If at any point on Monday night spectators see just one Saints defender trying to haul down Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, something’s gone terribly wrong for New Orleans — or it’s about to.
Lynch has made defenders miss tackles on him 55 times this season — most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Of the 925 yards he has rushed for, 566 of them — 61 percent, the third-most in the league — have come after an opponent made contact with him.
The Saints (9-2) have a lot of jobs to do during their visit to Seattle if they want to defeat the Seahawks (10-1), who are the NFC’s frontrunner and have won their past 13 games at CenturyLink Field, where snow flurries are possible Monday and deafening noise is certain. One of their main jobs, though, will be bringing as many players as they can to Lynch to try to wrestle him down.
That’s if the Saints want to bring Lynch down as close to the line of scrimmage as possible and avoid reliving the 67-yard touchdown run he ripped off in the 2010 NFC wild-card game, which helped Seattle topple New Orleans 41-36 and introduced “Beast Mode” into the football fan’s lexicon.
“You don’t see, too (much), one person bringing him down,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “It is just his will to compete, break tackles and get the hard yards. He’s not an easy guy to tackle ... and we just have to gang-tackle.”
Saints linebacker David Hawthorne, who played with Lynch for two years in Seattle before joining New Orleans via free agency in 2012, added, “You don’t know whether he’s going to truck you, or if he’s going to use his speed to run by you. At the end of the day, he’s a well-put-together back — he’s strong, he’s good with his quickness and that makes him a little bit more difficult than other backs.”
Oh, does it.
As Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan told reporters this week, the Seahawks “have a hired killer back there running the ball.”
Lynch’s nine rushing touchdowns are tied for second-most in the NFL. Only three running backs in the league have run for more yards. And he has amassed his numbers despite the fact that the Seahawks have had to make do without starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini for half the year. Okung badly hurt a toe, and Giacomini injured a knee.
“(Lynch is) complete,” Saints running back Mark Ingram said. “He breaks a lot of arm tackles; he makes people miss in open space. He’ll run over you, run around you — whatever the situation calls for. Just his mindset and the way he approaches every time he carries the ball is what makes him one of the premier running backs in this league.”
For Saints fans, comparisons between Lynch and 49ers running back Frank Gore are inevitable. Gore was one of the NFL’s leaders in rushing yards and TDs when the Niners visited New Orleans on Nov. 17, but the Saints held him to just 48 yards on 13 carries in a 23-20 win.
But Lynch outranks Gore in most major rushing categories. And Lynch isn’t facing the Saints defense — allowing the fifth-fewest yards (309.9) and points (17.8) per game — at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where New Orleans has outscored its opposition 199-95 and won its six contests by an average of more than 17 points.
Lynch will be clashing with New Orleans on the road, where the Saints are 3-2 and outscoring opponents just 102-101. The seven-year veteran will be testing the Saints outdoors, where they’re 2-2 and have given up a total of 339 rushing yards and four touchdowns in their past two games, both losses.
In five home games, Lynch has run for more than 4 yards per carry. He has scored six times on the ground and tacked on two receiving TDs.
If the Saints successfully contain Lynch, they’ll still need to deal with the Seahawks’ dual-threat quarterback, Russell Wilson, who this year has passed for 2,362 yards and 19 TDs while tossing just six picks. He has rushed for 409 yards and a score as well.
The Saints offense still will need to navigate a Seattle defense that’s allowing the league’s second-fewest yards per game (293.2) and is tied for the most interceptions (16).
But, as was the case against San Francisco, the Saints believe they can give themselves a great chance to overcome anything that might happen if they keep Seattle’s star running back boxed in.
“This is what you get ... this time of year,” Ryan said of trying to slow Lynch. “This will be a hell of a challenge.”