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Seattle Seahawks
Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

What to watch for when the Seahawks take on the Saints in Week 7

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 23, 2021

By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The arrival of the New Orleans Saints is also a reminder of better days for the Seahawks.

It was the Saints who were the opponent for the Beast Quake game in 2010.

The Saints were the opponent for one of the most pleasant moments of the 2013 regular season – the 34-7 demolition of what was a 9-2 New Orleans team on a Monday night.

And it was the Saints who were the opponent for Seattle’s first playoff game on the run to the Super Bowl a few weeks later that year.

Now the Saints return for only the second time since 2013 at a time when the Seahawks could use another feel-good moment to keep hope alive on the 2021 season.

On with our keys to the game.

Matchup to watch

Seahawks pass rush vs. New Orleans QB Jameis Winston

The former No. 1 overall draft pick, who has always been known for his booming arm, has been the most efficient of his career in his first season as a starter under Sean Payton. He has the lowest yards-per-game average of his career at just 178.4 as the Saints rank just 31st in passing yards. But he has a 12-3 TD-to-interception ratio and a career-high 10.3 TD percentage. The Saints have one of the least-imposing receiver units in the NFL despite the expected return of Tre’Quan Smith – longtime standout Michael Thomas remains sidelined – and will lean heavily on the running of Alvin Kamara, one reason the passing numbers are down. But the way Seattle can turn the game is to force Winston into a mistake or two when he does drop back. And the way to do that is to get some pressure to force him into some errant throws or maybe a fumble. Seattle’s perimeter pass rush needs to come alive.

Player to watch

QB Geno Smith

Our player to watch last week is again our player to watch this week as Smith makes his second of at least three starts in place of an injured Russell Wilson. Smith had a mostly solid debut, rallying after a shaky debut to complete 15 of 18 passes after halftime and leading four scoring drives. But Smith also committed a critical turnover in the final moments for the second straight game. The challenge to get the offense going will be tougher this week against the Saints, who have the second-best run defense in the NFL and a ball-hawking secondary that has the third-most interceptions in the league with nine. Avoiding mistakes is Job One Monday night. But Smith has to balance that with still taking some shots downfield. As noted by ESPN this week, Smith average just 3.25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage on his passes against the Steelers, the lowest of the Pete Carroll era. Seattle may need to be more aggressive in this one.

Coaching decision to watch

To run or not to run?

The Seahawks got back in the game against the Steelers with a running attack that picked up 110 yards on 15 carries in the third quarter alone after getting just 18 on five in the first half. After a 14-5 pass-to-run ratio in a scoreless first half, Seattle had an 18-22 pass-to-run ratio in the second half. Carroll said this week that is the way the Seahawks may need to play while Smith is the QB, relying on the run as much as possible. That, though, would be easier to do if Chris Carson were healthy and Alex Collins also not banged up a bit. Hello, Rashaad Penny, expected to play significantly Monday. It may also have been easier to do against a Steelers team allowing 4.3 yards per carry. The Saints, meanwhile, are the best in the NFL against the run at 3.3 per attempt. But run Seattle will try on Monday night, and the success or lack thereof may determine the game.

The X-factor

Home-field advantage

After Sunday night’s loss, the Seahawks are 9-9 in their past 18 games, including the playoff loss to the Rams last January. That includes just a 5-4 mark at Lumen Field, and 0-2 this season, with Seattle having already lost to Tennessee and the Rams. Can a rainy Monday night bring back memories of the old Legion of Boom days? If nothing else, the conditions might favor Seattle – there is an 80% chance of rain with winds of 10-15 mph in the forecast as well. Certainly, the conditions might favor the way Seattle wants to play now – if there’s ever a night for running the ball this feels like it. But a few loud-crowd-induced sacks could go a long way toward helping Seattle as well.

Player who could surprise

RB Rashaad Penny

Penny, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, is getting one last shot to make that pick look at least somewhat more respectable as the team will call on him to take much of the load of the running game the next few weeks with Carson out. Assuming Collins is healthy he will keep playing, too. But the assumption is Penny has fresh legs and the hope will be that he can provide a complementary boost to Collins. Penny has played four games since December 2019, so fans are understandably skeptical. Penny has proven to be a good big-play threat when healthy, and Seattle can use all of those it can get as it navigates life without Wilson.

Key stat

Red-zone offense

While this is a matchup of two offenses that aren’t what they used to be with the Saints in the first year without Drew Brees and Seattle its second game without Wilson, what each team has been is efficient in the red zone.

The Saints, in fact, lead the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage at 92.9, scoring TDs on 13 of 14 trips inside the 20. Seattle, meanwhile, is fourth at 75%, scoring TDs on 12 of 16 trips, including two of three against the Steelers. Whichever team keeps that trend going Monday probably wins the game.

The Final Word

Seahawks 24, Saints 16

This feels like something of a make-or-break game for the 2-4 Seahawks. While much favors who on paper have the better defense and the more recently-accomplished quarterback, here’s to thinking that the Seahawks are due for a home game in which they turn back the clock some and get a crucial prime time win.

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