Week 7 of the 2021 NFL season has been quite entertaining already, with several upsets taking center stage and many of the league’s top stars performing at an extremely high level. The final game on the schedule this week may be more notable for its injured stars (Russell Wilson and Michael Thomas), but the Seahawks and Saints still put talent on the field and will still do battle to determine who remains in the thick of the wild-card race and who begins to fall far behind.
Will the Seahawks pull off an upset at home, or will the Saints take care of business in a hostile environment? We’re glad you asked, because we are here to break down the matchup. But first, here’s how you can watch the game.
How to watch
When the Saints have the ball
The Seattle defense is in a bad way at the moment, checking in dead last in yards allowed per game, 21st in points allowed per game, and 22nd in defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. They struggle to stop both the run and the pass. They do not get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks (29.4% pressure rate against a league average of 32.4%, per Tru Media), and they do not force very many turnovers, taking the ball away from opponents at the sixth-lowest rate in the league (7.2% of possessions).
Jameis Winston has toned down the turnovers a bit this year, largely thanks to Sean Payton and company devising ultra-conservative game plans that do not ask much of Winston beyond taking the occasional deep shot down the field. His 23.2 pass attempts per game average ranked 32nd among 33 qualified quarterbacks heading into Week 7, ahead of only Justin Fields. The average depth of Winston’s throws (8.8 yards) is down 1.6 yards from his final season as a starter in Tampa Bay, when he was among the most aggressive passers in the NFL.
Despite being schemed into easier throws and being asked to throw into tight windows less often than before, Winston has still under-performed his expected completion percentage this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Working with a skeleton crew at wide receiver (Michael Thomas remains out after preseason surgery), he simply does not have a top-flight perimeter target to which he can funnel the ball. Running back Alvin Kamara is the de facto No. 1 receiver, but the Saints have felt compelled to load his plate with carries due to both the absence of backup running back Tony Jones and their efforts to minimize Winston’s role in the offense.
Lucky for New Orleans, its offensive line is excellent, and specifically it is excellent in clearing the way for the run game. The Saints rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards per carry and have been stuffed on a league-low 10% of their rush attempts. Seattle’s defensive line ranks 22nd in the percentage of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, indicating that the Saints should be able to get enough push in front of Kamara to consistently gain yardage.
The best way to target the Seahawks through the air is to identify the man Jamal Adams is guarding and get him turned around in space. Opponents have been able to do that with relative consistency this season, but the Seahawks could finally lean into it and just use him in and around the box even more often, crowding the line of scrimmage and daring Winston to beat them over the top and on the outside.
When the Seahawks have the ball
Pete Carroll’s takeaway from last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was, as it almost always is, that his team needs to run the ball more often. So, expect to see a heavy dose of Alex Collins (if he’s active) and Rashaad Penny, with perhaps a dash of DeeJay Dallas and/or Travis Homer mixing in as well.
We should not, however, expect that run game to be all that effective against the Saints, who enter the game ranked second in Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA. They have limited enemy backs to just 3.3 yards a pop, lead the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards allowed per carry, have stuffed 23% of opponent runs behind the line of scrimmage (fifth-best in the NFL) and have excelled at taking away breakaway runs, ranking first in the league in second-level yards allowed per carry and second in open-field yards allowed per carry.
So, in all likelihood, the Seahawks will succeed or fail on offense in this game based on the performance of Geno Smith. And that is not great news for the Seahawks, if last week’s game against Pittsburgh is any indication. And that’s not necessarily due to anything having to do with Smith’s performance. It was just clear that the Seahawks did not trust him enough to put the game on his shoulders. They repeatedly called screens in long down-and-distance situations rather than letting him try to pick up first downs on his own, rarely allowed him to throw it on early downs, and just generally did not play aggressively in the pass game until they had to.
Seattle also once again allowed pressure on a considerably above-average share of their quarterback’s dropbacks, even though that quarterback was Smith and not Russell Wilson. The Saints haven’t done quite as good a job as we’d expect of getting after the opposing passer, but opponents tend to have more success doing so against Seattle than against other teams.
Bottom line: this is an offense that lives and breathes based on what Wilson can make happen out of thin air, and Wilson is not playing.
Latest Odds: Seattle Seahawks +6
Prediction: Saints 27, Seahawks 13