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What we learned from Seahawks’ win over Saints

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Russell Wilson showcased his ability to recognize and beat blitzes during Seattle’s win over New Orleans. (AP)

By Danny O’Neil

Three things we learned and three things we’re still trying to figure out after the Seahawks improved to 11-1 win a 34-7 win over New Orleans on Monday.

1. The Seahawks’ linebackers aren’t liabilities.

The criticism that Seattle’s linebackers struggle in coverage has been a common refrain, but one that needs to be rethought after the way Bobby Wagner and especially K.J. Wright played Monday night.

The Saints presented two unique matchup challenges in running back Darren Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham, but Seattle didn’t have to deviate from its standard defense to account for the two. Wright found himself repeatedly matched up against Graham, who finished with three receptions for 42 yards. Wright also sniffed out multiple screen plays as Seattle kept the Saints from finding any sort of rhythm in the passing game even when they looked to go underneath.

2. The effectiveness of Seattle’s running game isn’t necessarily measured by yards.

Russell Wilson led the Seahawks with 47 yards rushing and Marshawn Lynch averaged 2.8 yards on his 16 carries, his lowest in any game since the season opener at Carolina. But to call Seattle’s running game ineffective would be to overlook the emphasis and resources the Saints dedicated to stopping Lynch, which created opportunities down the field for Seattle.

It’s the reason tight end Zach Miller wound up wide open behind New Orleans’ defense on third-and-1 in the first quarter, and it’s the reason that Wilson was able to average more than 10 yards per passing attempt.

3. Percy Harvin’s production is strictly a bonus this season.

The Seahawks’ success does not depend on his participation in the offense, which is important.

Harvin sat out Monday’s game because of soreness in his hip, the second time he has been slowed down in his recovery from hip surgery. It’s clear Harvin’s return isn’t going to be a straight-line progression from one week to the next.

That doesn’t mean Harvin won’t contribute, and it doesn’t mean he won’t play more consistently, but if his hip was still too sore to play 15 days after he played his first game, well, that should be a sign that you can’t pencil him in for 40 plays a week in the playoffs.

And as much as he would help, Harvin doesn’t need to play 40 plays a week for this team to succeed. The Seahawks are 11-1 with him having been on the field for 16 offensive snaps and three kickoff returns, and on Monday against New Orleans, Seattle scored on five of its first six possessions.

Seattle’s productivity is not contingent on Harvin’s participation at this point.

1. Why do opponents think it’s a good idea to blitz Russell Wilson?

More coverage of the Seahawks’ Week-13 win over New Orleans at CenturyLink Field.

Recap | Stats | Photos | ‘The Pete Carroll Show’
O’Neil: Seahawks make a major statement
Huard: How Seahawks beat Saints’ blitz
Henderson: Carroll says K.J. Wright stood out
Henderson: Avril, Bennett team up for TD
Stecker: Saints’ vaunted offense sputters

At some point in the week leading up to Monday’s game, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan decided that the all-out blitz was a good idea against the Seahawks. How else do you explain that in the second quarter, the Saints put nine guys on the line of scrimmage with no safeties back, declaring the obvious intention to come full boar after Wilson.

The result? An adjustment by Wilson at the line of scrimmage and a 52-yard completion to Doug Baldwin.

The biggest progression in Wilson’s game this year is his ability not just to recognize the blitz, but to make the opponent pay for it, and that was certainly the case against the Saints.

2. Why did the absences of Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner inspire so much fear heading into the game?

The long-term concern is clear. Seattle has now faced (repeated) discipline from the league with regard to banned substances, specifically on defense. But in terms of on-field implications, the only impact last week was that Thurmond would be out four weeks in the regular season.

After all, Browner remains injured and potentially unable to play. And after Monday’s game, it’s fair to say that Seattle is deep enough that not every absence is the cause for emergency considering how Seattle has played eight games without starting left tackle Russell Okung, seven games without starting right tackle Breno Giacomini and has had Harvin for only one game yet is 11-1.

3. What is the Seahawks’ weak spot?

The defense held the Saints without a first down on five of their first six possessions and limited New Orleans to 188 yards of total offense, its lowest total in 10 years. The Seahawks’ offense scored on five of its first six possessions and Wilson’s two most effective performances – as judged by quarterback rating – have come in his last two games.

The single most jaw-dropping stat for this team, however, it much less obvious: Seattle has allowed a total of 15 yards on punt returns this season. That’s the total over 12 games, which is nothing short of shocking.