METAIRIE, La. -- As expected, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer had a lot of insightful thoughts on the upcoming rematch between the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks -- from the reasons why he thinks Seattle’s defense gets away with being so physical in coverage to his belief that the Saints should speed up their offensive tempo the second time around.
Dilfer was in the stadium for the first “Monday Night Football” meeting between the Saints and Seahawks last month. So I was eager to get his thoughts during a Thursday conference call on what he expects the second time around. Here are the highlights from our Q&A:
On whether the Seahawks are as good as any team in the NFL today at disrupting receivers’ routes:
Dilfer: “Yes, Pete [Carroll] and his staff have done a great job in kind of bringing back the ‘80s secondary play. And I know they’re gonna deny this, but there’s no denying it -- they’re convinced that the refs are only gonna throw about 15 flags a game. And they’re not gonna throw all 15 of those in the secondary. So they might get four to six thrown on ‘em. But they figure, if a team’s gonna throw the ball 40 times and we’re gonna get physical 40 times, they’re not gonna call more than six [penalties]. So they’re really playing the odds with how they play in the secondary.
“I mean, it is a lot of roughhousing -- a term we use in the war room, Tom Jackson, [Tim] Hasselbeck and myself. ‘A lot of roughhousing.’ Which is good. I mean, it’s brilliant what they’ve done. But it makes it very difficult, very frustrating for the quarterback and the wide receivers.”
On whether he expects a better effort from the Saints this time around:
Dilfer: “I think the Saints can play better -- I know they can play better. They have some matchups that are in their favor. In fact, I was talking to John Lynch last night, who’s calling the game with Fox, and we were kind of going over notes. And we both agree that the Saints have some really favorable matchups. It’s whether they can get to them.
“And what the Seahawks do in Seattle is that crowd noise is so intense. … In my opinion, it [affects] the brain clutter more than anywhere else. Not just the noise, but the brain clutter. It’s so overwhelming, it’s hard to hear yourself think. You lose poise because you’re focusing so hard on trying to hear yourself think and communicate with others, you get frustrated. And they feed off that. And the crowd’s pretty smart. The crowd builds in the moments where they kind of feel the offense panicking a little bit.
“I say all that because I really believe, here’s what I would do if I was the playcaller. I would come out -- especially if I had a quarterback like Drew Brees -- I would come out with a small package of plays, maybe five runs, five passes, a few simple formations, and I would play fast. I would play college, up-tempo, turbo speed at the line of scrimmage early in the game. What that would do is, one, you don’t have to communicate a lot. The snap count isn’t an issue … you’re not under center most of the time, you spread the defense out sideline to sideline. But better than anything else, the crowd isn’t gonna stay at their peak level of craziness for an extended amount of time. … If you’re at the line of scrimmage playing fast, getting play off after play off after play off, they can’t maintain that level. I think it would let the offense kind of say, ‘OK, we’re dictating terms instead of you’re dictating terms.’
“It would not surprise me if the Saints came out and played that way. The mistake they made the first time was they came up and they tried to do all this on-the-line-of-scrimmage, kill system, multiple-play audibles. There was almost an arrogance to it, to say, ‘Hey, we don’t care about the crowd noise. We’re good enough, we’re going to be able to handle it. You can’t play that way in Seattle. So I think they make some corrections, they have some matchups that are favorable, and they can have some success.”
On which matchups are favorable for the Saints’ offense:
Dilfer: “I said this the first time, obviously I looked like a fool, but I still stand by it. Seattle has a very difficult time covering the tight end. Whether it’s man, their man coverage matchups aren’t very good, Kam Chancellor on the tight end, their linebackers on the tight end, especially with K.J. Wright out. And then they play this coverage that’s been pretty well-documented, where it’s zone with the linebackers and the corners play a man technique as long as possible. When you play that, then in a single high safety look, you expose yourself big-time from that hashmark-to-number area on deep crossing routes.
“Now, [an offense has] to protect long enough to get those deep crossing routes off, I understand that. You’ve got to do some things to get the tight end the ball. But there’s gaping holes, both in man and zone, to get the tight end involved or to get slot-type receivers on crossing routes involved. So I look for things crossing the field by tight ends or slot receivers. But they’ve made up for it by complementary performances by other players -- defensive linemen not letting the quarterback get the ball off, a re-route ... manhandling the receiver 12 yards down the field that’s not getting called. So they’re very, very smart at knowing what their weakness is and defending against it.”