Note: This is a guest post by Curtis Allen and the latest piece in a weekly series. Curtis looks at the Seahawks and their opponents and discusses key factors…
Sean Peyton has always excelled at helping his team through stretches of games when Saints’ star players get hurt but this year he has outdone himself.
The team has been without Michael Thomas, Kwon Alexander, Marcus Davenport, Will Lutz and Brian Poole due to injury and David Onyemata to a suspension.
This after losing Drew Brees, Jared Cook, Latavius Murray, Emmanuel Sanders, Alex Anzalone and Sheldon Rankins in the offseason.
A hurricane chased them from their practice facilities and their own stadium for their home opener.
The fact that Peyton has them at 3-2 and a favourite to beat the Seahawks in Seattle on Monday night stands as a sparkling testament to the job he has done this year so far. He has the Saints playing extremely clean football, with the fifth fewest penalties and the fifth best turnover differential in the league.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks are drifting at 2-4 and are fighting off questions about alarm bells ringing and the season being in the balance. The team has back-to-back primetime games – something considered unfathomable in years past – and looking at a potential third in a row with Russell Wilson still on injured reserve.
The season is quickly slipping into a very difficult place.
Pete Carroll knows this is the case and his language is starting to get more desperate six games in. Monday he said this:
“As it is always the case, postponing judgement is a powerful tool if you have it and that’s what we have to do,” Carroll said. “We gotta take it one game at a time just like we know how to do, but we have to really stay focused and postpone what the story is going to be. We know that’s the truth but it’s hard to do, and so that’s what we are going to go about doing. So it’s a challenge, I gotta lead the charge, and I’m gonna kick ass on that.”
The defense made commendable progress last week against Pittsburgh but it was not enough to secure a win.
The offense had good stretches but seemed handcuffed by the play-calling at times.
A 3-4 record looks so much better than 2-5, particularly in this division. The Seahawks must find a way to win on Monday in order to get back into the playoff picture.
How can the Seahawks get there?
Contain Alvin Kamara
This has been the priority when attempting to defend against the Saints offense in recent times.
But this season, with Drew Brees gone and several top players injured, the Saints are leaning on Kamara like never before.
He is responsible for an incredible 48% of the team’s total touches. Even when Kamara is not getting the ball, Peyton smartly has him as a decoy in play action or as a swing pass safety valve to draw a defender out to him and open up the middle.
Kamara has 109 touches so far in 2021. The Saints player with the next most touches? Running Back Tony Jones with only 23.
So, when we say if you stop Kamara, you will greatly hinder the Saints offense, we are saying it in the most literal way possible.
The primary way to contain him?
Tackle him on the first try. Alvin Kamara is the king of broken tackles. Since 2018, he has 113 broken tackles, easily the most of any player in the NFL. Nick Chubb is a distant second with 96.
(Chris Carson is fourth with 82)
Of course, that is easier said than done. Kamara has legendary balance and agility and the scheme Peyton puts him in contributes to him having good angles in order to present a slim target to tacklers.
The Seahawks got a front row seat to the show in Week 3 of 2019. Kamara had a stunning eight broken tackles in that game alone. How did he do it? His skill was absolutely a factor but look at the tape and count how many Seahawk tacklers tried to just knock him over or otherwise arm tackle him high, rather than follow the ‘rugby style’ form of tackling at the waist that Pete Carroll has preached so heavily:
Kamara ended up with 161 total yards and two touchdowns in that game. More importantly, he had 50 yards after contact in the rushing game and 102 yards after the catch in the receiving game.
The vast majority of Kamara’s yards came after the catch or after first contact. Inexcusable.
The linebackers had a terrible day and the poor tackling was noted by Pete Carroll in his opening comments after the game. Mychal Kendricks was particularly bad but the highlight clip shows bad tackling attempts by K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner as well.
There is no excuse for not playing technically sound football at this level. Here’s hoping the Seahawks put a special emphasis on it this week in practice.
Kamara is going to his touches and his yards. That is just a fact beyond the Seahawks’ control. What they can control, is how many yards he gets after he encounters a defender.
If they can keep him in check, they will have a terrific chance at winning this game.
The defensive line must step up
This is not a key that is particular to this game against the Saints. It’s just something the Seahawks badly need to improve upon as quickly as possible.
The defensive line, once touted by many as a deep reservoir of talent that could really be a team strength in 2021, has proven to be a liability so far this season overall.
