ReFo: Saints @ Seahawks, Divisional Round

Ben Stockwell analyzes how the Seahawks, assisted by the elements, kept the Saints out of rhythm and advanced to the next round of the playoffs.

| 3 years ago

ReFo: Saints @ Seahawks, Divisional Round

2013-REFO-DIV-NO@SEAA second trip to the Pacific Northwest ended in defeat for the New Orleans Saints and brought to an end their participation in this NFL season. Much like their first visit to Seattle on Thanksgiving weekend, they made mistakes in the first quarter (this time on special teams) that made the game tougher than it should have been before it was even 15 minutes old.

This time around, however, the Seahawks weren’t in the same clinically ruthless form and the Saints, though down by two scores for most of the game, were never put away. New Orleans would rally and threaten the sort of late comeback that would have seen Seattle rue their failure to make this game as comfortable on the scoreboard as it seemed for so long in terms of their control on the field.

Both defenses had the upper hand up front with a pair of big individual performances on each defensive line. In the end it was the Seahawks who got the big plays on defense and, crucially, had the game’s most telling individual performance on offense.

There was no repeat of the “Earthquake Run” of a few years ago but Marshawn Lynch showed some of his best form of the season exactly when it counted to carry Seattle through to their first conference championship appearance for eight years. The Seahawks showed in this game that they are far from invincible but at the same time they also displayed their depth and breadth of talent just how difficult it will be to beat them next Sunday when they host the Panthers or the 49ers.

New Orleans – Three Performances of Note

Jordan Leads The Way Up Front

Now looking forward to his trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, Cameron Jordan led a strong display from the Saints’ defensive line that wasn’t enough to stop Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle ground game. Each of Akiem Hicks (+3.0), Brodrick Bunkley (+1.2) and Jordan himself (+3.5) graded positively in run defense notching their share of stops (seven between them) against the run and re-directing runs at the source. However, when you can then break 13 tackles, mostly from the guys behind this trio, that effort up front doesn’t always yield the results that it would seem to deserve.

Jordan added to his strong day in run defense with a consistent and productive day as a pass rusher. Yet he couldn’t make the telling play that Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett managed which could have turned this game in New Orleans’ favor. The Saints defensive line highlighted the fact that you can get at the Seahawks offensive line and disrupt Marshawn Lynch. The rest of the New Orleans defense proved the concept that you must make your first up tackles and back up the disruption from your big men up front.

Graham Kept Quiet Again

On their last visit, Jimmy Graham got the Saints’ sole touchdown to prevent a shutout but aside from that was kept quiet by K.J. Wright and the rest of the Seattle defense. The second time around didn’t see Graham assert his presence against the Seattle secondary in the way he has against so many other defenses this season. Targeted five times yesterday he caught only one pass for eight yards with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor breaking on the ball to break up four passes aimed in his direction. Well aware of the threat that Graham poses, the Seahawks’ safeties were in no mood to afford him the room to operate. Never a tight end who will contribute as a run blocker, Graham was a non-factor last night as a result of his inability to be a difference maker in the passing game.

Tackling Demons Return

Rob Ryan has led a terrific turn around for the New Orleans defense this season but at its heart this unit still uses the same personnel that missed 128 tackles in the 2012 regular season. The 2013 number was cut to 77 but a playoff game in Seattle yielded a return to past form. Back in the 2010 Wildcard game the Saints missed 17 tackles and only fell two short of that yesterday afternoon, all 15 of them coming against the Seahawks’ ground game. In their Week 13 visit tackling wasn’t a problem, the Saints missed six tackles against the Seahawks, only surrendering two to Lynch. He’d matched that number on his first two carries alone and by the end of the game only Cameron Jordan on the Saints’ starting defense hadn’t missed a tackle.

Seattle – Three Performances of Note

Engage Beast Mode

Most of those missed tackles from the Saints’ defense came courtesy of Marshawn Lynch (13 of the Saints’ 15 missed tackles) who channeled his performance from the Wildcard game three years ago, topping his missed tackle total from that memorable game by one. His +3.5 rushing grade yesterday was his second highest of the season (+4.5 at Atlanta, Week 10) and his fifth rushing grade of +2.0 or above this season.

Lynch didn’t get a massive amount of help from his offensive line up front but he was still able to work himself into one-on-one matchups against the Saints’ defenders both inside and outside. Clearly, those one on one encounters favored the Seahawks running back. In miserable conditions the Seahawks’ passing game wasn’t a factor but Lynch showed the sort of form to reinforce the thought that, if necessary, he can drag this team to New York single-handedly. The task won’t get any easier against the 49ers or Panthers next weekend.

