Seahawks must deal with Brees

Quarterback Drew Brees leads Saints’ lethal passing attack against Seattle

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comDecember 2, 2013 

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees returns to Seattle for the first time since Jan. 8, 2011, when the Saints came to town as defending Super Bowl champions and lost in a playoff game, 41-36.

BILL HABER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

RENTON — The rookies, backups and bench riders have been dealt with.

Here comes Drew Brees.

In the first 11 games of the season, the Seahawks faced a litany of quarterbacks less accurate than Brees. The only quarterback Seattle (10-1) has encountered this year that is in Brees’ sphere of precision is Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. He’s completing 66.3 percent of his passes.

Brees is on point 68.3 percent of the time. Outside of Arizona’s Carson Palmer, no other quarterback the Seahawks have seen is above 64.5 percent. Three are below 58.5 percent.

This is no rarity for Brees, who will lead the New Orleans Saints (9-2) and the league’s second-best passing attack into the Seattle’s spirited cauldron, CenturyLink Field, on Monday night for one of the biggest regular-season games in Seahawks franchise

history.

Brees has turned NFL fields into his personal dartboards for the past eight seasons while with New Orleans. In two of those seasons, he has completed more than 70 percent of his passes. In just two others has he been below 65 percent.

Under Brees, the Saints’ passing game somewhat works in reverse. The top target is tight end Jimmy Graham, whom Brees turns to almost 10 times a game.

The second- and third-leading pass catchers on the team are running backs. Short stacks Pierre Thomas (5-foot-11) and Darren Sproles (5-6) are second and third in catches, respectively. Wide receiver Marques Colston is fourth with a solid 43 catches.

That gives the Saints a precision conductor to run one of the league’s most versatile passing games.

“They can strike you dead on offense,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said.

When watching Brees, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson saw possibilities for his own livelihood. Wilson’s late father, Harrison, told him he should be watching the Brees guy who was dominating defenses while at Purdue.

Growing up in Virginia, the younger Wilson did not know where Purdue was, let alone know of Brees. Once he began watching, however, he saw a quarterback of similar height (Brees is supposedly 6 feet tall, Wilson supposedly 5-11) doing things he hoped to. The admiration reached a point that Wilson would wear Saints gear in college.

“I really started following him a lot and studying him my junior year of college, and also my senior year of college,” Wilson said. “When I went to Wisconsin (senior year), I had tons and tons of film on him. I just watched every throw pretty much that he had thrown in the NFL. I studied his footwork, studied what he does, and obviously, everybody compares our height.”

Wilson is a play extender who Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called “the best scrambler in the league.” He often ventures far out of the pocket with the ability to run upfield.

Brees is a master of progressions and shuffling. Why he moves in the pocket Monday will be a heavy influence on the outcome. Will the Seahawks rush be moving him? Or will Brees be taking Astairian shuffle steps?

“He knows how to move in the pocket, and that’s a real gift and talent, too,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “It’s something that we’ve studied hard all week, and where he’s at, and how to go get him.”

Brees was 39-for-60 (65 percent) when the Saints were Beastquaked out of the playoffs during a wild card game in Qwest Field (as CenturyLink Field was known then) in January 2011.

The Seahawks had a much different secondary facing Brees that day. Only safety Earl Thomas from those in the secondary available Monday was heavily involved in the game. He made eight tackles. Kelly Jennings and Marcus Trufant were at cornerback most of the game.

Monday, the Seahawks will have a shuffle at cornerback because of injury and suspension. Out are Brandon Browner (groin) and Walter Thurmond (four-game suspension).

In is 2011 sixth-round draft pick Byron Maxwell, whose snaps had increased the past few weeks. Opposite Richard Sherman, the only way Maxwell could be more conspicuous to Brees and the Saints offense would be if he’s ablaze.

“He’s a dynamic quarterback, but like I said, it’s a regular week,” Maxwell said. “You focus on yourself and your technique and what you do best, and everything else will work out.”

Sounds easy enough.

SEAHAWKS GAMEDAY

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (9-2) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-1)

5:40 p.m., CenturyLink Field

TV: ESPN, KONG 6/16. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.

The series: Seattle and New Orleans have met 11 times in the regular season, and the Saints lead the series 6-5. The last time the teams met in the regular season, the Saints won, 34-19, on Nov. 21, 2010, in New Orleans.

What to watch: The Saints are a team predicated on the pass on both sides of the ball. In each of their two losses, New Orleans was beaten up by the opposing running back. The New York Jets’ Chris Ivory gutted them for 139 yards on just 18 carries. New England’s Stevan Ridley had 96 yards in the Patriots’ last-second win against the Saints. Neither of those guys is close to the talent Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is. Seattle will stack up the league’s second-best rushing offense against the Saints’ middle-of-the-pack rushing defense. On the flip side, how the Seahawks scheme to stop Saints tight end Jimmy Graham will be interesting. The Patriots did it by manning-up a cornerback on Graham. The Seahawks will often use safety Kam Chancellor, and could even mix in linebacker Bruce Irvin, one of the few players in the league who can match Graham’s size and athleticism.

The pick: Seahawks, 31-27

Prime numbers

NEW ORLEANS

No. NamePos.Ht.Wt.Year

9 Drew BreesQB6-020913th

Seahawks’ pass rush could decide the game.

43 Darren SprolesRB5-61906th

Scat back used in a lot of ways by the Saints.

50 Curtis LoftonLB6-02416th

He’ll be crashing into Lynch often as Saints’ leading tackler.

80 Jimmy GrahamTE6-72654th

The focal point of the Saints’ offense.

57 David HawthorneLB6-02466th

The former Seahawk will be looking to put big hits on his old teammates.

SEATTLE

No. NamePos.Ht.Wt.Year

24 Marshawn LynchRB5-112157th

Seattle’s run-first offense the perfect counter to the Saints.

41 Byron MaxwellCB6-12073rd

Formerly third string, he’s now the starter.

76 Russell OkungLT6-53104th

Okung says he feels great and that the rust is gone.

29 Earl ThomasS5-102024th

Thomas will see plenty of action, with the Saints often throwing.

81 Golden TateWR5-102024th

Seahawks’ most dynamic playmaker with Percy Harvin out.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @Todd_Dybas

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