How Did Seattle Shut Down the Saints Offense?

When a great offense gets shut down the way the Saints did on Monday night, the tendency is to suggest that a blueprint suddenly exists. Or maybe that there was some defensive scheme devised which took away everything the offense could possibly do. Yet sometimes we fail to see what’s right in front of us – the physical aspect of the game. On Monday night, it was the Seahawks’ talent that stopped the Saints.

They didn’t do it with gimmicks. It wasn’t simply because of well-designed blitzes or confusing coverages that the Seahawks dominated the Saints. It was their team speed.

It was the speed on the defensive line, penetrating into the backfield to stop the run and breezing by blockers to get to the quarterback.

It was the speed of the linebacking corps that attacked the line of scrimmage quickly against the run, not allowing Saints RBs any room to maneuver. It was their speed that took away underneath routes in the passing game.

Finally, it was the speed of the secondary that stopped the Saints. Because of how fast they are, and how fast they played on Monday night, Seattle was able to employ the coverage concepts they normally use. They played lots of zone – mostly cover-3 with some quarters mixed in. They could play soft and take away deep passes over the top. At the same time, they could take away balls thrown underneath because of their ability to close so quickly. Passing window vanished just as quickly as they appeared.

From start to finish, the Seahawks were easily able to handle the strengths of the Saints passing game. They limited yards after the catch, something that normally makes New Orleans so dangerous. They also had little-to-no difficulty reacting to the Saints’ stack and bunch formations.

In these alignments, the idea is normally for two or three receivers to release off the line in such a way that it confuses defenders. The fear of playing press-man coverage against bunches and stacks is that defenders will bump into each other or get picked when the receivers’ routes crisscross. Teams that struggle playing off-coverage against these formations have communication and reaction issues. They play the release of the receivers, with each defender matching up based on WHERE the route is run instead of WHO is running it. It’s still easy for defenders to get confused and blow coverages using this approach. Seattle didn’t fall for any of it on Monday. They were able to sit back, react to the routes, and close quickly, thwarting one of the Saints’ most productive tactics.

Between their pass rush, the occasional blitz, and the pace with which they flew around the field, Seattle didn’t allow Drew Brees to get comfortable. The offense was completely out of rhythm and unable to do anything. We’ve rarely seen Sean Payton’s aggressive Saints offense look so passive and reactive.

The speed of Seattle’s defense allowed the Saints little margin for error. The noise in CenturyLink Field added another element, making it nearly impossible for the Saints to operate smoothly with all of their personnel packages and frequent substitutions. A defensive touchdown, a fast start by Seattle and a porous Saints defense made life even more difficult for New Orleans, basically ending this game by halftime.

The Seahawks are a very good football team, capable of putting up this type of performance on a weekly basis. If the rest of the NFC wasn’t sure before Monday night, the road to the Super Bowl now officially goes through Seattle.

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