By Brady Henderson
A closer look at the Saints with the help of Larry Holder, who covers the team for The Times-Picayune:
Henderson: I’m sure the Saints’ defensive turnaround – going from historically bad last season to one of the league’s better units this year under new coordinator Rob Ryan – has been the huge story down in New Orleans. I know that lots of blitzing is a hallmark of a Rob (and Rex) Ryan defense, and the Saints are among the league leaders in sacks this season. Seattle’s offensive line, meanwhile, has had trouble in pass protection at times this year, which makes that one of the more intriguing storylines of this matchup. Who are some of the important players in New Orleans’ pass rush and how aggressive do you expect that defense to be Monday night?
Third-year defensive end Cameron Jordan has two forced fumbles and 9.5 of the Saints’ 37 sacks this season. (AP)
Holder: Cam Jordan is a budding star and has been one of the elite pass rushers in the NFC with 9.5 sacks. He was one of the only bright spots on the defense last season and is a sure-fire Pro Bowler this season. Junior Galette at the other defensive end spot has provided plenty with six sacks, making the young pair something to watch this season and beyond. Second-year defensive lineman Akiem Hicks has also shined with 3.5 sacks and is coming off a 1.5-sack performance in Atlanta.
Henderson: Sticking with that Saints defense, it has a few players who should be familiar to Seahawks fans. David Hawthorne was a very productive and versatile linebacker who became a fan favorite in Seattle, while Will Herring was a backup who many considered good enough to be a starter. How are those two doing in New Orleans?
Holder: Hawthorne was essentially a bust in 2012. Injuries and inconsistencies plagued him, but it’s not like he was alone as plenty of players could say that last season in Steve Spagnuolo’s system. But Hawthorne has been a different player this year as he’s third on the team with 61 total tackles, and has also been effective blitzing with three sacks. Herring has been primarily a special teams player in 2013 as he’s the special teams captain. He’s been a solid piece to the special teams puzzle.
Henderson: The knock on Drew Brees – if there is one – is that he’s not the same quarterback on the road as he is in the friendly confines of the Superdome. CenturyLink Field is tough enough on opposing quarterbacks, and the forecast for this game calls for weather that probably won’t be conducive to passing. What have you seen from Brees and the Saints’ offense on the road, particularly in games played in less-than-ideal conditions?
Holder: Brees needs to have a game like he had in Chicago. Neither he nor the Saints turned the football over and that was a major factor in Brees beating the Bears in Chicago for the first time with New Orleans. Some throws Brees can get away with in a controlled environment just don’t happen at times as Brees is fearless in throwing through tight windows. Brees needs to play within himself.
Henderson: The doughnut that Jimmy Graham put up against New England stands out in what has otherwise been a ridiculously productive season. Not only did he finish that game without a catch for the only time this season, but the game logs show he wasn’t even targeted. How did the Patriots manage to make him look mortal? And do you think Seattle has the defensive personnel to come close to doing that?
Holder: Two words: Aqib Talib. Talib locked up Graham at the line of scrimmage and outside of that, holding Graham without a catch. There aren’t that many cornerbacks in the league who can do that. Is Richard Sherman that guy for Seattle? It’s worth thinking about.
Henderson: Alright, Larry, it’s time for some predictions. I think the Saints’ strength – their passing offense – plays right into Seattle’s biggest weakness at the moment – its shorthanded secondary. If the Seahawks are ever going to lose a game at CenturyLink Field, this one might be it. That said, I don’t think they will. Seattle seems to have the talent to keep overcoming losses, but this game will be a big test in that regard. Seahawks 28, Saints 25.
Holder: I think Marshawn Lynch will be too much for the Saints’ defense to handle even though the run defense has improved recently. And the Saints will make one too many costly mistakes to overcome in a tight game. Seahawks 24, Saints 20.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.