The rookies, backups and bench riders have been dealt with.
Here comes Drew Brees.
In the first 11 games of the season, the Seahawks faced a litany of quarterbacks less accurate than Brees. The only quarterback Seattle (10-1) has encountered this year that is in Brees’ sphere of precision is Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. He’s completing 66.3 percent of his passes.
Brees is on point 68.3 percent of the time. Outside of Arizona’s Carson Palmer, no other quarterback the Seahawks have seen is above 64.5 percent. Three are below 58.5 percent.
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This is no rarity for Brees, who will lead the New Orleans Saints (9-2) and the league’s second-best passing attack into the Seattle’s spirited cauldron, CenturyLink Field, on Monday night for one of the biggest regular-season games in Seahawks franchise history.
Brees has turned NFL fields into his personal dartboards for the past eight seasons while with New Orleans. In two of those seasons, he has completed more than 70 percent of his passes. In just two others has he been below 65 percent.
Under Brees, the Saints’ passing game somewhat works in reverse. The top target is tight end Jimmy Graham, whom Brees turns to almost 10 times a game.
The second- and third-leading pass catchers on the team are running backs. Short stacks Pierre Thomas (5-foot-11) and Darren Sproles (5-6) are second and third in catches, respectively. Wide receiver Marques Colston is fourth with a solid 43 catches.
That gives the Saints a precision conductor to run one of the league’s most versatile passing games.
“They can strike you dead on offense,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said.
When watching Brees, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson saw possibilities for his own livelihood. Wilson’s late father, Harrison, told him he should be watching the Brees guy who was dominating defenses while at Purdue.
Growing up in Virginia, the younger Wilson did not know where Purdue was, let alone know of Brees. Once he began watching, however, he saw a quarterback of similar height (Brees is supposedly 6 feet tall, Wilson supposedly 5-11) doing things he hoped to. The admiration reached a point that Wilson would wear Saints gear in college.
“I really started following him a lot and studying him my junior year of college, and also my senior year of college,” Wilson said. “When I went to Wisconsin (senior year), I had tons and tons of film on him. I just watched every throw pretty much that he had thrown in the NFL. I studied his footwork, studied what he does, and obviously, everybody compares our height.”
Wilson is a play extender who Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called “the best scrambler in the league.” He often ventures far out of the pocket with the ability to run upfield.
Brees is a master of progressions and shuffling. Why he moves in the pocket Monday will be a heavy influence on the outcome. Will the Seahawks rush be moving him? Or will Brees be taking Astairian shuffle steps?
“He knows how to move in the pocket, and that’s a real gift and talent, too,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “It’s something that we’ve studied hard all week, and where he’s at, and how to go get him.”
Brees was 39-for-60 (65 percent) when the Saints were Beastquaked out of the playoffs during a wild card game in Qwest Field (as CenturyLink Field was known then) in January 2011.
The Seahawks had a much different secondary facing Brees that day. Only safety Earl Thomas from those in the secondary available Monday was heavily involved in the game. He made eight tackles. Kelly Jennings and Marcus Trufant were at cornerback most of the game.
Monday, the Seahawks will have a shuffle at cornerback because of injury and suspension. Out are Brandon Browner (groin) and Walter Thurmond (four-game suspension).
In is 2011 sixth-round draft pick Byron Maxwell, whose snaps had increased the past few weeks. Opposite Richard Sherman, the only way Maxwell could be more conspicuous to Brees and the Saints offense would be if he’s ablaze.
“He’s a dynamic quarterback, but like I said, it’s a regular week,” Maxwell said. “You focus on yourself and your technique and what you do best, and everything else will work out.”
Sounds easy enough.