportunity to climb back above .500, and to prove a few doubters wrong. Here are a few ways in which those things can be done:
- Of course, the Saints will be counting on accuracy, execution and calm from quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill. Coach Sean Payton said that each will factor into the gameplan, and each needs to rise to the challenge of making the most of the plan he is given. But let's get to the crux of it: Neither will be very efficient or productive if the offensive line doesn't hold up. The Saints' line committed five holding penalties (four were accepted) against the Rams in Week 2 and, frankly, the Rams' defensive front won the day. How much has the unit cleaned up its act in a week's time, and how will it handle playing in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, with a rookie anchored at center? The Saints need to protect well, and they'll need to run the ball much more effectively than the 20-carry, 57-yard showing they had against the Rams. That all begins up front with Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Larry Warford and Ryan Ramczyk. If they don't get it done, it's going to be a long, tough day in the offensive backfield.
- That said, if the Saints can keep Bridgewater upright, there are plays to be made in the passing game. He has a lively arm, so don't be surprised to see the Saints take a few more "shot" plays if the protection holds. Seattle's secondary may be the unit to do it against; in the first two games, opponents completed 65 percent of their passes for 288 yards per game (four touchdowns, one interception). I've got a feeling that running back Alvin Kamara (one catch, three targets against the Rams) is going to be a bit more involved in the passing game, especially with the Saints being a little dinged up at receiver.
- Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson (43-for-55 passing for 495 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions, plus 10 carries for 30 yards) can be a pain in the rear end. But he also can be sacked. Seattle allowed eight sacks in its first two games and that's right up New Orleans' ally; the Saints had nine sacks in their first two games, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson is playing the best football of his three-year career. In 17 regular-season games over his first two seasons, he totaled two sacks and a forced fumble; in the first two games of 2019, he has three sacks and a forced fumble. Pair that relentlessness with All-Pro Cam Jordan (two sacks and a fumble recovery this season) and the Saints have the makings of a defensive unit that can apply pressure to Wilson. But the zealousness can't lead to a lack of discipline, because an out-of-the-pocket Wilson is a dangerous player.
- New Orleans needs to control the third-down efficiency, offensively and defensively. Staying on the field on offense allows the unit to establish rhythm, control the clock, keep the crowd out of it and, perhaps, wear down the defense. And getting off the field on defense – especially in the favorable down-and-distance scenarios that the Saints have failed to convert defensively in the first two games – keeps the unit fresh and gives the offense more opportunities. Much of the "winning" on third down will be a result of which team runs the football best.
- Maybe, the Saints will look to steal a possession on special teams: a block, or a fake, is always helpful. Obviously, the team doesn't want that to be necessary but if the opportunity presents itself, it has to be taken.