Oregon Sports News writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath discuss and predict the week eight matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (4–1–1) and the New Orleans Saints (2–4).
When: 10 a.m. PT Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA.
Rogers: With all the discussion lately about the NFL being in a death spiral of declining TV ratings due to a bevy of bummers, the last thing the league needed was a dud of a primetime showcase game between two supposed playoff contenders, the Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. But boy, was that game ever a snooze fest.
Unless you stuck with it until the end. Where the inept, sizzle-less performances on both sides that ended in a regulation tie of 3–3 gave way to an even more improbable 6–6 tie that excitingly(ish) concluded with two almost impossibly shanked missed chip shot field goals by both Stephen Hauschka and Chandler Catanzaro.
And so, we were left with a tie. Which, in all honesty, I very nearly thought about making my prediction for the game, but I dismissed that notion as far too likely to be wrong. So I had a feeling and went against it. I feel like I lost twice, which is probably akin to the feeling the Seahawks and Cardinals have over Sunday night’s sister kisser.
If you have a punting fetish, this game was ecstasy for you.
For the rest of us, we’re left to ponder two things about the Seayawns: Is Sunday’s offensive output of 11 total first downs through five quarters of play and 3/14 on third-down conversions the new Seahawks’ offensive brand? NFL teams often get figured out at this point in the season — did the Seahawks get figured out?
Or is this game just an aberration? Jess, what do you think?
Ridpath: I think we’re seeing the consequences of Russell Wilson’s lack of mobility. The Seahawks’ offensive line is not performing quite as poorly as they did last year. But Seattle’s offensive numbers are vastly different this season compared to last.
In 2015, the blue birds were ranked fourth in total offense and converted 47% of their third downs. Right now, their offense is ranked 22nd and is only 36% on third-down conversions.
We can’t blame this steep decline on the passing game. In the air, Wilson is keeping pace with last year’s average yards per game (259.8 in 2016 versus 251.1 in 2015). And he’s throwing fewer interceptions to boot (0.5% versus 1.7%). But his rushing stats tell a completely different story: 5.5 yards per carry and 34.6 yards per game in 2015, compared to a scant 1.5 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per game so far this season.
With Wilson looking “about as nimble as an aging Joe Namath on two bum knees,” the Seahawks have lost much of the magic he brought to the table: that amazing ability to scramble away from the defense and keep drives alive. That’s giving opposing defenses a lot less to worry about.
To be fair, it’s not just Wilson’s mobility that’s dragging Seattle’s offense down: It’s their entire ground game. With only 3.1 yards per carry and 82.7 yards per game (ranked 27thin the league overall), it seems the Seahawks have kissed their elite rushing status goodbye.
And when that walked out the door, so it seems did their ability to score points. They’ve scored a mere 111 total points in six games and are tied for last in the league in points scored (alongside Chicago). With numbers like that, you’d expect to see far fewer tallies in Seattle’s win column. The difference-maker has, of course, been their formidable defense.
Julian, without a solid rushing attack, are the Seahawks relying too much on the defense to continually save their asses? And if so, how can they bring their ground game back to life?
Rogers: I don’t think Christine Michael is the problem. I believe he’s part of the solution. My eyeballs tell me Michael is still low-to-the-ground, slithery fast. The holes just aren’t there. Worse, defenses know Wilson is no threat to keep it on the read-option, so they can focus on crashing down on every play that appears to be a run down. Second-level defenders are free to get on Michael fast.
Wilson has to make defenses pay through the air. He’s become a reluctant pocket passer, which is foreign territory for the Seahawks offense. The good news: It will almost certainly pay off later in the season. The bad news: For now, the Seahawks aren’t one-dimensional, they’re no-dimensional, if the last game is any guide.
It comes down to the offensive line, which is the weakest link by far on the 2016 team. A situation made worse now that George Fant is going to have to take over for Bradley Sowell at left tackle. Penalties have also been a factor. Expecting a miraculous leap toward offensive line play excellence is highly unlikely. The Seahawks are going to have to mix and match, throwing short to Jimmy Graham and the elusive Doug Baldwin and let them create yards after the catch.
The Seahawks are going to have to throw to loosen things up for the run game — the antithesis of Seahawks football.
Which is not great when you’re opposite the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense. Both teams offer bottom-third rushing offenses: Seattle is ranked 27th; New Orleans is ranked 28th. But the Saints sport no less than four receivers averaging better than 12 yards per reception: Brandin Cooks (15.2), Willie Snead (13.7), tight end Coby Fleener (13.4) and rookie sensation Michael Thomas (12.1). The surprise good news: So do the Seahawks. Graham (15.1), Paul Richardson (13.8), Tyler Lockett (12.7) and Baldwin (12.6). The bad news: The Saints’ top four receivers managed their average over 107 receptions, while the Seahawks’ top four impact receivers managed their average over a more pedestrian (yes, I said it) 80.
The difference is more about what defense each offense will go up against. The Seahawks’ offense gets to play against the 29th ranked unit. The Seahawks (6th) will be the best defense the Saints have faced so far in 2016. Jess, how do you think the Legion of Boom will handle the Saints’ explosive passing game?
Ridpath: If you had asked me that question before last Sunday’s game, I would have had few concerns. But after watching the Seahawks’ defenders work their butts off for more than 46 minutes in Phoenix (becoming just the third defense to spend that much time on the field since 2000), I’m worried about how well they’ll hold up for their second road game in a row.
Richard Sherman couldn’t even walk without assistance after giving his all to holdLarry Fitzgerald to just 70 yards last week. Even world-class athletes have limits, and Seattle’s lackluster offense seems to be pushing their invaluable defensive backs to the brink. I hate to say it, but if this trend continues, overwork-induced injuries won’t be far behind. With Kam Chancellor still nursing a groin injury, the Seahawks can’t afford to lose any more star defenders.
Seattle’s offense needs to step up and give their defense (and especially their secondary) a break. I have no doubt that the Seahawks’ defenders have the talent and the will to continue to carry this team. But they shouldn’t have to.
Julian, I absolutely agree that it all comes down to the offensive line — and that a giant leap forward is unlikely. However, facing the Saints’ soft defense may provide the perfect opportunity to take some modest steps in the right direction. If they succeed, they’ll give Wilson and Michael a chance to resurrect the Seahawks’ offense. I have no doubt that both players are poised to capitalize on any openings the o-line can give them. Prediction: Seattle 24, New Orleans 17.
Rogers: I’ve gone back and forth on who I think will win this one. The talk in ‘Nawlins is the return of Jimmy Graham. I think he’ll have a significant day, but I think the Saints’ passing offense will keep humming too. My wild guess prediction is that a significant penalty by the Seahawks is going to decide this one late. Prediction: New Orleans 23, Seattle 21.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: The wife and I bought a new car together without losing our sanity or threatening divorce. That’s got to count.
What he got wrong: The game winner, because there was none. Nobody’s a winner when that many players are going around kissing their sisters. I’m 3–3 on the season.
What she got right: With neither Wilson nor Carson Palmer at full strength, I expected a defensive battle. (Did either offense even play last week? I can’t remember…)
What she got wrong: The game winner, bringing me to 3–3 on the season. I was only off by 40 points in predicting the combined final score. That’s about as close as Hauschka was on his failed field goal attempt.