RENTON, Wash. – It’s not that the New Orleans Saints are undecided about who their starting quarterback will be Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, it’s just that they’ve decided not to say.
The Saints are expected to go with Teddy Bridgewater as the starter with Drew Brees sidelined after suffering a thumb injury Sunday against the Rams that required surgery (which he had Wednesday in Los Angeles).
Bridgewater, a former starter for the Vikings, took over for Brees when he was injured last week. He signed a one-year, $7.25 million fully guaranteed contract – the largest for any backup QB in the NFL this year – in the offseason to give a team with Super Bowl aspirations an experienced alternative at the game’s most important position if needed.
Still, coach Sean Payton is playing it cagey publicly this week when asked if Bridgewater or third-teamer Taysom Hill will start in what is just the fourth game Brees will miss since being traded to New Orleans in 2006.
After declining to say who will start, Payton was asked in a conference call with Seattle media Wednesday afternoon why it isn’t obvious to just go with Bridgewater.
Payton replied that “it may be (obvious). What’s more obvious is me answering that question or not answering that question at a Wednesday news conference.”
Not that the Seahawks are worried about what’s said publicly.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said a few hours earlier that the Seahawks expect Bridgewater to start but also to see Hill at times.
Hill, who played quarterback at Brigham Young, has become a utility player in his first three seasons with the Saints, playing tight end/receiver and on special teams. He’s thrown just seven passes in the NFL but has run 39 times for 204 yards and two touchdowns, mostly when lined up as a quarterback.
The Seahawks say they won’t be surprised to see Hill get some snaps and for the Saints to also have both quarterbacks on the field at the same time.
“You’ve got to know where he is,” Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said about Hill. “But you can’t get too caught up in (worrying about where he is) because sometimes they’ve put him out there and just do normal things.”
The Seahawks also know they can’t take the game for granted just because Brees – who has thrown for the most yards in NFL history – isn’t out there, as gamblers appear to be doing. The betting line on the game has gone from a pick ’em to Seattle being favored by 4 1/2 points as it became obvious that Brees wouldn’t play.
The Seahawks saw Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph turn out to be a little more effective when he played in the second half last week than starter Ben Roethlisberger. Rudolph threw for 112 yards to Roethlisberger’s 75.
And that was with the Seahawks thinking that Rudolph was mostly running the plays as called rather than changing much at the line of scrimmage, as more experienced quarterbacks such as Roethlisberger and Brees commonly do.
Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said Brees’ ability to decipher defenses is among his most dangerous attributes.
“I was looking forward to playing him,” Wagner said. “It’s like a chess match out there, him coming up to the line and changing the calls and trying to see what we were in.”
Bridgewater can do some of that, too, as he has 29 career starts (with a 17-12 record) and is in his second full season with the Saints. One of those starts came against Seattle in 2015 with Minnesota (a 38-7 Seattle win) as well as what is Bridgewater’s only postseason appearance about a month later, a 10-9 Seahawks win in a wild-card game in subzero temperatures.
The Saints will have had a week to tailor the offense to Bridgewater.
Wagner said they expect to see mostly the same Saints offense with the caveat that Bridgewater – and Hill – are more apt to run than Brees.
“He gets out of the pocket a little bit more, and so we just have to see what style do they play,” Wagner said of Bridgewater. “So just go to see what type of offense are we going to see. It’s going to be bit different, but it shouldn’t be crazy different.”
There’s little reason for the Saints to veer too much from a scheme that last year was among the most balanced and efficient in the NFL, ranking seventh in rushing, 12th in passing and third in points scored.
The difference with and without Brees in Weeks 1 and 2 was stark. The Saints put up 510 yards in a 30-28 win over Houston before being held to 244 in playing mostly without Brees in a 27-9 loss to the Rams (Brees played nine snaps before being injured).
“They won’t hold back, I don’t think,” Carroll said. “You’re comparing him to Drew Brees, who is one of the best all time ever. They might be different in some ways. In one game, one week, we’ve got to be ready for everything because Teddy can do everything. We’ve fortunately seen him enough and played against him and we have a feeling for him.”
But Carroll alluded to what might be the biggest wild card of all – that Payton will have a week to dream up a few tricks to throw at the Seahawks to jump-start his Brees-less offense.
“I don’t know what Sean’s going to do,” Carroll said. “But rarely does anybody know what he’s going to do come game time.”
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