Posted January 12, 2014

Seattle’s D stops Saints again, as team sets sights on possible Super Bowl berth

New Orleans Saints, NFC South, NFC West, NFL Playoffs, Seattle Seahawks
Believe it or not, Robert Meachem (17) wound up with this ball.

Believe it or not, Robert Meachem (17) wound up with this ball. (John Froschauer/AP)

SEATTLE — Pete Carroll wants to have a balanced football team. He wants to live equally by the run and the pass, and he wants to stop those things equally in his opponents. Similarly, the Seahawks’ head coach would like to stun his team’s opponents with an equal portion of offense and defense.

It’s a nice notion, but let’s be real about it. If the Seahawks win the Super Bowl this year, it will be on the shoulders of a defense that is just about impossible to deal with when firing on all cylinders. And in Seattle’s 23-15 divisional round win over the New Orleans Saints, it was Carroll’s defense that unquestionably ruled the day. Quarterback Russell Wilson completed nine passes in 18 attempts for 103 yards and no touchdowns — and the Seahawks still won. That Seattle defense gave up a crazy 52-yard completion from Drew Brees to Robert Meachem in the fourth quarter that was as weird as anything Carroll could remember as it bounced off two Seattle defenders and into Meachem’s hands — and the Seahawks still won. Brees finished the day with 309 passing yards — exactly three times more than Wilson — and the Seahawks still won.

MORE COVERAGE: Lynch’s loud statement Best, worst from game | Schedule, analysis

They won because Brees could do little outside of that one fluke play and a few great passes late in the game. They won because the Saints were only able to convert three of their 12 third-down attempts, and one of their three fourth-down tries. They won because despite all the talk about how tight end Jimmy Graham was going to take revenge for the three-catch game he had against this same defense when the Seahawks beat the Saints 34-7 on Dec. 2, Graham was rendered invisible. Brees’ most productive receiver caught exactly one pass for eight yards on six targets.

But perhaps most of all, the Seahawks won this game because Graham was mouthing off with several Seahawks players hours before the game even started — and Seattle’s defenders seemed to see it as a lark. They weren’t affected at all — they stayed in their lanes and stayed with their games, and ended New Orleans’ season with several well-placed body blows.

“You come into a doghouse, and start talking about dogs, you’re gonna have a long day,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said about those pregame incidents. “There was a lot of stuff said before the game — a lot of gibberish — but that’s how it is. The playoffs are going to be like that. Everybody’s going to talk, but it’s all respect in the end.”

In the end, Sherman was more worried about containing all of Brees’ targets, not just his tight end. And that was a valid strategy. In 2013, Brees became the first quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 70 passes to four different receivers in the same season.

“We weren’t focused on him,” Sherman said of Graham. “We know that Drew Brees doesn’t care who he goes to in crucial situations — who he dinks and dunks to. We focused on everybody — we focused on the group. It was a total group effort by the entire defense, and that’s how we did it.”

Marshawn Lynch stomped the Saints into submission.

Marshawn Lynch stomped the Saints into submission. (John Froschauer/AP)

On offense, Seattle’s story was primarily told by two players: running back Marshawn Lynch, who gained 140 yards and scored two touchdowns on 28 carries; and receiver Percy Harvin, who started his second game of the season after missing most of his first campaign in Seattle with hip injuries. Lynch defined the Seahawks offense as he generally does, and ended a streak of six games in which he did not gain 100 yards. Lynch’s second touchdown — a 32-yarder — came with 2:40 left in the game, it put the final result on the books, and with a stiff-arm to cornerback Keenan Lewis, it had enough characteristics of his “Beast Mode” run in the 2010 playoffs to have Carroll calling it “Beast Mode II.”

“I think it’s pretty much the same as always,” Carroll said of Lynch. “He battles every week, and when you give him a chance, he makes plays. He’s had a consistent run for us — I saw a stat the other day that it was three straight 1,000-yard years with 10-plus touchdowns. You have to love his last touchdown run — it was a cool way to end that game and give us the chance  and the score we needed to put them away.”

Harvin’s day ended earlier than he would have liked. He managed to get back in the game after an early collision with Saints safety Rafael Bush had him looking woozy. However, an incomplete pass from Wilson in the second quarter led to a smackdown from Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, and Harvin’s day was officially done.

“The poor kid,” Carroll said. “He finally gets to play, and he banged his head against the turf real hard. He was OK the first time, but the second one really rocked him. He was battling, did a good job, and gave us a little spark.”

