With both teams facing different degrees of urgency heading into Week 7, the Seahawks will return home looking to snap a two-game losing streak when the Saints come to town for a Monday Night Football clash.
Despite a valiant effort by Geno Smith replacing Russell Wilson and leading a 14-point comeback to force overtime in Pittsburgh, Seattle fell just short in a 23-20 defeat, dropping to 2-4 on the season. Receiving a much-needed bye week with numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, New Orleans rested last weekend and sits in second place behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South with a 3-2 record.
Which matchups will hold the most importance when the Seahawks tangle with the Saints in prime time at Lumen Field?
--Seahawks linebackers Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks versus Saints running back Alvin Kamara: Last time these two teams met, Kamara torched Seattle's defense both as a runner and receiver, amassing 161 combined yards and two touchdowns in a 33-27 New Orleans victory. Pro Football Focus credited him with 12 missed tackles forced in the contest, as he slipped through would-be tacklers as if his uniform was drenched in butter and displayed surprising power at 215 pounds. This season, especially with receiver Michael Thomas still recovering from offseason surgery, the fifth-year back has been heavily featured in the run and pass game for the Saints and he will undoubtedly be a focal point in Monday's rematch. Limiting yards after contact will be crucial for the Seahawks, particularly when Kamara gets the ball in his hands as a receiver on screens and swing routes. The onus for slowing him down will fall primarily on Wagner and Brooks, who will be further tested by a forecast calling for rainy, windy conditions. Wrapping will be key and arms tackles simply won't get it done against this playmaking dual-threat back.
--Seahawks receivers DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Freddie Swain versus Saints secondary: The elements may make this matchup less of a factor if winds wreak havoc with each team's respective passing games. But assuming the weather doesn't impact things too much, despite having a talented trio of wideouts at his disposal, Smith will have to be careful how aggressively he tests one of the most talented secondaries in the league. Led by Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore and versatile veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints entered Week 7 ranked third in the NFL in interceptions (9) and all but one of those came from defensive backs. Lattimore has enjoyed a strong start to the season, producing a whopping 10 pass breakups and allowing a 68.2 passer rating, while safety Marcus Williams has played like an All-Pro with two interceptions and a 20.8 passer rating against. Full of ball hawks at corner and safety, Smith's best bet may be to attack rookie Paulson Adebo, who despite picking off two passes has yielded 22 receptions for 331 yards and three touchdowns in coverage this year. Slot cornerback Chauncey Gardner-Johnson may also present a mismatch to exploit in the slot, particularly if Metcalf sees extensive time reduced inside.
--Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs versus Saints quarterback Jameis Winston: Taking over as the heir apparent for Drew Brees, Winston has exhibited improved discipline and decision making orchestrating Sean Payton's offense and has thrown only three interceptions thus far. But as illustrated on a head-scratching pick against Washington in Week 5, the former Florida State star will still willingly throw into double or even triple coverage at times, particularly when under pressure. This year, per PFF, he ranks sixth among quarterbacks with 130 or more drop backs in "turnover worthy play" percentage and has thrown all three of his picks in such situations. Assuming Seattle can find a way to ratchet up some pressure on Winston, there will be a few times in the game where he may put too much faith in his arm and put the ball up for grabs. One of the best playmaking center fielders in the sport, Diggs knows how to bait quarterbacks into bad decisions and could be poised to jump a route for a pick against an injury-depleted Saints receiving corps lacking viable downfield threats.
--Seahawks interior offensive line versus Saints defensive tackles and linebacker Demario Davis: Though New Orleans let former first-round pick Sheldon Rankins walk, the front line has remained formidable deploying a by-committee approach along the defensive line with the criminally underrated Davis making plays behind them at the second level. Through six weeks, the team has allowed just 79 rushing yards per game, ranking second in the NFL. But the Seahawks still have reason to be confident about this matchup given how well the trio of Gabe Jackson, Kyle Fuller, and reserve Jamarco Jones played against a stout Steelers front seven a week ago, allowing Alex Collins to rush for most of his 101 yards after halftime. Assuming Damien Lewis returns to the lineup at left guard, Seattle may have the horses in the trenches to be able to create some push against a core of defensive tackles consisting of Albert Huggins, Malcolm Roach, Shy Tuttle, and Christian Ringo. Getting the ground attack going early will take pressure off Smith, and considering the forecast, could be the team's best path to a victory.
--Seahawks safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Marquise Blair versus Saints tight ends Juwan Johnson and Adam Trautman: Minus Thomas and Deonte Harris, who was ruled out on Friday with a hamstring injury, the Saints will be missing two of their top wideouts on Monday night. Even with Harris, the team hasn't actually been lighting it up yardage-wise in the passing game, ranking 31st in the NFL in passing and tied for last in the league in 20-plus yard pass completions. Adding in the potential for inclement weather, Winston will likely be targeting Kamara as well as his tight ends often in the quick strike passing game. Statistically, Johnson and Trautman have combined to catch just 12 passes for 128 yards, but the athletic 6-foot-4, 231-pound Johnson has found the end zone three times as one of Winston's favorite red zone targets. While those two players aren't household names, Blair gives up quite a bit of size in the slot against both of them. As for Adams, he gave up a touchdown to Rams tight end Tyler Higbee in the red zone in Week 5 and teams haven't shied away from targeting him. This is an under-the-radar matchup that bears watching and could have a surprising impact on the final outcome.
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