The loss of Ivory and Thomas could be critical because they were the Saints' only two rushers to gain more than 200 yards this year. The pair accounted for 78 percent of the team's rushing touchdowns (seven) and 65 percent of its rushing yards (985). They also were the only consistent between-the-tackles, physical runners.
"That's tough," QB Drew Brees said of losing them. "You can't deny that. Just because of the physical presence they bring and obviously their productivity."
It'll be interesting to see how their absences affect Payton's play-calling. No team had a bigger run-to-pass discrepancy than the Saints. They had 307 more passes than runs, and it's possible Payton might lean even more heavily on Brees, who threw for 382 yards and four scores (with two picks) in a 34-19 win over the Seahawks in November. Reggie Bush shouldered more of the running load last week with Ivory and Thomas out, but he's a perimeter/space player and has looked timid at times since returning from a broken leg. Maybe it means more carries for Julius Jones, who lost a fumble near the goal line last week.
So, barring a setback, look for Hasselbeck to take the field Saturday. (
Saints linebacker Scott Shanle pooh-poohed the Seahawks' offensive production in the November game, telling reporters that New Orleans was basically milking a 34-16 third-quarter lead. "The one thing I remember about that game is we had gotten up and it was really a two-minute mode for a good portion of the second half," he said. "We were in a lot of conservative defenses, not bringing a whole lot of pressure and playing a lot of man. A lot of those yards were check-down yardage."
Carroll admits that at times his team looked like it "didn't have a clue" during the skid. Last weekend it was focused, disciplined and completely in sync. It'll take another such effort to slow the Saints, who burned them for 494 yards in November.
One of the keys will be how Seattle deals with New Orleans' vertical passing game. The Saints tied for fifth with 10 scoring passes of at least 20 yards, while the Seahawks allowed more completions of 20 yards or longer than every team but one, including a league-high 14 touchdowns.
That's where Seattle's renowned 12th Man could come into play. Qwest Field is one of the league's loudest open-air stadiums, and when the crowd is rocking, visiting teams often rely on silent counts. That gives the defensive line a head start at the snap of the ball. And the more pressure Seattle can apply, the better its chances of disrupting Brees and the Saints' downfield passing game.
The oddsmaker give the Seahawks no chance. They installed them not only as 10 1/2-point underdogs to win the game, but 100-1 'dogs to win the Super Bowl. No other team is worse than 18-1. But this game will be closer than people think. The Saints are banged up, have to travel cross-country on a short week, have never won a playoff game on the road, and likely will be playing in rain and cold, not the controlled conditions of the Superdome. Still, the Seahawks' struggles to score touchdowns will result in a New Orleans victory.