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saint5221 09-07-2003 09:31 AM

NFL Preview New Orleans at Seattle
 
The Times Picayunne is also predicting a Saints loss 33-28, and ESPN's Chris Berman picks the seahawks 31-24 not finding alot of believers out there.

By Brian Gillespie, NFL Contributing Writer

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seattle 34, New Orleans 31


(Sports Network) - For the third straight year, the New Orleans Saints begin
the regular season on road when they face the Seattle Seahawks at Seahawks
Stadium on Sunday.

Saints head coach Jim Haslett is on the hot seat after his team fell apart
down the stretch in 2002. New Orleans lost its final three games and five its
final seven to weak foes, including Carolina and Cincinnati, to miss the
postseason. The Saints have missed the postseason two straight years and nine
of the last 10 overall. Haslett understands what his team is facing this week
against the Seahawks.

"Seattle will be a tough test out of the gate," said Haslett. "They are a good
football team. They have a lot of explosive firepower on offense and their
defense is much improved with Ray Rhodes as their coordinator. We look forward
to the challenge that Seattle poses to us."

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who was forced to give up his Executive Vice
President/General Manager duties following a 7-9 finish last season, will be
under a microscope this year. The Seahawks haven't gone to the postseason
since Holmgren's initial campaign in 1999 -- a span of three seasons. However,
Seattle seems to be on the way up after winning its final three games of the
2002 campaign. The veteran coach is ready to get the season rolling.

"We're excited about the prospects of this season and I'm excited about the
football team," said Holmgren. "They worked hard in training camp and now it's
time to see what we have. Again, it's cautious optimism, don't ask me for any
predictions either during the course of the day."

SERIES HISTORY

New Orleans owns a slight 4-3 advantage in the all-time series between these
clubs. Seattle actually halted a three-game series losing streak with a 20-10
win in its last meeting with New Orleans at Husky Stadium on September 17,
2000. The Seahawks scored the final 13 points of the game in win Former
Seattle running back Ricky Watters rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown in the
win.

Haslett is 0-1 all-time against the Seahawks, while Holmgren owns a 1-0 record
versus New Orleans.

SAINTS OFFENSE VS. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE

New Orleans relies heavily on the broad shoulders of starting quarterback
Aaron Brooks. The signal caller set a franchise record with 27 touchdown
passes (one shy of tying for the NFL lead) and had the fifth-highest passing
yardage total in club history with 3,572 in 2002. Brooks is fully recovered
from offseason shoulder surgery and proved it with a solid preseason.

"I am excited to get the season started," Brooks said. "It is more of a
humbling feeling for me. I am going into this Sunday's game feeling more
mentally sharp than I ever had before. Other guys can get excited and
overwhelmed about what is coming, but I am trying to make sure that we come
out of this game with a win."

Pro Bowl running back Deuce McAllister, who led the NFC in rushing (1,388
yards & 13 touchdowns) despite missing a contest with an injured ankle, makes
the Saints even more dangerous offensively. McAllister is equally effective
carrying the ball and receiving out of the backfield. The Ole Miss product
caught 47 balls for 352 yards and three scores in 2002.

Seattle may have a tough time containing McAllister after ranking last in the
NFL in run defense (152.6 ypg) last season. In hopes of bolstering their run
defense, the Seahawks have added former New Orleans defensive tackle Norman
Hand and former San Francisco defensive end Chike Okeafor. Hand and Okeafor
are solid run defenders, but they will have a lot of pressure on them with
veteran DT Chad Eaton sidelined for the season after knee surgery. Veteran DT
John Randle is not good against the run, which will get DT Rocky Bernard
plenty of work.

The Seahawks will have something of a trial by fire for its young secondary
this week, including rookies CB Marcus Trufant and FS Ken Hamlin. Trufant, a
first round selection from Washington State, has been forced into starting
because starter Shawn Springs is out at least eight weeks with a shoulder
injury. Meanwhile, Hamlin, a second round pick from Arkansas, is in the lineup
because veteran Damien Robinson is still struggling with a separated shoulder.
Second-year corner Ken Lucas and strong safety Reggie Tongue will need to be
at the top of their respective games to cover up for any rookie mistakes.

