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Originally published Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:05 PM

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Keys to the Seahawks-Saints game

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Feeling a Brees

The key to Seattle’s 34-7 win over the Saints at CenturyLink Field on Dec. 2 was the defensive effort on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints were held to 144 net yards passing, their lowest total since 2010. Seattle did it by getting good pressure on Brees and playing suffocating coverage in the secondary. According to ESPN, Brees was under pressure on 28 percent of his 39 dropbacks, his third-highest percentage of the season, in the first game. New Orleans also did not have a passing gain of longer than 20 yards in the first game and Brees was 0 for 8 on pass attempts of 15 yards or longer. The Saints either could not get separation, or didn’t execute when they did have a rare opening deep. A key will be whether the Saints can get tight end Jimmy Graham (just three catches for 42 yards in the first game) more involved this time.

Saints vs. surroundings

While the Saints are a battle-tested team that still features 10 players from the squad that won the Super Bowl following the 2009 season, there was no doubt they were unnerved by the surrounding early in the Dec. 2 matchup at CenturyLink. Miscommunication led to a 4-yard loss on the first play and the Saints fell behind 10-0 before they seemed to settle down, at which point the Seahawks were well on their way to victory. Seattle scored 17 points in the first quarter against the Saints, their most in the first quarter in any game this season. A similar start could lead to a here-we-go-again feeling among the Saints. But if the Saints can withstand the early onslaught, the tide of emotion could shift to New Orleans believing this game will be different.

Pressure, or no pressure?

Under first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints became known this year as one of the most blitz-happy teams in the NFL. That backfired in the first game against the Seahawks, however, as Seattle time and again took advantage of man coverage in pressure situations to convert big plays. According to Pro Football Focus, Russell Wilson was 8 for 8 when the Saints blitzed, for 122 yards and two touchdowns for a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the first game. The Saints altered course in last week’s 26-24 win over the Eagles, by one calculation blitzing just four times. So it will be a matter of intrigue whether Ryan decides to play the Seahawks more straight up in this game or again bring pressure. The Saints limited the Seahawks to just 3.3 yards per rush in the first game. Seattle adding receiver Percy Harvin to the mix could be the real wild card in this equation as the Seahawks will look to get him in as many one-on-one situations as they can.

Bob Condotta

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