Tale of the Tape: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
Two teams boasting prolific offenses and stingy defenses face off Monday night when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints visit Seattle for a showdown with the Seahawks.
The Saints hold a slim half-game lead over the hard-charging Carolina Panthers and are coming off a narrow 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons a week ago. Seattle has won six straight games, and comes in off a bye as the top team in the NFC at 10-1.
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
The offense struggled for most of last week's win over the hapless Falcons, but that has proven to be a minor blip in what has been an incredible attack. Brees has the passing game humming along, ranked second in the league entering the weekend at 317.3 yards per game with 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. The rush attack hasn't been nearly as effective, at just 1,075 yards through the first 11 games and having accumulated only seven scores.
Russell Wilson has struggled to improve his passing credentials in his second full season - and having two of his top three wideouts (Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin) out of the lineup for most of the year hasn't helped. The Seahawks came into the weekend 25th in total passing yards (2,316), but do have 20 touchdowns against six interceptions. Marshawn Lynch leads a stout ground attack that sits among the league leaders in yards (1,627) with 10 TDs to date.
New Orleans' emerging defensive unit isn't surprising anyone anymore - but it's still punishing the opposition on a weekly basis. The Saints come into the weekend allowing the third-fewest passing yards in the league (2,178) while limiting foes to 11 touchdowns through the air and snagging 10 interceptions. New Orleans has 37 sacks so far, and is in the middle of the pack in rushing yards against (1,231) despite surrendering a whopping 4.8 yards per carry.
Seattle's success continues to be built on a relentless defense that has overcome injuries and suspensions along the way. Only the Houston Texans had allowed fewer passing yards than the Seahawks coming into the weekend (1,984), and opposing teams have 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions against them. Seattle is league-average when it comes to rushing yards against (1,242) but has limited the opposition to just four majors on the ground.
New Orleans is above-average in the kick-return game - averaging 24.2 yards per attempt - but ranks near the bottom of the league in punt-return average (6.1). The Saints are at a deficit in both categories, surrendering 25.2 kick-return yards per attempt and 6.9 punt-return yards per opportunity. Veteran placekicker Garrett Hartley has converted just 20-of-26 field-goal chances, but made his only attempt - a 41-yarder - in last week's triumph over the Falcons.
Seattle's kick-return game has been dreadful so far in 2013 - averaging just 20.6 yards per attempt - but the punt-return unit is at 12.3 yards per attempt, one of the top rates in the league. Opposing teams are averaging a robust 24.9 yards on kick returns, but have been held to an unfathomable 1.4 yards per punt-return attempt. Kicker Steven Hauschka has been one of the top players at his position, missing just one of his 25 field-goal opportunities this season.
"We got our work cut out for us. This is a well-coached team. They've got a hired killer back there running the ball. This is what you get, I guess, this time of year and it will be a hell of a challenge." - Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on Lynch and the Seahawks
"Any one of these games, you look back, if we make the mistakes at the end that don't get us the win that would be the game we might look back to. So we honestly realized that every one of these games are championship opportunities to us and we practice like it's the biggest game you've ever seen." - Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.