Seattle, WA. -
The heavily favored New Orleans Saints (11-6, 9-4) were knocked out of the NFL Wildcard round of the playoffs with a terrible loss to the Seattle Seahawks (8-9, 7-6) with a score of 41-36. Though the Saints rallied late, it was not enough as the NFC West Division Champion Seahawks did just enough to pull off what many consider a huge upset. It would have to be considered an upset as Seattle came into the game as the first divsion winner in NFL history to post a record of 7-9 and host a playoff game.
There are plenty of sites that one can go to for play-by-play highlights and stats of the game. One is the New Orleans Saints news and events home page which provides very good reporting of the action. The purpose of this article is not to give a regurgitation of every play that happened at Qwest Field up in the 'Great' Northwest. It is to look at what went wrong and some things that may need to be addressed in the offseason.
First off, the defensive secondary can not let receivers, tight ends, running backs, water boys, cheerleaders, or whomever it may have been get behind the coverage. Safety Roman Harper was beat on three different plays where a Seattle player broke free past him for a TD. If Harper, or whoever is back there can not cover, they need help with a different scheme. Speaking of defense, the Saints can't miss six tackles in one play and let a running back score on a 67-yard TD run, which looked like a football folly reel that Mike Golic or someone would commentate on.
The next point to make deals with the absent running game of the defending Superbowl Champions. In 2009, New Orleans signed hard-running veteran Mike Bell from Denver. Bell provided the ever-needed running attack for the Saints all the way to a championship last season. In supportive roles were Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Mickey Loomis and the front office did not re-sign Bell, or bring in a veteran like they did in 2009. They drafted RB Chris Ivory and gambled on the health of Thomas and Bush.
In his defense, Ivory was the bright spot in the rushing offense leading New Orleans in yards in 2010. However, the gamble failed as Ivory, Thomas, and Bush all missed serious time during the season. Injuries happen, but the best the front office could do was bring in veteran journeyman backup Ladell Betts, which did not help very much. To their credit, they signed Julius Jones, a former starter in the league, later in the season who helped them win some games down the stretch.
Fast-forward to today; Ivory is still out, Thomas is still out, Betts is gone, and Bush does very little on the ground with 12 yards. Jones had a decent game rushing with 59 yards and 2 TD's, but fumbled once which he did consistently this year. In comparison, RB Marshawn Lynch rushed for 131 yards and a TD on the day for Seattle. The Saints rushed for 77 yards and the Seahawks gained 149 yards. This is an example of how New Orleans has been out-rushed in almost every game this year. This is a key component for the front office to address.
With a limited running game, the pressure falls squarely on the Saints All-Pro QB Drew Brees. Brees has proven himself to never give up, never lose composure, and keep his team in the game until the last play. This he did as he completed 39 of 60 passes for 404 yards and 2 TD's, engineering a scoring drive to pull within 5 points with 1:30 left in the 4th quarter. It was not enough as the Saints special teams kicker, Garret Hartley, had a poor attempt at an on-sides try that was not at all possible for his team to recover. In comparison to Brees, Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck threw for 4 TD's and had a rating of 113 points for one of the best games of his career.
So, as the Saints board the plane to fly back to the Big Easy, what will it take to get over this loss and improve on it for 2011. First, some time for the hurt to go away as they are now expected to go deep in the playoffs every year. Next, some decisions by the front office personnel to boost the running game. And last, some help in the secondary who has seen its share of injuries for a very good coordinator in Gregg Williams.
Best of luck in the draft and free-agency to the New Orleans Saints for the 2011 season.