Bennett Makes His Mark Again

How the Seahawks were able to get Michael Bennett so cheap last offseason is still beyond me. Bennett turned in another performance yesterday to remind the entire league just what they missed out on season and he will (presumably) be even more expensive in a couple of months time. Rushing from the left defensive tackle spot more often than any other position (17 of 39 pass rushes), Bennett was able to exploit his matchup with former divisional foe Jahri Evans consistently.

All but one of his half dozen pressures (1 Sk, 5 Hu) came against Evans and his forced fumble of Mark Ingram on the first play of the second quarter also came off of a block by the Saints’ right guard. The Seahawks struck it rich by sweeping up Avril and Bennett on value deals during free agency last spring. Their combined strip sack of Drew Brees early in the third quarter was an emphatic reminder to the rest of the league of what they missed out on.

Thomas and Chancellor Lower The Boom

It wasn’t just in shutting down Jimmy Graham that the Seahawks’ safety duo of Kam Chancellor (+5.7) and Earl Thomas (+1.1) made their presence felt against the Saints yesterday as two of the game’s standout performers. Breaking up four passes, Chancellor and Thomas made the middle of the field a no-fly zone for the Saints with Brees completing only five of 11 intermediate passes targeted between the numbers.

Chancellor added to his work in coverage with a couple of stops in run defense and was as disruptive against the run as much working off of blocks as he was unblocked which is more normal to see for a safety. This wasn’t a perfect game from Thomas with one big misjudgment playing a part in a 52-yard gain for the Saints in the fourth quarter. Even that can’t take away from the excellent game that he and Chancellor brought to the field yesterday to lead the Seattle defense.

Game Notes

– Those 13 missed tackles by Marshawn Lynch yesterday were comfortably a season high (previously nine at Indianapolis) after breaking only two against the Saints first time around. Next week he will look to repeat that trick after breaking only two against the Panthers first time around along with five and three in two encounters with the 49ers.

– After his struggles in his first start against the Panthers (-3.7), Terron Armstead rebounded with three straight positive grades finishing his (short) rookie season with a very strong showing (+4.4) yesterday.

– After notching five pressures yesterday (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 3 Hu) Cliff Avril has kept alive his streak of recording multiple pressures in every single game he has played in this season.

PFF Game Ball

Should that be Beast Mode or Playoff Mode? Only a pair of touchdowns and a baker’s dozen of forced missed tackles on the ground as Marshawn Lynch powered the Seahawks through to the next round.


Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • RevJ

    How did Bobby Wagner grade out? It seemed like he was making play after play.

    • guest

      -1.1 on the run and -1.8 overall. Hilarious considering his wpa was second highest on the team for the team. Pass rush and pass protection grades, and d line run stoppae are the only things that seem to correlate with other website’s advanced metrics. No one looks at the game and says bobby had a bad one. PFF is losing its touch or never had it in the first place

      • birdofprey

        Wow Bobby Wagner graded -1.8 overall. That is too funny. The guy was everywhere, there was even a screen play where he split to Saints players to blow up the play.

        Maybe these guys don’t know the deference between Wagner and Malcolm Smith. I have criticized the grading here for years when I have come because I watch a ridiculous amount of football and have All 22 in my package and what I see looks nothing like these ratings.

  • Daniel Dannen

    It looked like Bountygate II out there with the head shots on Harvin, and the Saints high-fiving about it on the sidelines. Sean Payton needs to be thrown out of the league permanently.

    • dshizzle

      Moron. First of all the hits on Harvin were legal. Including the first one. The difference is the saints aren’t cry babies like some other teams (harbaugh, brooks and the cry babies in SF come to mind). Second, if anybody celebrates inflicting pain its the seahawks with arrogant punks like thomas and sherman and D-lineman dancing around on the field.

      • [email protected]

        First point A+, second point F-. Thomas is arrogant? He barely talks at all. I love that the Seahawks have fun.

