By Danny O’Neil
They’re going to have to deal with us.
It’s a mantra of sorts for Seattle’s defense, a reality for its opponents and a statement that summarizes the unflinching style that has become this team’s identity.
“One of the things that we like to do is, ‘All right, can they deal with us?’ ” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.
New Orleans couldn’t. Not on Dec. 2, at least. The Saints came to town on that Monday night and left on the wrong end of a 34-7 loss in which Drew Brees passed for 145 yards, his fewest in any game since 2006.
The teams meet again six weeks later with a ticket to the conference championship game on the line, and so much of the past week has been spent talking about just how different the matchup will be this time around. That’s likely true. After all, the Saints finished with 188 yards of total offense, the franchise’s lowest in 10 years, so it’s probably not realistic to think the Seahawks will be able to choke off coach Sean Payton’s offense like that again.
But it doesn’t mean it will be any easier for New Orleans this time around, either. Seattle didn’t conjure up some specialized scheme to neutralize New Orleans. There was no smoke involved. No mirrors. No gimmicks or tricks.
710 ESPN Seattle hosts weigh in on the divisional-round matchup against the Saints, finishing the sentence, “The Seahawks will win if … ”
|• Michael Grey: Drew Brees completes fewer than 58 percent of his passes.||• Dave Wyman: They rush for more than their average of 137 yards per game.||• Jim Moore: Percy Harvin averages 40 yards on his kickoff returns and gets 100 yards in receiving.||• Bob Stelton: They shut down the Saints’ running game and hold Jimmy Graham to four catches or fewer.||• Dave Grosby: They don’t turn it over.||• Brock Huard: Marshawn Lynch rushes for at least 90 yards.||• Danny O’Neil: Marshawn Lynch rushes for more than 75 yards.|
There’s no magic bullet to beating a team whose success isn’t rooted in the intricacy of its scheme nearly so much as its ability to execute it. Six weeks ago, after the Seahawks finished extinguishing the Saints’ offense, free safety Earl Thomas pretty much shrugged when asked just what his defense had done to be so effective.
“Same thing we always do,” Thomas said. “We made them look normal.”
This is what makes the Seahawks so very difficult to play. This is not a team that builds a game plan from scratch each week like the Patriots are known to do under coach Bill Belichick. The coaches don’t conjure up custom-made solutions for each opponent.
Seattle’s defense is founded on the confidence that its players will execute their defense so well that it’s the opponents who will be forced to adjust. There’s no better proof of that than the final month of the season when Seattle held each of its final five opponents to fewer than 20 points starting with that victory over the Saints.
That wasn’t the result of some schematic evolution or lineup change. It wasn’t the menu of plays that changed so much as the execution that improved.
“We’re not a whole lot different from when we started this season in what we like to play,” Quinn said.
Now, there are wrinkles that Seattle will put in. There are times that cornerback Richard Sherman will follow a receiver into the slot like he did Week 2 with San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin or in Week 16 with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald.
More coverage previewing the game.
|• Pick’em | ‘Pete Carroll Show’ | John Clayton||• O’Neil: QBs Wilson, Brees play different roles||• O’Neil: TE Jimmy Graham is the mismatch||• O’Neil: FS Earl Thomas is the equalizer||• O’Neil: WR Percy Harvin is the wild card||• Moore: Don’t expect another blowout win||• Moore: Harvin should be turned loose||• Huard: Seahawks should be able to run||• Henderson: Wilson hopes for pressure||• Henderson: Carroll stressing right mindset|
But more often than not, Seattle’s coaches will trust their players to stick to the principles of a defense like it did the first meeting against New Orleans. Everyone wondered just how the Seahawks were going to defend Jimmy Graham, the 6-foot-7 mismatch of a tight end.
Seattle’s linebackers lobbied for a chance at the match up, K.J. Wright asking his position coach, Ken Norton Jr., for the opportunity to prove he could stay with the former basketball player, which is just what happened. And now that Wright’s out, everyone is back to wondering how Seattle will defend Graham. Just don’t be surprised if linebacker Malcolm Smith gets a chance.
They’re going to have to deal with us.
It’s something Sherman said when he was asked if he had a preference for a playoff opponent. And as Seattle prepares to host a playoff game for the first time in three years, the question isn’t so much whether the Seahawks can play the way they did six weeks ago against New Orleans, but whether the Saints are any more prepared to handle it.
Because if this season has shown one thing, it’s that Seattle’s defense doesn’t change. Not in terms of its calls. Not in terms of its performance. Not in terms of its approach.
“We like to play it – in our style – really, really hard,” Quinn said.