Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run in the NFC wild-card game in 2011 wasn’t just a scoring run. It was a stiff-armed, tackle-breaking back-breaker that gave the Seahawks an 11-point lead in what would become a 41-36 victory.
“Obviously, everybody remembers that run,” Seattle second-year quarterback Russell Wilson said. “I remember it and I wasn’t even on the team yet. But I remember that run.”
The Saints haven’t visited CenturyLink Field (then, Qwest Field) or played the Seahawks since that day, when Seattle, which won the NFC West with a 7-9 record, ended the Saints’ hopes repeating as Super Bowl champions, after New Orleans won 11 regular-season games.
Yet, despite the fact that the only Saints defender remaining from that day is safety
Lynch, who has run for 925 yards and nine touchdowns on 208 carries this season, is the lynchpin for Seattle’s offense. Usually, the Seahawks only are as successful offensively as Lynch is productive.
In the Seahawks’ current six-game winning streak, he has run for 515 yards and six touchdowns, on 4.6 yards per carry. In five home games he has run for 423 yards and six touchdowns on 104 carries, 4.1 yards per carry.
And the Saints, obviously, will need to match that to counter it.
“If they beat us and (Wilson) throws the ball 50 times, we’re good with that,” Harper said. “But we can’t allow them to run it 40 times and kind of dictate the tempo. We need to kind of take it to them a little bit.
“I think we’re playing a little bit better, gap solid (run defense). That’s what it’s all about – we’re not giving up explosive runs, which we did against the Jets. We’ve got to be able to tackle this running back. Marshawn’s a big back, he runs powerful.”
The Saints had a dress rehearsal for Lynch and the Seahawks on Nov. 17 in a 23-20 victory over San Francisco in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In that game the Saints defense limited 49ers running back Frank Gore to 48 yards on 13 carries. The defense proved to be more physically imposing than the 49ers offense, which entered the game ranked fourth in rushing offense, at 147.7 yards per game.
Seattle is third, averaging 147.9 rushing yards per game.
“I think there’s a formula that they look closely at,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “They’ve got a really good offensive line, obviously a very good scheme, they’re very well-coached and have an extremely talented running back, and it sets up the down and distances that they look for, those third-down-and-shorts.
“They lead the league in big plays. When you look statistically, it’s a very physical group that understands exactly what they’re doing and how to win.”
Wilson is a capable passer (2,362 yards, 64 percent completion rate, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions), but the Seahawks are a heavy run team that has 1,627 rushing yards. Lynch averages 18.9 carries per game but has had games of 21 (three times), 24 and 28 carries.
“It all starts with the offensive line,” Wilson said. “They’re moving their feet. They’re fitting up on blocks. They’re doing a great job being physical.
“As a game goes on, you usually hit those big runs. We’re starting off the game getting those three, four, five yards and then Marshawn finds a way to break one. That’s what we want to be, we want to be physical. We want to run the football. That’s all the time.
“It’s every game for us. We want to set the tone and that’s how we want to play and play-action off of it and do some great things in the passing game and be very explosive.”
The Saints expect nothing less.
“Especially toward the end of the year, when you start playing these big games, you know these games are going to be physical,” linebacker