Here are our Five Things to Watch tomorrow night when the Seahawks host the Saints at 5:40 p.m. at CenturyLink Field:
1, MANNING THE CORNER: Seattle will play without two of its top three cornerbacks in Brandon Browner (injured and with a possible suspension coming) and Walter Thurmond (suspended for four games). That will force Byron Maxwell into the starting lineup and Jeremy Lane into a bigger role, as well. Maxwell, in his third year, has been a regular in reverse but this will be his first career start. Seattle says it won’t have to alter what it does defensively with the losses of Browner, who has been out since the Nov. 10 game at Atlanta, and Thurmond. The Saints, though, are sure to try to test Maxwell (who is scheduled to start on the right side with Richard Sherman on the left) and Lane early and often.
2, SAINTS AT HOME ON THE ROAD?: Seattle set a new team record when it beat Minnesota 41-20 on Nov. 17 at CenturyLink Field to win its 13th straight game at home. And like most teams, the Saints are better at home than on the road — they are 6-0 at home this year and just 3-2 on the road, which has caused some to wonder anew if their style plays as well outside of the Superdome. The facts, though, indicate that the Saints may be a better road team than is often presumed — the Saints have the best road record in the NFL since 2009 at 24-12, and they are also 21-12 on the road in November-through-January since 2006. Seattle will do what it can to unnerve the Saints, though, and might get some help from some potentially inclement weather — temperatures could dip to the low 30s with a chance of precipitation.
3, DEFENDING JIMMY GRAHAM: The most critical individual matchup for the Seattle defense may be New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, a 6-7, 265-pounder who also played college basketball at Miami and who already has six games with at least 100 receiving yards this season. His size means opponents usually try to guard him with a bigger defender, and for Seattle a logical matchup for Graham is strong safety Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232). The Seahawks, though, say it will be a team effort to try to contain Graham, and that means cornerbacks such as Sherman also figure to get their chances on Graham. Sherman, recall, had success defending San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (6-3, 250) in week two.
4, FEELING A RUSH: With Percy Harvin doubtful to play, the prospect of some less-than-balmy weather and a desire to keep the Saints offense off the field as much as possible, this could be a game where the Seahawks try to feature the run more than ever. That strategy also makes some statistical sense as the Saints are third in the NFL in pass defense and tied for the lead in sacks but are just 15th in the league in run defense at 111.9 per game (the Saints also allow 4.8 yards per carry, 29th in the NFL. Seattle’s running attack was a little out of rhythm against the Vikings on Nov. 17 (93 yards on 28 carries) but should be sounder now with the starting offensive line intact for a second straight game.
5, WHERE’S PIERRE? New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas is one of the most versatile players in the NFL with 117 rushes for 486 yards and what is already a career-high 56 receptions for 406. He also is a good blocker, often serving as the last line of defense against Drew Brees. The Seahawks will need to know where he is at all times.