RENTON – A battle for NFC supremacy between the Seahawks and New Orleans Saints on Monday night also shapes up as one of the NFL’s starkest clashes of styles.
Few teams in the NFL throw it as much as the Saints, who have passed it on 62.52 percent of offense plays this season, seventh-most in the NFL.
Even fewer run it more than Seattle, which has rushed it on 53.19 percent of offensive plays, second only to San Francisco’s 53.61.
Each style has proven successful this season. The Seahawks stand at 10-1, the best record in the NFL, as they enter Monday’s 5:40 p.m. kickoff, and the Saints at 9-2.
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With a win, Seattle would take a huge step toward securing homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs, essentially standing three games ahead of everyone else with four to play when considering tiebreakers. A New Orleans win, however, and the Saints would be tied with and have the tiebreaker on the Seahawks.
Seahawks players and coaches spent the week insisting the stakes of the game are no different than any other in their minds, even if the standings indicate otherwise.
“Any one of these games, you look back, if we make the mistakes at the end that don’t get us the win, that would be the game that we might look back to,” said Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
So don’t figure the Seahawks to veer from their script of trying to establish the run to set up everything else, especially if the weather gets a little cold and rainy and if Percy Harvin is unable to play. And in this particular matchup, it would also go a long way toward defusing a New Orleans pass rush that is tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 37.
“What helps us is being able to run the football,” said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel. “And that’s where it all starts with us, as we know.”
Carroll elaborated on that this week, saying “the formula of being committed to a balanced offense, which means running the football more than what’s generally accepted, is just in my mind is the best way to play football. That’s the best way to have a winning approach to it.”
And the Seahawks have stuck with that this season despite playing most of the year with a makeshift offensive line due to injuries to tackles Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung. With both now back, Seattle may be in its best position this season to grind and pound against a Saints defense allowing 4.8 yards per carry, 29th in the NFL.
The Saints will try to match that with a passing attack led by the venerable Drew Brees, who last week passed Warren Moon for fifth on the NFL’s all-time passing list with 49,566.
Brees has played in Seattle just twice, including a playoff game in 2011 that was memorable for Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Quake” run that clinched the Seahawks’ 41-36 victory.
And at age 34, Brees seems revived after the lost season of 2012 when the Saints fell to a 7-9 record while head coach Sean Payton was suspended.
Brees has thrown the second-most TD passes (28) and completions (300) in the NFL, expertly operating a varied passing attack in which tight ends and running backs are targeted as much as outside receivers.
“I think the biggest thing is the chemistry between the head coach and the quarterback,” Carroll said of the Saints’ offense. “I think it is extraordinary. They’ve been together for years, they think as one, and they operate like that. They’re able to maximize all of that great expertise that they have on Sean Payton’s side. You can see the difference from last year to this year. They’re very, very sharp now.”
Seattle, meanwhile, is a little undermanned at cornerback with Brandon Browner out with a groin injury (as well as a possible NFL suspension coming) and his replacement, Walter Thurmond, out four games after being suspended last week — each for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Carroll, though, said he wasn’t worried about any distractions created by the suspensions, noting Seattle has overcome a number of key injuries this season.
Safety Earl Thomas agreed, and said regardless of what the Saints might try, the Seahawks should be up to the task.
“Let’s be real — we have a great defense,” Thomas said. “When we play like we know how to play — swarming that ball, attention to detail, knowing how the offense wants to attack us — I don’t think anybody can beat us.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.