The 1-3 New Orleans Saints look to snap a three-game losing streak when they host the 2-2 Seattle Seahawks this Sunday. New Orleans is coming off a frustrating loss to the Vikings in London, while Seattle pulled out a 48-45 shootout at Detroit.
Ineffective play, injuries, and self-inflicted mistakes have plagued the Saints offense through four games. They rank ninth in total yardage, but have committed the most turnovers in the league and average just 18th in scoring. Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Taysom Hill, and Andrus Peat have all missed time with injuries. Winston and Thomas are likely sidelined for a second straight outing this weekend.
New Orleans has also struggled to consistently run the ball this season. They'll try to right themselves against a Seattle defense that ranks 31st in total yards and points allowed. Balance is the key to most successful offenses, but especially for a team starting a second-string quarterback.
Can New Orleans run the ball well enough to establish balance for projected starting QB Andy Dalton against the Seahawks?
New Orleans Rushing Attack
- 19 points per game
- 111.5 rushing yards/game (16th)
- 5.1 per rush (7th)
- 4 rushing touchdowns (6th)
- 34.7% 3rd Down Percentage (24th)
Saints RB Alvin Kamara looks like he’ll play this Sunday against Seattle. Kamara has been dealing with a rib injury that's sidelined for two of the last three weeks. When he's been in the lineup, his production has been less than impressive. He has 100 yards on 24 carries, a meager five receptions for 19 yards, and has yet to reach the end zone.
The 27-year-old Kamara is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. Despite his lackluster numbers so far, he’s a matchup nightmare for defenses. If he can get on track, either as a runner or receiver, he takes the Saints offense to another level.
With Kamara limited, twelve-year veteran Mark Ingram has led the Saints in rushing with 128 yards and a score while averaging 4.4 per carry. The franchise's all-time rushing leader, Ingram is still a bruising runner between the tackles with the burst to get to the second level.
Utility weapon Taysom Hill is listed as a tight end, but is still most dangerous as a runner out of the backfield. Hill has 116 rushing yards and two scores on just 12 touches. He has the strength to bulldoze tacklers, but also sprinters speed to break big plays.
With Winston probably out, Hill’s snaps could be limited because he also serves as the number two quarterback. He was in a similar role last week, but still had 21 yards and a score on five carries. Using Hill out of the backfield is a solid complement to Ingram and a banged up Kamara.
Latavius Murray was the team’s leading rusher against the Vikings, but was poached off the practice squad this week by Denver. Without Murray, the Saints could turn to Tony Jones Jr. or special teams ace Dwayne Washington for backfield snaps.
A major reason the Saints haven't been consistent on the ground this year has been because of erratic performances from their offensive line. Pro Bowl RT Ryan Ramczyk is among the best at his position, but has had a down year so far. Third-year RG Cesar Ruiz is a better run blocker than pass protector, but has not been close to living up to his first-round status.
Fifth-year C Erik McCoy is a terrific blocker with the athleticism to pull outside on off-tackle runs. Andrus Peat should be back after missing last week with a concussion, while LT James Hurst is an experienced starter.
Seattle Run Defense
- 28.8 points per game (31st)
- 154 rushing yards/game (29th)
- 5.1 per rush (28th)
- 6 rushing touchdowns (29th)
- 16 tackles for loss
- 46 8% 3rd Down Percentage (29th)
The Seahawks have allowed two 100-yard rushers and another of 84 yards this season. Their 3-4 front has been getting blown off the ball. Especially on off-tackle plays, where they've been allowing big rushing lanes for runners to cut back or bounce outside.
Defensive linemen Shelby Harris, Poona Ford, Al Woods, and Quinton Jefferson are big-bodied pass rushers, but have done little to stalemate blockers at the point of attack. Outside linebackers Darrell Taylor, Uchenna Nwosu, and rookie Boye Mafe are lightning-fast off the snap, but are getting overwhelmed by more physical blockers.
The failure of Seattle's front line is allowing opposing runners to get to the second level easily, often with lead blockers in front of them. That's limiting the effectiveness of their two talented inside linebackers, Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton.
Brooks, in his third season out of Texas Tech, leads the Seahawks with 43 tackles after setting a franchise record in tackles last season. Barton is a similarly effective run-stopper. Both are smart players who are rarely out of position against the run. However, neither have been effective getting to the edge to stop a runner before turning the corner, and both have been getting pushed backwards on inside runs.
The loss of S Jamal Adams to a season-ending injury has been a crippling loss to the Seahawks run defense. Adams was often employed as an extra linebacker near the line of scrimmage. Josh Jones and Teez Tabor have been far less skilled and physical as his replacements, though FS Quandre Diggs remains a top-tier defender.
What to Expect
Alvin Kamara has been efficient on the ground in two career games against Seattle, rushing for 120 yards on 36 attempts. He’s been spectacular as a receiver, catching 19 passes on 21 targets for 220 yards. A healthy Kamara presents a huge matchup advantage over Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton, who are limited in space.
Seattle's struggles against off-tackle plays and cutback runners is tailor-made for a New Orleans running game that schemes for exactly those plays. Kamara, Ingram, and Taysom Hill could all have big days for the first time this season.
With the expected absence of Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton should still have success against the Seahawks’ 28th ranked pass defense. However, I expect the Saints to come out with a run-heavy game plan and try to bully a Seattle defense that’s been manhandled all season.