Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
It’s Thanksgiving week and since the New Orleans Saints are about to play the biggest regular season game in team history, let’s skip the intro and save the whole column to breaking this game down.
Rob Ryan's Big Chart of Fun: All year long I’ll be charting how the Saints defense does under Rob Ryan in certain situations. For a full explanation of how it works read this. Special thanks to the guys at Black and Gold Review who took the chart and made it interactive.
The Saints defense has done two things basically the entire year: win on first down and not allow big plays in passing situations.
The Saints have yet to allow a team to average four yards rushing on first down in any game. In the chart, I include sacks as first down rushes because a sack on first down is golden.
The second thing the Saints have done is they are yet to allow more than 10 completions of more than 10 yards on 3rd and long in a game. That means teams don’t get big plays and easy scores. Atlanta moved the ball but nothing came quick and easy.
I thought Rob Ryan having a giant smiley face on his play-calling sheet was unique but thanks to everyone who emailed alerting me to the fact Rob had a pinup girl and a fish on his play-calling sheet in Dallas. Ryan is the best.
Last Week: 5-0
New Orleans (+6) at Seattle: Just how big is this game? If the Saints win they gain control in the chase for the no. 1 seed in the NFC. If the Saints lose they will probably be tied with Carolina for first in the NFC South and there is a 50/50 chance the 11-5 Saints will open the playoffs in 9-6-1 Green Bay.
In case you aren’t aware the Saints, have never won a road playoff game. (No, the Super Bowl in Miami doesn’t count.)
The stakes couldn’t be any higher for a Dec. 2 game.
Seattle does to teams at home what the Saints do to teams at home under Sean Payton: annihilate them. During their 13-game home winning streak, Seattle has outscored teams 405-172 and only Tampa and New England have scored more than 20 points.
Against Tampa the Seahawks overcame a 21-0 deficit, which is quite the trick, and if that doesn’t convince you of the task the Saints face I don’t know what to tell you.
Seattle has had seven players suspended since 2011 because of failed drug tests, illegal and performance related. They are lucky they aren’t a baseball team and the media doesn’t care about what football players put in their bodies. If a baseball team did this every ESPN talking head would go insane.
The Seahawks will be missing two of their top three corners, but that’s not what’s going to swing the game in the Saints favor. What are going to decide this game besides turnovers are the Saints offensive and defensive lines.
Let’s start on offense. The Saints offensive line got shoved around in Tampa and in New York Drew Brees got sacked twice and hit far too often.
Seattle’s crowd is legendary for their ability to make noise, so the Saints will need the best performance of 2013 from Brees’ bodyguards. If the Saints stay out of third and long and can have the running game they’ve had the past three weeks, they’ll be fine.
On defense, the Saints defensive line needs to dominate the Seahawks injured and inconsistent offensive front. According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints defense ranks first in adjusted sack rate and the Seahawks rank 30th in protecting their quarterback. The Saints showed once again last Thursday in Atlanta they destroy mediocre and poor offensive lines.
America doesn’t quite understand how good the Saints defensive line is. Oh sure, they know Rob Ryan has made the Saints defense pretty good, but Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks aren’t just pretty good. They are a young, dominant, quarterback-killing tandem that Bradley covered in detail. I’d rank them the most valuable Saints players not named Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham.
The Saints pass rush will protect a secondary that’s significantly weaker without Jabari Greer. Next Tuesday get ready for the national media to be saying, “I knew the Saints defense was better, but I didn’t realize they were that dominant.”
The Saints defense is due to create some turnovers and the pass rush will have a big hand in getting them. This game will be about the Saints showing toughness and an ability to win in nasty cold weather.
Expect Akiem Hicks to get the full Jon Gruden treatment. “THIS GUY Akiem Hicks played and dominated in Canada. Mike, playing football in Canada is like playing in a different country.” Listening to Gruden gush over Hicks is well worth the price to watch Hicks sack Russell Wilson three times. In awful weather the Saints are going to win the ugliest game you ever see.
LSU (-24.5) vs. Arkansas: The Tigers looked spectacular against Texas A&M and a win against the Razorbacks means LSU probably heads to the Cotton Bowl to play Baylor. That would be a really fun game to watch and that’s about all you can ask for in a bowl game.
Carolina (-8.5) vs. Tampa Bay: The Bucs have been competitive in all of their games except in New England and against the Panthers. You’ll watch this game for 10 minutes hoping Tampa does the Saints a favor before changing the channel in disgust.
Detroit (-6) vs. Green Bay: The Lions on Thanksgiving is a tradition, but so was throwing witches in the river. All bad traditions eventually end is all I’m saying.
Denver (-4) at Kansas City: The Chiefs lost their top two pass rushers, which is never good when facing Peyton Manning. Are you ready for an Andy Reid-Marvin Lewis first-round playoff game? It will be the bad clock management Mona Lisa of playoff games.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.