Harvin did do that in short spaces, and that was important, because Seattle’s other receivers really struggled to gain separation from New Orleans’ defenders. Were it not for the 25-yard pass to Doug Baldwin with 2:57 left in the fourth quarter, Wilson would have either won a playoff game without throwing for 100 yards … or not won the game at all. That Baldwin catch set up “Beast Mode II” on the very next play. The Saints not only scored a touchdown on their next drive, but also managed to recover the subsequent onside kick. They were driving down the field needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game, and with the addition or subtraction of a few close plays, this game could have turned in some very weird ways. This was not the blowout that began December, and for all the talk about Seattle’s alleged domination at home, this was closer to a loss than anyone on the home team might like to admit.

Linebacker Bobby Wagner enjoys the moment with fans.

Linebacker Bobby Wagner enjoys the moment with fans. (Doug Farrar/SI)

Until the defense stepped in. The Saints blew all their timeouts, and receiver Marques Colston ended the game with an illegal forward pass. In the end, as much as Brees was game to make this interesting, he ran out of oxygen in the same ways that most teams who play this defense tend to do.

“Our guys are tough to go against,” Carroll said when I asked him how it felt to keep such an impressive offense under control twice in such a short space of time. “That’s a tough group. Danny’s [defensive coordinator Dan Quinn] has got us really fundamentally sound, and we just don’t break. We force you to keep working at it and working at it. You’ll notice that they got yards at times, but we came up and got our stops. We played very well on third down today and we had a couple of really crucial fourth-down stops. They were aggressive in going for it, and our guys were able to make the plays. There’s really no weakness on this defense at this time — it’s really stout. We didn’t play the run as well as we have been because we didn’t tackle as well as we have been. We’ll figure that out. Maybe we need live tackling, I don’t know. But I just think it’s a tough group in all areas. We’ve got playmakers at every turn, and that’s what we’re relying on.”

Now, the Seahawks sit and wait to find out who will win Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers for the “honor” of coming up to the CLink to try to make it to the Super Bowl. Seattle beat Carolina 12-7 in Week 1, and it split its series with the 49ers.

When asked about the specter of the opponent, Sherman was simple and succinct in his response: Bring it.

“We have no preference — we’ll see who makes it. Whoever it is will be a deserving opponent, and we’ll be happy to see him. Carolina said they were going to see us in late January, and they have a chance. Steve Smith came up to us after the game and said, ‘See you all in January,’ and here we are.”

Here they are, indeed. With defense in the lead, and with attitude to spare.

35 comments
Mark112
Mark112

Without the 12th Man, Seattle is little better than a 500 team. After all, the Cardinals hammered them.

Holland
Holland

They better not change the channel or they might miss a big play!

formido
formido

Sorry, Doug, but after rewatching Seattle/NO's first game, you claimed every break went to Seattle. This is a game where a fumble was quick-whistled and 3 INTs were dropped in the second half, NO got a 50 yard pass play that should have been an INT, recovered an onside kick...and still lost by 8 and was down 15 with 1 minute to play. This is what the game looks like when NO gets all the breaks.

George
George

Good win for the sea-hens.  Today they are praying for the panthers 

so that they don't have to play San Francisco 

- no one wants to be exPOSED!  at HOME!!

JohnAlport1
JohnAlport1

I disagree with the author's premise that it was Seattle's defense that determined the game.  It was the Saints' moronic game plan for the first 42 minutes. What was their game plan?  Well, obviously, it was to do nothing save a few running plays for 42 minutes ---- and then play catchup for the last 18 minutes.  Drew Brees threw 12 times in the first half.  Eight of them were screen passes, dinks, checks, or in the flat.   They couldn't possibly think they were going to win on their run game.  Play to win and take your chances.  Don't play to win.  Really stupid.

Bigdog12
Bigdog12

wow so many refs made this happen thank you for the joke of the NFL 

GooGulsux
GooGulsux

Love the Whiners' fans crying about the Seahawks' Dbs.

You and your two dads don't have to worry Frisco fans ... you won't be playing next week after Carolina whips you.

ElvisHitler
ElvisHitler

Ingram fumble was a back breaker early. Saints D did enough to win but when the refs let Seattle's secondary hold throughout it's tough to move the ball. A few bad calls as well didn't help matters. Seattle was lucky to get the W.

Pat11
Pat11

Is it just me or does Seattle seam to be the only team that the NFL allows to constantly get away with mugging opposing teams receivers? Its not just this game I'm referring to either.

CoachCap
CoachCap

My gawd, imagine these guys taking testosterone supplements.

badbeatya
badbeatya

@Mark112LOL.   I love how people like to make claims w/o checking the facts.  Seattle's road record in the regular season was tied for the best in the league:  6-2, which for the 'mathematically challenged' equates to 4 games over .500. Oh, & the 2 losses:  a close one vs the Colts when almost half the o-line was out & another close one in San Fran. 

Last 2 games at Candlestick: San Fran won 13-6 in 2012 and 19-17 this season.

Last 2 games at CLink:  Seattle won 42-13 in 2012 and 29-3 this season.

