Three things to know about the New Orleans Saints’ matchup at the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday in the NFC divisional round at CenturyLink Field:
1. Ugly memory: This is a rematch of a game played just five weeks ago -- and it was by far the Saints’ ugliest performance of the season, a 34-7 loss on “Monday Night Football.” The Saints' normally potent offense gained just 188 yards, and an early sack-fumble set the tone. The defense was just as ugly. It sold out to stop running back Marshawn Lynch, but got burned by play-action fakes and Russell Wilson’s arm and legs.
Obviously it’s safe to expect a much better performance from the Saints this time. But will it be good enough? The Saints showed reason for optimism with the way they won their first playoff game Saturday in chilly Philadelphia -- relying on their run game, defense and special teams as much as they relied on Drew Brees. Now they’ll never be labeled as a team that can’t win a big game on the road again, right?
2. Battered secondary: The Saints had the No. 2-ranked pass defense in the NFL this season (behind the No. 1-ranked Seahawks). But they keep losing their best defensive backs to injuries. Cornerback Jabari Greer suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, then safety Kenny Vaccaro suffered a season-ending ankle injury in December. Now top cornerback Keenan Lewis will be questionable after leaving Saturday’s playoff win with a concussion. Judging by the way he was pleading to stay in the game, it’s possible the concussion wasn’t too serious. But those types of injuries are impossible to predict. The Saints are extremely thin behind Lewis -- as the Eagles proved by attacking deep after Lewis left.
3. Saints can run: Seattle’s top-ranked pass defense obviously caused problems for Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham & Co. in that first meeting. But the Saints proved at Philly that they can trust their run game if needed. They ran for 185 yards on 36 carries, led by a huge effort from resurgent running back Mark Ingram (18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown). Whether or not running back Pierre Thomas is able to return from a back injury, the Saints obviously have multiple options they can feature.