The next level
The Saints' offensive line has been solid this season — which is somewhat shocking since there was so much panic surrounding the group in the preseason.
Part of it is because of how Drew Brees protects himself by getting the ball out in a timely fashion, but his line, outside of a couple of shaky moments against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, has done a good job protecting him.
But the biggest test of all comes this week against the Seattle Seahawks. In six games, their defense has generated 20 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL, and the Seahawks know how to make things hectic for the opposing quarterback.
The group is led by defensive end Cliff Avril, who has 6½ sacks. Next up is Frank Clark, who has 4½. What that means: This team has a variety of players who are capable of generating pressure and getting after quarterbacks.
Perhaps the good news for the Saints is that it looks like guard Andrus Peat could be back this week, and left tackle Terron Armstead has a shot at playing after suffering a knee injury.
The Saints are going to need both of those players if they want to keep the good feelings about how this line has performed rolling.
1. Sherman matchup
The Seahawks typically keep cornerback Richard Sherman on one side of the field, much the same way the Kansas City Chiefs use cornerback Marcus Peters. Last week, the Saints mixed up which receivers went to the right side, but they had Brandin Cooks there more than any other player. Could this set up for another big week for Michael Thomas?
2. Run defense
The Saints run defense has had some issues, especially on the edges. But the Seahawks haven’t figured out how to get their run game going; they average less than 90 rushing yards per game. Seattle likely will try to run the ball and establish a tone. It’s up to the Saints to hold this advantage.
3. Pass rush
For New Orleans to be effective against Russell Wilson, it needs to establish some threat of a pass rush. Getting after him might be difficult, since Wilson gets the ball out extremely fast, but he needs to feel the heat so it keeps him contained to the pocket and limits Seattle’s opportunities for big plays.
4. Ellerbe back?
New Orleans might get a boost on defense with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe nearing a return. His presence would be big; it would allow Kenny Vaccaro to play in the box more often while Ellerbe matches up with some receiving threats. His range would also be a big benefit for the run defense.
Who has the edge?
When the Saints pass
New Orleans has the NFL's top passing offense. And while this could be a tough day, you always have to side with Drew Brees.
When the Seahawks pass
The Saints still have something to prove with their pass defense. The good news is that Delvin Breaux is inching toward a return.
When the Saints run
This is one of the best defenses in the NFL, and it will make things difficult on a running game that has been inconsistent.
When Seattle runs
This one is risky, but Seattle has had issues running the ball, and New Orleans has been tough up the middle. The Saints need to make sure they don't give up a big play.
Punter Thomas Morstead is having one of the best seasons of his career.
Numbers worth knowing
Seattle’s rank in rushing yards per attempt (3.1)
New Orleans’ rank in rushing yards allowed per attempt (4.2)
Total takeaways by Seattle, which ranks 27th
Turnovers by the Saints, which ranks 13th
Out: CB Delvin Breaux (fibula), LB Stephone Anthony (hamstring), CB Sterling Moore (abdomen), WR Jake Lampman (knee)
Questionable: T Terron Armstead (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (quad), G Senio Kelemete (neck), RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring), G Andrus Peat (groin)
The Advocate says: The Saints are a little banged up on the offensive line, with Peat and Armstead both battling injuries. Armstead said he wants to play, but Tony Hills will likely start in his place if he is unable to go. If Ellerbe comes back, Nate Stupar will likely lose his spot in the starting lineup.
Out: RB Thomas Rawls (fibula), TE Luke Wilson (knee), T Brad Sowell (knee), DE Michael Bennett (knee), S Kam Chancellor (groin), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle), CB DeAndre Elliott (hamstring)
Questionable: WR Tyler Lockett (thigh)
The Advocate's predictions
The Saints can’t afford to stall on offense at any point in this one, since it’s going to be difficult to gain every single yard. Seattle will be without two starters on defense, which might loosen things up, but it will be tough for the Saints to win.
Seahawks 27, Saints 23
Joel A. Erickson
The New Orleans offense has been explosive all season, but the Saints haven't faced a defense like this. Expect yards and points to be hard to come by against Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Co.
Seahawks 27, Saints 20
Faced with a tight matchup, look to the line. Vegas says New Orleans is 8-0-1 against the spread versus teams over .500 in their past nine games, a remarkable stat considering the Saints’ overall win-loss record. Factoring in Seattle’s tepid offensive performance Monday at Arizona, here’s picking the Saints to pull off a mild upset.
Saints 23, Seahawks 20
Finish. Finish. Finish. Sometimes these Saints do. Sometimes they don't. Saying this one will be close is almost a given. Every game seems to be. I say they will, and Drew Brees finds a way to get it done late.
Saints 31, Seahawks 28