When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. PST, Louisiana Superdome
Records: Seahawks are 5-4 and first in the NFC West; Saints are 6-3 and second in the NFC South
TV: KCPQ/13, with Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick
Radio: 97.3 FM and 710 ESPN, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller
Seahawks defense vs. Saints QB Drew Brees: This will be an all-afternoon, all-hands-on-deck assignment, as the Seahawks try to decipher the riddle that is dealing with Brees – the MVP in the Saints’ Super Bowl victory in February. Despite the array of options at his disposal – from explosive RB Reggie Bush, to leading receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, to productive tight end David Thomas – it’s Brees’ over-the-top confidence that makes the Saints’ seventh-ranked offense hum. He leads the league in completions (261), completion percentage (.698) and third-down passer rating (112.1, with 10 TDs) and is second in TD passes (18). Brees has thrown 12 interceptions, but seven came in two hiccup games.
One to watch
Saints CB Jabari Greer vs. Seahawks WR Mike Williams: Because Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to blitz – against the run, as well as the pass – it leaves Greer in one-on-one situations a lot. He has two interceptions, including a 24-yard return for a touchdown in the Saints’ pre-bye blowout victory against the Panthers. He also is considered one of the better cover corners in the league. But Greer also has had trouble against big, physical receivers. All the 6-foot-5 Williams has done in the past five games is catch a career-high 11 passes twice and also turn in a 10-catch effort.
Fun to watch
Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates vs. Williams: These two have known each other for quite a while, and respect one another. But Sunday, to the aggressor will go the spoils. Williams has built his considerable reputation by being one of the most aggressive and innovative defensive coordinators in the league. Last week, rather than get bogged down in all the things his offense didn’t do well in back-to-back losses to the Raiders and Giants, Bates came out with his own aggressive approach in a 36-18 romp over the Cardinals in Arizona. Let the sideline chess match begin.
One tough task
The Seahawks. The Saints aren’t just the defending Super Bowl champions. They are coming off their bye week. They are on a two-game winning streak, in which they outscored the Steelers and Panthers 54-13. They rank among the Top 10 in the league in passing defense (No. 1), overall defense (No. 3), passing offense (No. 5) and overall offense (No. 7). Oh, and the game is being played in the Superdome. As Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck put it, “I can’t imagine a tougher scenario. But it’s OK. I think we’re excited to try.”
In two career games against the Seahawks, Brees is 52 of 85 for 578 yards, with five TD passes and one interception. … Colston, who leads the team with 54 receptions, has at least four in all nine games. … Shockey (31 and three) and Thomas (27 and two) have combined for 58 receptions and five touchdowns, but Shockey has been ruled out of Sunday’s game … Bush is expected to return after missing the past seven games seven games because of a broken fibula in his right leg. … The Seahawks have not played a regular-season game in New Orleans since the 2004 season opener, which they won 21-7. … The Saints won the last game in the series, 28-17 at Qwest Field in 2007. … The Seahawks return from this game to play their only back-to-back home games this season – next week against the Chiefs and Dec. 5 against the Panthers. … With 7½ sacks, Seahawks DE Chris Clemons needs one more to surpass his career-high total of eight from 2007 while playing with the Raiders. … CB Marcus Trufant leads the Seahawks in tackles (50), while LB Jonathan Vilma leads the Saints (68).
When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. PST, Louisiana Superdome
Record: 6-3 and second in the NFC South coming out of their bye week
Where they rank: No. 7 on offense (25th rushing, 5th passing); No. 3 on defense (17th rushing, 1st passing)
Series: Tied 5-5. The Saints won the last meeting – 28-17 at Qwest Field in 2007 – to snap the Seahawks’ three-game winning streak.
Star power: Drew Brees. If being the only Super Bowl MVP in franchise history isn’t enough to warrant this recognition, there is the plethora of TV and print ads that have followed Brees’ performance in the Saints’ run last season. This year, he leads the NFL in completions (261) and completion percentage (.698). His passer rating is down (91.7, from 109.6 last season) because he has thrown more interceptions (12) than any QB in the league besides the Giants’ Eli Manning (13). But Brees also has 18 TD passes, and only Manning and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers have thrown more (19). When Brees settles into a groove he’s, well, it’s like Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Monday, “The best quarterback you can imagine.”
Unsung hero: Julius Jones. Yes, that Julius Jones, the Seahawks leading rusher the past two seasons. The Saints signed Jones after he was released by the Seahawks in October because Reggie Bush has missed the past seven games with a broken bone in his right leg and Pierre Thomas the past six with a sprained ankle. Jones got his first start in the Saints’ pre-bye 34-3 rout of the Panthers and responded with 68 rushing yards on six carries, including a 54-yarder – his most yards since going for 98 against the Bears in Week 3 last season and his longest run since scoring on a 62-yarder in the 2009 opener against the Rams. Jones also had an 11-yard gain on a swing pass the week before, when he made Steelers’ All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu miss in the open field. Bush is expected back this week, and Thomas might be able to return, so it remains to be seen how many touches Jones will get against the team he played for the past two seasons and the first four games this season.
On the spot: Jabari Greer. The shutdown ability of the Saints’ 5-foot-11 cornerback is a big reason why New Orleans leads the NFL in pass defense, allowing an average of 166.3 yards. But with coordinator Gregg Williams’ fondness for blitzing against the run as well as the pass, Greer is left in single coverage a lot. This week, that will be against the Seahawks’ 6-5 Mike Williams, who is coming off an 11-catch game against the Cardinals and has three double-digit reception games in the past five weeks. When Greer has had problems, it’s been against big, physical receivers.
Burning question: Who dat? As in, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” The Falcons and Browns didn’t just say it; they did it this season, and at the Superdome. The Cardinals also beat the Saints, but that was in Arizona. That’s as many losses as the Saints had all of last season. The obvious follow-up question: Will the Seahawks be able to make it a who-dat trio at the Superdome?
Familiar faces: In addition to Jones, FB Heath Evans (2001-04) and snapper Jason Kyle (1995-98) also played for the Seahawks. Then there’s the Seahawks South flavor to the Saints’ front office. Executive VP/general manager Mickey Loomis was with the Seahawks for 15 years (1983-98), while assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt (1982-91), director of operations James Nagaoka (1980-2002), director of college scouting Rick Reiprish (1984-94) and area scout Mike Baugh (1992-99) also worked for the Seahawks. Area coach Terry Wooden was a second-round draft choice by the Seahawks in 1990 and started at linebacker for seven seasons.