On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks will play host to the conference rival, New Orleans Saints. The 1-1 Saints’ playoff hopes took a hit last week as future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees’ thumb suffered an ulnar collateral ligament tear. The tear occurred as Brees completed his throwing motion on a pass-attempt against the Los Angeles Rams — the thumb smashed into the palm of Aaron Donald, Los Angeles’ 2-time Defensive Player of the Year. Teddy Bridgewater, and interestingly Taysom Hill, have taken the reigns as New Orleans’ two-headed signal caller. Fortunately for Brees, the team declined to place him on Injured-Reserve — a move that would bar him from playing for at least eight weeks. Per Dr. David Chao, he should be able to return to play six weeks from now.
Outside of Brees, New Orleans’ doesn’t have many injuries of note. Backup field-burner Tre’Quan Smith is likely out with an ankle injury after Wednesday and Thursday “Did Not Participate” designations. Ted Ginn Jr., who still owns a majority-share of the Saints’ downfield targets, over Smith, has been a limited practice participant over the same timeframe, meaning, he should be good to go. LG Andrus Peat and DL Sheldon Rankins have both been limited participants in practice this week and are therefore likely to play on Sunday as well.
Seattle, on the other hand, has a much more extensive injury report. Exactly six players were limited participants on Thursday, including CB Tre Flowers, FS Tedric Thompson, and RG D.J. Fluker. LG Ethan Pocic and CB Neiko Thorpe have not practiced this week, trending in the wrong direction for Sunday availability.
Drew Brees’ injury is likely to lead to a more slow-paced game than head coach Sean Payton would typically like to employ, something that’s sure to bring a smile to Pete Carroll’s face. Carroll’s run-centric game plans are much more workable when the Seahawks face an opponent willing to do the same. Alvin Kamara has seen touch totals of 20 and 14 through two weeks and we should expect to see something more towards the 20-25-touch neighborhood this week. The uptick in Kamara touches would allow the Saints to keep the ball in the hands of its playmakers while limiting turnover opportunities for the new quarterback duo. The likely debut of defensive end Ziggy Ansah should aid in slowing the dynamic Kamara though. Rumors of Ansah’s availability have all been for naught in Weeks 1 and 2, however, he’s logged “Full Participation” designations in both practices this week, setting the table for his return.
On Wednesday, Payton shocked reporters by insinuating that Teddy Bridgewater may not be the full-time quarterback in Drew Brees’ absence. Gadget QB Taysom Hill has been one of New Orleans’ favorite toys for over a year now, routinely subbing in for Brees in the red zone and running difficult-to-stifle Wild Cat-style plays. Hill’s also been lining up (productively) as both a running back and receiver, and on occasion returning punts and kickoffs. In Week 1, Hill logged both rushing and receiving touchdowns in New Orleans’ 30-28 victory over the Houston Texans. It would not be a surprise to see the Saints run somewhere in the neighborhood of 65-70 offensive snaps, with Bridgewater in for 55-60 and Hill in, simultaneously or otherwise, for 30. Luckily, the speed of Seattle’s front-seven — especially linebackers Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and 4.38-second 40-yard-dasher Shaquem Griffin — should be enough to keep the quarterback gadgetry mostly in-check.
The Seahawks’ fading secondary is problematic though. Expect the workload of 2018 All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas to be even larger than the 13 targets he logged in each of the first two 2019 games. Sean Payton loves to engineer touches in the short-to-intermediate area of the field for the 6’3”, 213lbs playmaker, reminiscent of how former Saints wide receiver/tight end hybrid Marques Colston was used. Weak safety play has frustratingly resulted in numerous gains of 35-or-more yards, through the air, as well. If Ted Ginn Jr. is indeed able to play, he’s a serious threat to house any ball he catches
The Saints’ defensive deficiencies line up nicely for the Seahawks’ offense though. Both Houston and Los Angeles’ running back committees have found reasonable success against them with Houston’s backs totalling 175 yards from scrimmage and L.A.’s going 114 and a score. Houston’s speedy quarterback, Deshaun Watson, was also able to add 40 rushing yards and score on the ground as well. Russell Wilson’s surely eyeing that stat-line, as one he’d like to beat.
Although Pete Carroll chose air things out in the second half, last week, it’s likely a return to Week 1’s game plan is coming. Russell Wilson was allowed just 20 pass attempts in Week 1 but was unleashed against Pittsburgh in Week 2, completing 29 of 35 passes for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was a performance to remember, and one Wilson could regularly replicate if given the opportunity. The play calling showed overall improvement with a smattering of early down pass plays that resulted in chunk gains, with Carroll-required returns to run-based 3-and-outs sprinkled in. Continuing to diversify personnel packages and the plays run out of them will pay dividends down the line and we did see some of that last week. This week, however, with the Saints likely aiding in a clock-killing endeavor, Russell Wilson will probably return to a 25-pass attempt ceiling.
With the self-stifling of the passing game comes a boon to the backfield though. The new-look dual-threat Chris Carson should once again touch the ball almost as many time and Wilson’s throws it, despite a case of The 2019 Fumbles. Until Rashaad Penny wrenches bell cow duties away from Carson by the strength of his own play, and not the intermittent follies of the latter, the Seahawks’ offense will be Chris Carson-centric.
Although New Orleans hasn’t been very susceptible to tight ends through the air, the Russell Wilson-Will Dissly connection has a shot to continue. Ever since Jimmy Graham’s final season here, Wilson has favored his big-bodied options down in the red zone. Dissly’s patellar tear recovery, and subsequent development, has been fun to watch.
Fortunately, the Saints secondary has been generous through the air, particularly to both slot receivers and deep threat specialists. Both Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are solid bets to score this week, even with Russell Wilson’s likely dialed-back workload. Both receivers are playing exceptionally well this year and we can expect that to handily continue as the Seahawks close out a home victory, this Sunday afternoon.