John Clayton’s Keys: Seahawks vs Saints will be all about the run game
For the Seahawks, this was supposed to be a stretch in which the defense had to worry about stopping quarterbacks.
They faced Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 and they were supposed to play the Saints’ Drew Brees this Sunday. Arizona’s Kyler Murray and the Rams’ Jared Goff follow.
The Seahawks got a break. Roethlisberger could only play a half because of an elbow injury that ended his season and Brees is out six weeks following thumb surgery, just in time to miss Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field.
As it turns out, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s emphasis has been more on stopping the run more than the pass. Now we understand why Pete is relying on three linebackers instead of the nickel when opponents go to three-receiver sets. In the first five weeks, the Seahawks face a great set of running backs: Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon, Pittsburgh’s James Conner, New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara, Arizona’s David Johnson and the Rams’ Todd Gurley.
Let’s look at Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
• With Brees out, the Saints figure to feature the run. In the first two games, the Seahawks emphasized stopping the run. They limited the Bengals and Steelers to 115 rushing yards on 30 carries. After giving up 4.9 yards per attempt last year, the Seahawks are giving up 3.8 yards a carry this year.
Saints coach Sean Payton has one of the most creative offensive minds in football. He can put Taysom Hill at various positions to create running opportunities. He has Kamara, one of the best backs in the game.
The Seahawks are expected to have Poona Ford back at defensive tackle and Ziggy Ansah making his Seahawks debut at defensive end. Stopping the run for both teams is one of the keys to the game.
• So much will fall on the Seahawks’ linebackers. Pete Carroll has his best linebacking starters since he came to Seattle. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are Pro Bowlers. Mychal Kendricks plays like a Pro Bowler. It’s fascinating to see how well a team can do in a base defense when the rest of the league is in nickel.
Talk about flipping the script. Normally, teams are in nickel 68 percent of the time. The Seahawks are in base defense 69 percent of the time. It’s clear the linebackers are one of the reasons the Seahawks are so good stopping the run.
• Don’t expect the Seahawks to pass the ball as much as last week. The Seahawks went to a short passing game and mixed in long passes over the run because the Steelers were blitzing from the week side. The blitzes got defenders in quickly to stop the run and pressure Russell Wilson, who was sacked four times in the first 22 minutes.
This week should be more like Seattle’s opener with the emphasis on the run. The Saints’ 4-3 defense is loaded. The offensive line is looking forward to going against a pure 4-3 after going against the Bengals’ five-man front and a blitzing 3-4 defense in Pittsburgh.
Establishing the run is vital for the Seahawks.
• Offensive holding penalties have been a problem all around the league. Holding is being called 66 percent more than last season after two weeks. The Seahawks and Saints each have had their share of holding calls, too.
These 10-yard penalties create too many first-and-20 and second-and-15 situations that are hard to convert. It’s brought scoring in the league down eight points from Week 1 to Week 2.
• Surprisingly, Saints cornerback Marcus Lattimore has struggled at the beginning of the season. He’s given up 190 yards receiving in the first two games. His play will be one of the keys for the Saints because the Seahawks will be trying to get the ball to wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
More from Clayton: Metcalf, Dissly standing out in passing game
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