      • Daniel Dannen

        As a point of information, head shots are never legal in the NFL, RETARD. The first shot actually received a 15 yard penalty, and the the second shot should have.
        I watched and listened to the hits over and over, and Harvin’s head was targeted and contacted BOTH TIMES. The Saints weren’t hitting anybody else out there like that.
        I also watched the guys who hit Harvin get congratulated by players and COACHES on the sidelines. Kinda weird in the playoffs: coaches giving players props for “dumb mistakes.”
        I have a lot more to say, but I feel it would be wasted on an idiot with the username “dshizzle.” I am glad though that one of history’s most inept and embarrassing franchises (paper bag, anyone?) has been bounced from the playoffs. .

  • SidV101

    Bobby and Earl’s hilariously low grades are thunderous indictments of PFF’s grading system.

    I like the idea of what PFF tries to do, which is why I keep coming back, but eventually I’m gonna stop coming. PFF needs complete transparency in their grading system, so that constructive criticism can take place, and help them improve their methodology.

    • guest1guest2

      The thing is, is that I don’t doubt Earl and Bobby had bad games according to PFF’s scoring system. They probably did. The problem though is that their system of grading is wrong and indicative of the effectiveness of a player

  • Johnny Twobutts

    The Wagner poor grade is laughable. And Obvious ‘head hunting’ in the case of Percy Harvin. Sean Payton is trash. He obviously learned nothing from his suspension and should be thrown out of the league forever. The players he convinces to do his dirty work are worthless human beings too.

  • KaDurrh

    Fine Bobby gets a +9 billion grade cause a bunch of whiny fans want their guys to be rated the best ever.

  • Drekkan

    I would querry whether Lynch should have been downgraded for a relatively boneheaded play at the end of the game. His last touchdown was not an optimal win strategy. If he takes a knee at the 1 Seattle could have literally knelt to victory – which would be a near 100% win probability.

    While they ended winning – if the Saints receiver simply steps out of bounds on the last play of the game they are then set up for a chance to tie the game with a long hail mary – a remote probability to win/tie but still existent. Taking the accolades (and the touchdown) actually made his team less likely to win (since anything is less likely than winning by kneel down).

    It’s like that play from several years ago where Brian Westbrook broke Fantasy Football hearts across the world by taking a knee at the Dallas 1 yardline in the closing minutes of a game. He understood that selfless football (taking the knee) gave a far better chance of success than the glory of the touchdown.

    • Ryan Kelly

      I don’t think it’s fair to call that a “boneheaded play”. Lynch scored with 2:40 left and New Orleans had no timeouts remaining. Assuming he goes down near the goal line and isn’t pushed out of bounds before doing so, the Seahawks could have run the clock down to about 0:40 and kicked a field goal.
      So yes, giving Drew Brees 40 seconds to get a TD (2 pt conversion) and FG does look better for the Hawks than giving him 2:40 to get two TD’s. But of course, hindsight is 20/20 and Lynch didn’t have the benefit of doing the math on this one as he stiff-armed Keenan Lewis and made a spectacular 31-yard run for a score. If it had been inside of 2:00 and the Seahawks could have knelt to victory, I would agree with you.

      • Drekkan

        Except they could have. He goes down with 2:40 on the clock. Especially playing at home they get the benefit of the doubt from the clock operator there. That’s enough to hit the 2 minute warning right there. First down snap comes just after the warning. Say each kneel takes 2 seconds.

        First down snap: 2:00
        Second down snap: 1:18
        Third down snap: 36 seconds

        And then clock runs out.

        • [email protected]

          I dont mind that play as a Seahawks fan. Lynch deserved a TD. It would have taken a mircale for the Saints to win that game at that point.

  • Joe

    Just curious- not a single mention of Russell Wilson? I understand the Seahawks won in spit of only getting ~100 yards out of him, but I figured at least mentioning his performance is something that should be mentioned in a re-focus of this game.

    • [email protected]

      I give Russell Wilson a B+ for this game. Did you see those two field goal attempts for the Saints? It was pretty windy and wet. He made some clutch plays and didnt turn the ball over.

  • Michael Terry

    I like how analysts always have to get in the “far from invincible” as if there has been an invincible team in the NFL since parity rules began. Congratulations, this season is just like every other.

  • [email protected]

    The game was over at the start of the 4th quarter with a 16-0 lead. If you want to call that a two score lead i personally dont. “The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them, ” Revelations 13: 7

  • erniesfo

    Lynch is one of strongest runners between the tackles in the NFL. It will be interesting to see Harvin’s status. For the niners to win they need to focus on stopping the run, end of story, period. As for pass rush, the niners will need to have a controlled, contained rush that does not give Wilson the outside shoulder and make him go backwards and unable to step up and plant. On defense, a widely-touted strength of Seattle is also, IMO, a weakness, and that’s their secondary. Why? Because tall DBs (over 6′) can be broken down, as both the 49ers and Colts showed. Do it with speed, putting a player in motion. Once unable to forcibly re-route WRs due to the Wrs speed or power all of Seatles DBs quickly resort to grabbing and holding. I actually think it’s a integral part of their D game plan. Seattle DBs are willing to take the hold and the automatic 1st Down and make the O reset. It’s worked well. It will be a tight game.