MyronBernard
MyronBernard

@Mark112 Umm... hard to say "hammered" them when the Cards eeked out a victory. Plus, without the 12th man, you know, in Arizona, the Cards were actually demolished... so yeah.

EdgarMartinez
EdgarMartinez

@formido, don't forget that long run by Turbin that was called back on a phantom holding call. I've watched it many times and I've seen nothing close to a hold by anyone.

Merv
Merv

@George As opposed to exposing yourself in Public?

EdgarMartinez
EdgarMartinez

@JohnAlport1, I love armchair head coaches like you. How the hell does anyone gameplan in Seattle? There's nothing anyone can do. That's why they're #1 in defense.

onyxdragon007
onyxdragon007

@GooGulsuxNiner fan here. I don't have two dads (not that there's anything wrong with that) but I am tired of seeing your defense get to play like it is in the NFL of the 60's, 70's, and 80's (mugging wrs) with no calls while the niners play defense within the rules (while getting flagged for brushing Brees neck on a hit earlier in the year.)

amartinez22
amartinez22

Saints are lucky it wasn't worse. You forget the Saints second fumble the refs let them keep? Saints are back to they're bounty hunting ways!

Max Brenner
Max Brenner

@ElvisHitler Dumb comment.  Saints put up some yards at the end, but the Seahawks were up by two scores the entirety of the game.  The better team obviously won.

formido
formido

@Pat11 So, I'm assuming you're 12? The Pats defense was well known for its physicality during their Super Bowl runs.

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@Pat11It's true. That's why the Saints hit Harvin hard those two times. The Seahawks did the same thing, and mugged receivers off the line, and just played some pretty physical football. I don't mind it, they won the game fair and square as far as this Saints fan is concerned.

MattHoward1
MattHoward1

@Pat11 From what I hear, it's by design.  They know refs will only throw so many flags during the course of the game.  If you play a rougher game (no matter the ref crew) eventually they'll adjust what they call to how you play.  The other team will slowly accept that's how it's going to be and their defense will also pick up the aggression, knowing they can get away with more than normal because Seattle has already set the town.  The hawks have run into a few crews who try harder to call a tighter game, and it always does make it tougher for them to play their style of defense.  Of course, how they play used to be the norm.  Personally, I think it's a better game, and think Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina are 3 of the most enjoyable teams to watch in the NFL right now.  

ERockUrungus
ERockUrungus

@badbeatya

I wonder if an article exists on si without a comment from a Hawks fan stating the scores of the last two Niners games in Seattle. It happened twice, so it will definitely happen again. Anyone who knows football knows that. How could something different possible ever happen? It's happened twice!

George
George

@Merv @George Start the countdown.  7 days until the hens are exPOSED!!

6 ... 

JohnAlport1
JohnAlport1

@EdgarMartinez@JohnAlport1Here's a game plan for New Orleans.  You have a great throwing QB.  You have mediocre running.  You throw the ball 42 times and run it 20 times.  You get picked off.  OK, you gave it your best shot.  There's your plan.

"There's nothing anyone can do."  How interesting.  Do you only watch the games Seattle wins?

The lowly Bucs scored 24 in Seattle and the Hawks were lucky to beat them.  Arizona just won up in Seattle. We know Seattle can be beaten in Seattle because they were just beaten in Seattle. 


Seattle has 2 big problems.  First, a hot, strong SF team that's not at all scared of them is coming to play.  Second, when Seattle gets away from their home field advantage, Seattle is strong but not great.  They only played 2 playoff-caliber team away from home this year --- Colts and Niners --- and they lost both games.   It would be astounding to look at that fact and think that Seattle is likely to beat either Denver or New England on a neutral field.



ChuckTelschow1
ChuckTelschow1

@George @Merv How many total points did the winers lose the last 2 games in Seattle? LOL looking forward to it again!

EdgarMartinez
EdgarMartinez

@JohnAlport1@EdgarMartinez, I've got news for ya. Arizona won that game because they had about a 2-1 run to pass ratio and played ball control, and had about a 10 minute advantage in TOP. That's about the only way to beat Seattle in Seattle. Not go after one of, if not the best secondary in NFL history. 

TB sucker punched us. We were not expecting them to play the way they did. That won't be a problem in the playoffs, and probably not in the regular season again. We have a young team that learned a lot from that game. You have to give it your all each and every game in the NFL.

But the real key is you can't get down early, like NO did. In reality, the game was over at half with Seattle's defense. Nobody is coming back down 16-0 at half in Seattle.

bdeviled11
bdeviled11

@ElvisHitler Nah the Saints tried to go in there and be tough guys. Unfortunately, they didn't bring their big boy pants. The Rams tried to do the same thing a couple of weeks ago. Didn't work then either. But I guess it was dumb luck and the refs.