NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview: How the Seahawks can beat the Saints

A New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is seen in the slide line as the Saints play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Banks Stadium in Baltimore on December 19, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

I hate standard game previews. Do we really need to know that Team A needs to run the ball to beat Team B? Thanks for the thrilling commentary, captain obvious.

That said, I do love me a good X’s and O’s piece, so below I’ve broken down how the Seahawks can beat the Saints (and vice versa) in the teams’ Wildcard matchup this weekend. Feel free to let me have it in the comments section if I write something along the lines of, “If they run the ball effectively.” There’s no need for me to repeat something Mark Schlereth is going to tell us on “NFL Countdown” leading up the game.

SAINTS WIN IF: They show up? Seriously though…Pete Carroll announced on Thursday that Matt Hasselbeck will start for the Seahawks this weekend. If that’s the case, New Orleans’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams may actually want to dial down his pressure. Charlie Whitehurst has been a career backup and has zero playoff experience, so it makes sense to force him to make snap decisions by sending pressure. But although he’s struggled mightily over the past couple of weeks, Hasselbeck is a playoff veteran who knows he has to get the ball out of his hands quickly when faced with a heavy rush and he usually can find his hot routes. When the Hawks played the Saints in Week 11, Hasselbeck went 6 for 6 for 128 yards with a touchdown and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when New Orleans sent six or more pass rushers. Williams has always been known for being an aggressive playcaller and there’s no reason to change that approach now. But there’s obviously a difference between being aggressive and being overly aggressive. The Seahawks’ running game has been inconsistent so if the Saints can get them in obvious passing downs, they may have more success sitting back in coverage and making Hasselbeck throw into tight windows. We know the Saints’ offense can score but that doesn’t mean they need to get into a shootout. If Seattle strikes for a couple of big plays early in the game because Williams is too aggressive, the Seahawks may start believing they can win.

SEAHAWKS WIN IF: There’s no doubt the Hawks are up against it. They’re outmatched in almost all phases of the game and nobody would be surprised if Drew Brees marched the Saints up and down the field on them. That said, the Seahawks still need to be aggressive. I don’t want to say they don’t have anything to lose because that’s garbage; they have a playoff game to lose, which is pretty significant. But at 7-9 they are playing with house money so there’s no reason to be conservative. Hasselbeck (366 yards, 1 TD, 104.9 QB Rating) will have to play just as well as he did in the first meeting between these two teams for the Seahawks to have a shot. The defense also needs to be aggressive, especially if, as expected, the Saints can’t run the ball. If Brees is going to beat you, make him beat you while throwing under duress. He may throw for 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but he also threw 22 interceptions this year so obviously he’s prone to turning the ball over. One or two turnovers can make all the difference in the final score. (Just look at the Bucs’ win over the Saints in Week 17.)

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