Seahawks fired up to shake, rattle and roll Saints

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comJanuary 11, 2014 

RENTON — Anticipating the physical and verbal rumble, two seismometers were installed at CenturyLink Field.

Planted on the field and in the third deck, the devices are set to record any seismic activity that results from a bonkers crowd for the Seattle Seahawks’ divisional-playoff game against the New Orleans Saints at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Just more than three years ago, the Saints were the favorites during a playoff visit to Seattle. Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run set off nearby seismometers and sent the Saints home the year after they won the Super Bowl.

Saturday, the Saints (11-5, 1-0 playoffs) come into Seattle as the No. 6 — and lowest — seed in the NFC playoffs. The top-seeded Seahawks are an uncommon front-runner for the Seattle area, which is enough to produce gnawed fingernails and knocking knees throughout town.

Seahawks players have no such worries. Ego is not in short supply for Seattle, allowing it to believe handling one of Saturday’s biggest concerns, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, is a mild issue.

Graham — 6-foot-7, 265 pounds and fleet — was limited in the first game against the Seahawks, a 34-7 pasting of the Saints on Dec. 2. He made three catches and scored a 2-yard touchdown.

At times, Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright tracked Graham and did it well. Wright is out of Saturday’s game because of a broken foot, spurring questions about how the Seahawks will handle Graham, a two-time Pro-Bowl selection.

The answer is they likely will do it the same way.

The belief that Wright was solely responsible for quieting Graham in the first game is incorrect. The Seahawks used six players, plus multiple schemes, to handle Graham.

On one snap, the Seahawks dispatched nose tackle Clinton McDonald to head off Graham. Playing a two-deep zone — known as Tampa 2 — McDonald dropped from his defensive tackle position to get in front of Graham on a shallow crossing route. The Seahawks played multiple zones, in addition to using strong safety Kam Chancellor to jam Graham at the line.

Linebacker Malcolm Smith will replace Wright and take a piece of the Graham pie.

“He’s big, he’s got a lot of range, he’s got great speed and he’s got good body control when the ball is in the air,” Smith said. “He’s somebody the quarterback is looking for.

“Anytime you have a guy who has that much talent and the quarterback actually trusts him, it’s going to be difficult for anybody. We are going to do our best to cover him and see what he has to offer.”

That line of thought could be applied to rejuvenated and returning Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin will play Saturday for the second time this season and first time since Nov. 17.

His addition only supplements a Seahawks offense that skewered the Saints in the first game.

Quarterback Russell Wilson was military-bed crisp on a 22-of-30 day against the Saints. When Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan jabbed, Wilson hooked. When Ryan hooked, Wilson ducked.

“Obviously, the execution of their quarterback was something to be seen,” Ryan said. “Hopefully he doesn’t have that type of game against us again, or we’re in big trouble.

“He was out of the pocket, and a lot of that was calls on me. We went to some three-man rush, and he definitely exploited that. And then when we came with all-out pressure, he made the throws, and we didn’t quite execute the coverage. So it made for an awfully long evening out there.”

Really, it was a short night. The Seahawks took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and a 27-7 lead by halftime.

Ryan is often a gambling man — just the type of approach that has caught Harvin’s eye.

“What I noticed, they do a lot of zero blitzing,” Harvin said. “What that means is no safety over the top. So as the receivers on third downs, that’s where we’re looking to cash in at. We feel like man-to-man, one-on-one, we feel confident that we can beat it.”

A win would move the Seahawks to the conference title game for the first time since the 2005 season and third time in franchise history, the first coming in the 1983 season.

The ’83 team was a Cinderella bunch. In 2005, the Seahawks were the No. 1 seed. This season, they are again the top seed and the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, N.J.

“Everybody on this team understands we’re in a great position to do something that will last longer than our playing days,” defensive end Red Bryant said. “We’re trying to take advantage of every opportunity we get.”

The first postseason opportunity is Saturday.

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

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