    • Daniel Dannen

      Oh, give the “grabbing and holding” meme a rest: it just makes you look like a stupid parrot. I doubt whether three of Seattle’s defensive backs would be voted All Pro if they were just a bunch of cheats.
      The fact is, watching the game on your TV you have no idea what Sherman (or any other defensive back) does for most of the game, because 90% of the time the TV camera is focused on the quarterback.

      • erniesfo

        Facinating analysis Danny. Hmmm, I wonder who is the most flagged team in the NFL…? Oh yeah, Seattle at 134 penalties for 1245 yards! I’ve actually seen Seattle’s players play in person, quite close up in fact. Why the defensiveness re Sherman? I actually saw him while at Stanford. The eye in the sky doesn’t lie. Neither do the flags that keep falling regardless of who the Seahawks play. That doesn’t mean they don’t have good players. My favorite is WR Doug Baldwin, also from Stanford. Go back, do your homework and then we can talk.

        • [email protected]

          You’re still an idiot to say that the secondary is a weakness for Seattle. Led the NFL for the second straight year in pass defense and scoring defense.

          If you want to talk about tactics, all Anquan Boldin does is run straight into the nearest defender and push off.

          • erniesfo

            Getting a little chippy there, eh Scottie? Seattle’s secondary is a relative weakness on a strong defensive team. How so? Because without Seattle’s front 8 (note I didn’t say front 7) performing well their secondary historically gets exposed – as any other defense normally would. Defenses work as a total unit – Front, LBs, back-end. In building it’s team Seattle’s front office chose to go big in the secondary. Any College/Pro WR/DB coach will tell you, there is a reason why the best DBs tend to be between 5-10/6′ max because as a rule, any taller and higher center of gravity a tall DB can be broken down, even by smaller receivers ) Seattle’s best DB is Earl Thomas (5-10). Why? Because his skill set allows Seattle to play with a single FS which is critical to Seattle’s basic scheme, which is to load the box to stop the run, using the SS on stunts to help DL and occasionally blitz. They’re good at it. If they don’t get get immediate pressure at the front end Seattle’s secondary gets exposed in a similar classic fashion to the way the 88 Bears were in the NFC CH. No magic involved. Teams that can control Seattle’s DL will affect their back end and their secondary’s efficiency falls accordingly. (See CAR, HOU, STL, TB, ARI, and yes, SF). Once Seattle’s DBs are required to defend the whole field beyond the 5yd mark the holding/grabbing begins. Part of that is, as I discussed earlier, a strategic choice/calculation – i.e., why give up a TD when you can grab and hold and maybe not get caught, or, at worst, take the 5yd holding and reset your D? As someone who played DB in HS/Col it makes perfect sense.

            This just in:

            Ok Scottie, let’s talk “tactics”, shall we?: Boldin has been called once this year for offensive PI (12/8). Compare that with, say Tate. Ok, let’s not go there as it gets ugly. Boldin has never been a speed guy. He plays similarly to Tony Gonzales – he eats your cushion (there’s the run into the nearest defender part), boxes you out a la B-Ball and outmuscles you. He’s very good at it.

            I hope this helps you.

          • [email protected]

            I’m not even reading that. Be more concise.

          • erniesfo

            Ok. Take your pick:
            A) You’re uninformed
            B) You’re misinformed
            C) You’re deluded
            D) You’re (willfully) blind

          • [email protected]

            So you were talking about the Seahawks secondary being the weakness of the team and being exploited? How did that work out?

          • erniesfo

            Please…Seattle deserved to win based on turnovers alone. Was Seattle the better team? Probably not. They’re a very good team and it’s great that they will rep the NFC West. Seattle gave up 300yds total yds on D, 153 pass yds. The niners got more first downs vs Seattle’s pass defense then their run defense. Watch the All-22: On the final play of the game the niners had 3 players open: Boldin, Patton, and Davis. The niners killed themselves and deserved to lose the game.

  • Jack Shelton