The Seahawks have recorded ten sacks, good for a tie at 26th overall in the NFL so far this season.
Two of those sacks belong to linebackers (Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks).
That is an optimistic position right now. Why? Two of the teams behind them in total sacks have only played five games to the Seahawks’ six games so far. The Seahawks have a full extra game of non-productive play added to their total.
They are also 30th in rushing defense — giving up an average of 140.8 yards per game. They have yet to hold an opponent under 100 yards rushing in a game this year.
What was once thought of as a middling defensive line has been one of the NFL’s worst so far this season. Have a look at this simple chart:
Other than Darrell Taylor’s production efficiency, there is not much to like.
Alton Robinson seems to be held back despite some very solid play so far. He got one snap on defense against the Steelers and Pete Carroll confirmed it was not due to injury. He gave a bland answer when asked why.
Something has got to give at this point. Either the team must scheme better, coach better, redistribute their snaps to the young talent and live with the occasional blown play, or acquire some new talent if they want to compete.
It might benefit the team in the short term to start heavily blitzing again. They cannot get pressure and their TFL numbers indicate they are not getting into the opponents’ backfield very much.
The defense seems to be passively waiting for the opposing offense to make their move and then reacting to it. And rather badly, at that.
When you are playing Sean Peyton, that strategy is an open invitation to be picked apart. He is a master of finding space for his players and letting them display their skillsets.
You just know that Peyton has seen the Seahawks deploying Benson Mayowa and Carlos Dunlap against running backs in coverage. That is a massive mismatch when Alvin Kamara is on the field.
Blitzing early and often disrupts those potential plays and does not allow Peyton to build a theme or rhythm. If he does, he can connect some further wrinkles later in the game to take advantage of the patterns he has built.
What’s more, Jameis Winston is not good at all against the blitz. So far this year, he has an 85-quarterback rating off a 55% completion rate when blitzed.
Note the disparity in Winston’s numbers when under pressure:
As you can see, he still panics and misses wide open receivers when under pressure.
Give him time and he can be very effective.
Just like last week, the Seahawks are facing a team with a middling quarterback and a potent rushing attack. The defense could have won the game for them last week. They can this week as well. They must be better in order to do so.
Play your game on offense
The Saints have been getting some shine in the press for their defense so far this year. It is not as good as it is made out to be. The Seahawks need to understand this in their game planning.
The New Orleans rush defense is #2 in the NFL with 79 yards per game allowed.
Let’s give that number a little perspective.
In Week One against the Packers they were able to jump out to a big lead, forcing the Packers to abandon the running game. Aaron Jones, one of the game’s best running backs, only got five rushing attempts. As a team they only ran the ball 15 times.
In Week Two against the Panthers and Week 4 against the Giants, those teams used the run with their feature backs to set up the pass. Christian McCaffrey burned them for 65 yards on 5 catches and Saquon Barkley got 74 yards on 5 catches and a touchdown. He also ran right up the gut for six yards in overtime for the winning touchdown.
In Week 3 the Patriots only ran the ball 17 times.
The sample size, quality of opponent, game strategy and results in other areas are beefing up the Saints’ run defense numbers.
The Seahawks can run on them. It should not be curtailed in this week’s game plan out of fear of their tremendous defense.
How about in pass defense? They are 23rd in the NFL in passing yards allowed at 275 yards per game.
Their pass rush has been truly awful – even worse than the Seahawks’. They have only nine sacks and 55 pressures so far this season.
Geno Smith will have time in the pocket to make his reads.
Daniel Jones had enough time in the pocket to burn them for 402 yards with an amazing twelve explosive pass plays.
Their starting defensive backfield averaged a 115-quarterback rating in that game. Star corner Marcus Lattimore surrendered a 149 passer rating in coverage.
The Saints have yet to face a group as formidable as the Seahawk receivers and tight ends.
So while the Saints should get some credit for their good numbers so far, a closer look shows that this defense is not as formidable as it appears.
Win in the red zone
Two stunning stats:
The Saints are #1 in the NFL on offense in the red zone, scoring a touchdown a fantastic 92.86% of their times in the red zone.
They are also #1 in the NFL on defense in the red zone, only allowing a touchdown on 35.71% of opponent trips in the end zone.
The Seahawks actually match up very well. They are #4 on offense and #7 on defense.
It is very likely the winner in the red zone wins the game.
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