The New Orleans Saints wrap up week 7 NFL action with a Monday night trip on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks. New Orleans is 3-2 and coming off a bye week. The Seahawks enter the game at 2-4 and losers of four of their last five games.
The Saints have had some uncharacteristic offensive struggles over the first quarter of the year. Injuries to All-Pro WR Michael Thomas and offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy have hampered the unit, while QB Jameis Winston is still getting acclimated to the system.
New Orleans ranks just 28th in total offense, averaging 295 yards per game. They've had a solid rushing attack and have averaged over 25 points/game. However, the passing game has been far less productive than at any point during coach Sean Payton's 15-year tenure with the franchise.
The Saints face off against a Seattle team that consistently was among the league's best defenses through the middle part of last decade. This Seahawks team is one of the NFL's worst defenses.
Seattle ranks dead last in total defense, giving up an average of 433 yards per contest. The Seahawks have struggled against the run, but their vulnerability against the pass has dated back a few seasons.
The Saints passing game had their most productive two outings of the year before last week's bye. Will they continue that momentum against a floundering Seattle defense on the road?
SAINTS PASSING ATTACK VS. SEAHAWKS PASS DEFENSE
New Orleans has averaged just 169 yards/game through the air, unheard of production during Sean Payton's tenure. The Saints have the fewest passing attempts in the league, and only a putrid Chicago Bears offense has fewer passing yards.
QB Jameis Winston has met mixed reviews in his daunting task of replacing retired icon Drew Brees. He has completed 60% of his passes for just 892 yards, but has thrown 12 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions.
Winston has been much more productive over his last two outings, averaging over 252 yards with five touchdowns. He’s been more decisive with his decisions and has gotten the ball out of his hands faster to avoid sacks. He also adds a big-play threat that has been missing from the Saints offense over the last few seasons.
Without Michael Thomas in the lineup, nobody has emerged as a top pass catching threat for Winston.
Second-year WR Marquez Callaway has made some plays in recent weeks, but has been unable to capitalize on the momentum built off a spectacular training camp. Callaway has 13 receptions for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 159 of those yards coming in the last two games.
Third-year WR Deonte Harris, the league's most dangerous kick returner, has also emerged as the team's top wideout. Harris has 12 receptions for a team-high 236 yards and two scores.
Harris is a proven deep threat and a precise route runner underneath. However, he left the week five win over Washington with a hamstring injury that puts his status in question for Monday night.
Veteran WR Kenny Stills has three catches for 34 yards, but knows the system and has had a long touchdown called back by penalty. Stills provides a big-play threat that other wideouts Ty Montgomery, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, and Chris Hogan have not.
Tight end has been another area of disappointment for the Saints offense. Second-year TE Adam Trautman got off to an abysmal start and has only 6 receptions for 64 yards. Converted wideout Juwan Johnson has an identical stat line in limited snaps, but has three touchdown receptions and a nice chemistry with Winston.
Not surprisingly, Pro Bowl RB Alvin Kamara leads the team in receptions. What is surprising is that Kamara has only 15 catches for just 113 yards. The team has had difficulty getting their best weapon in space. They had more success with that against Washington, a trend that should continue through the rest of the year.
Thomas is expected to miss at least a few more games while recovering from ankle surgery, but complementary reinforcements could be on the way. The Saints activated WR Tre'Quan Smith from injured reserve earlier this week and may do the same with veteran TE Nick Vannett.
Winston's pass blocking has not lived up to the expectations caused by the last few years of stout protection. The Saints have allowed nine sacks, but Winston has also been hit or hurried on several other occasions.
Pro Bowl LT Terron Armstead has missed the last two games with injury and could be sidelined at least a few more weeks. Star C Erik McCoy, out since week one with a calf injury, appears close to returning to action. His return would allow Cesar Ruiz to move back to his right guard spot.
Calvin Throckmorton has played well at right guard, but Ruiz has had issues at center, especially in pass protection. Pro Bowl RT Ryan Ramczyk has had uncharacteristic struggles, while LG Andrus Peat continues to be maddeningly inconsistent.
SEAHAWKS PASS DEFENSE
Seattle's pass defense is allowing over 292 yards per game, ranking 28th in the league. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 68% of their throws against them, and the Seahawks have allowed the opposition over 300 yards passing in four of the last five games.
Once one of the NFL's most intimidating secondaries, the Seahawks have just two interceptions this season. Both of those are from FS Quandre Diggs, one of the league's most underrated players at the position.
Fourth-year CB D.J. Reed has developed into Seattle's most reliable player in coverage. Reed has allowed less than 54% completion percentage when targeted and his combative style allows him to match up well against most receivers.
The Seahawks biggest struggles are at the corner spot opposite Reed. Veteran Sidney Jones is the starter, but Jones has given up 75% completion percentage when targeted and is questionable for this game with a chest injury.
Rookie CB Tre Brown had a strong debut against Pittsburgh and will see significantly more playing time. Safeties Ugo Armadi and Marquise Blair are brought in as extra defensive backs in passing situations.
Veteran S Jamal Adams is one of the league's highest paid defenders, but has been a liability in coverage. Adams is most effective near the line of scrimmage, where he had an incredible 9.5 sacks last year, but is vulnerable in open space.
Pro Bowl LB Bobby Wagner is still a standout in coverage after ten seasons. Wagner is Seattle's best defender. He’s spectacular against the run, an efficient blitzer, and very instinctive in coverage. The rest of the Seahawks linebackers have been repeatedly exposed by opposing quarterbacks.
Jordyn Brooks is solid against the run, but often out of position in open space. Cody Barton is brought in on passing situations, while Darrell Taylor and Benson Mayowa are best used as pass rushers.
The lack of a consistent pass rush has been the undoing of the Seahawks defense for the last few seasons. Darrell Taylor has 4 of the team’s 11 sacks, but is unlikely to play on Monday after a scary injury against Pittsburgh last week.
Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks have also been effective blitzers, but Seattle hasn't been able to generate consistent pressure from their front four. Edge rushers Mayowa, Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Hyder, and Rasheem Green have combined for just 2 sacks and11 QB hits.
Defensive tackle Al Woods (1 sack, 5 pressures) is their best interior rusher, but DT Poona Ford is more of a run-stopper. Jamal Adams must be accounted for when he blitzes, but that has left the Seahawks open to quick passes.
What to Watch
Seattle has given big cushions to opposing receivers all season to prevent big plays over the top. The Seahawks lack of pass rush has left an overmatched secondary even more vulnerable. Opponents have had great success with crossing routes, with poor tackling on the back end leading to big plays.
The Saints passing attack has quietly developed a solid rhythm over their last two games. The timing between quarterback and receivers is clicking, and New Orleans has had success with a max-protect scheme. Winston has enjoyed better protection and has been brilliant with the deep ball. Callaway is finally emerging as a bona fide threat.
The Seahawks have allowed four 100-yard outings from wide receivers this season, and two more players with at least 90 yards. An eye-popping 14 players have five or more receptions against their coverage.
New Orleans has yet to have a 100-yard receiving game this year. Callaway could be a prime candidate to break that streak, especially if Harris can't play and Smith isn't ready to return yet.
Kamara had 9 receptions for 92 yards when these teams last faced off in 2019. Given his matchup advantage against Seattle's underneath coverage, he could have another productive receiving game on Monday.