Look for Brooks and the Saints to challenge Trufant and Hamlin with a variety
of different offensive formations. Wideouts Joe Horn, Jerome Pathon and Donte
Stallworth could make it a long day for the Seattle secondary. Horn enters off
another excellent campaign in which he caught 88 passes for 1,312 yards and
seven touchdowns. Pathon is a solid possession receiver and Stallworth is a
lightning fast deep threat. Stallworth actually led the team in touchdown
receptions with eight despite playing in just 13 games last year. Veteran TE
Ernie Conwell will add another dimension to the Saints' passing game as well.

Seattle outside linebackers Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons must keep a close
eye on Conwell in pass defense. Brown and Simmons must help veteran MLB
Randall Godfrey in run stopping as well. Godfrey, a Tennessee cap casualty,
should solidify the position with youngsters Isaiah Kacyvenski and Orlando
Huff providing the only depth.

SEAHAWKS OFFENSE VS. SAINTS DEFENSE

The Seahawks' offense will go as far as young quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will
carry it. Hasselbeck made the most of his playing time last season, completing
63.7 percent of his passes for 3,075 yards and 15 touchdowns. The 27-year-old
had a pair of games with 400 or more passing yards, making a believer out of
Holmgren and the entire Seattle coaching staff. Due to his impressive
performance, Hasselbeck has been permanently given the reins to the Seattle
offense.

Seattle will likely go early and often to fourth-year running back Shaun
Alexander. The Alabama product posted an NFC-leading and franchise-record 16
rushing touchdowns, while rushing for 1,175 yards on 295 carries (4.0 avg.)
last season. He also led the NFC (2nd NFL) and set a team record with 18
combined touchdowns and in non-kicker scoring with 108 points. Alexander got
some good news when Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones ended his holdout this
week. Jones anchors a line that surrendered just 33 sacks (5th-NFC) last year.

New Orleans will have its hands full keeping Alexander under wraps after
surrendering 124.4 yards per contest on the ground last year. The Saints are
hoping that rookie defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan will help sure up the
line. Sullivan and Grady Jackson must get a solid push in the middle to
force Alexander to break outside into the arms of defensive ends Charles Grant
and Willie Whitehead. Grant had a nice rookie season in 2002, leading the
squad with seven sacks. New Orleans was in the middle of the pack with 39
sacks last year. Expect the Saints to blitz linebackers on nearly every down
to get to Hasselbeck.

Seattle will try to stop the blitzes by throwing short passes to wideouts
Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson. Robinson led the Seahawks in receptions
(78), receiving yards (1,240) and receiving touchdowns (5) last season. The
third-year pass catcher posted the second most receiving yardage for a single
season in club history and became only the second Seahawks player besides
Steve Largent (1,287) to surpass the 1,200-yard mark. Robinson has the size,
strength and skill to free himself from the toughest corners.

The Saints couldn't stop anyone through the air last year, allowing 253.6
yards per contest. In the offseason, New Orleans went out and signed veterans
FS Tebucky Jones and CB Ashley Ambrose to improve the secondary. Jones, who
spent the past five seasons with New England, replaces 2002 leading tackler
Sammy Knight. Ambrose, 33, enters from Atlanta to take Ken Irvin's slot. Also,
veteran corner Dale Carter actually may make it through a full season for the
first time since 1999. Nonetheless, the Saints appear vulnerable to a fluid
passing game.

New Orleans has seven new defensive starters in all, including second-year
outside linebacker James Allen. Fellow linebackers Sedrick Hodge and Darrin
Smith combined for 171 tackles last season. The trio must find a way to plug
Alexander's running gaps.

Neither of these teams will provide much defense this week. Expect a shootout
with the Seahawks picking up a victory on a Josh Brown field goal in the final
minutes.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seattle 34, New Orleans 31



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[Edited on 9/7/2003 by saint5221]


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