Saints preparing for QBs Hasselbeck and Whitehurst

Posted Jan. 04, 2011, at 4:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 04, 2011, at 9:44 p.m.

METAIRIE, La. — One of few quarterbacks to give the Saints’ elite pass defense trouble this season happens to play for the team New Orleans will meet again in the first round of the playoffs.

The 366 yards passing Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck racked up on Nov. 21 in the Louisiana Superdome were the most by any quarterback against the 2010 Saints, who ranked fourth in the NFL in defending the pass during the regular season.

“He did pretty well, but we still came away with a W,” Saints cornerback Tracy Porter said. “He posed a challenge for us, and we know that, and we just have to minimize the yards that he got through the air.”

That is, if Hasselbeck even plays in the rematch on Saturday afternoon in Seattle.

Bothered by a strained muscle in his hip, Hasselbeck served as Charlie Whitehurst’s backup and did not play in Seattle’s NFC West-clinching victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday night.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he plans to split practice snaps this week between Hasselbeck and Whitehurst, and figure out who looks most fit to play as the week wears on.

At the same time, he sounded optimistic about Hasselbeck’s prospects.

“He would have gone if we needed him (Sunday night), but the way it worked out it helped us get ready for this week,” Carroll said. “So I think we’ll have Matt full speed. That’s a big plus for us.”

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said the Saints will prepare for both quarterbacks. In Seattle’s case, Payton said, that is not as big a concern as with other teams who have quarterbacks of vastly differing styles.

“The scheme doesn’t really change a lot, whereas with some teams, when you play a second quarterback, it’s a whole different ball of wax,” Payton said.

Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said the task of preparing for both quarterbacks also is made easier by the fact the Saints have already faced Hasselbeck and now have fresh video of Whitehurst to study from Sunday night.

“I don’t think it’ll be that big of a deal, whoever plays,” Shanle said.

In their first meeting, the Saints won 34-19 in part because the defense stiffened on its own side of the field. While the Seahawks had 424 total yards, they lost two fumbles and settled for four field goals, including two on drives that stalled at the Saints 2.

In the middle of the field, the Seahawks moved the ball well because of Hasselbeck’s savvy veteran play.

“He’s an accurate passer and the ball comes out very quickly,” Payton said. “He knew where he wanted to go with the football. He plays with very good tempo.”

Hasselbeck also was able to buy time with his ability to escape pressure and throw on the run.

“That goes with experience,” Porter said. “His pocket awareness … he knows when he can slide out and scramble and make the throw down the field.”

Porter said Hasselbeck would probably present a greater challenge for the Saints, but added he was impressed with Whitehurst’s composure and ability to throw downfield in a do-or-die performance against the Rams.

“He’s a strong-armed guy who makes good decisions,” Porter said. “He pulled his team out with the victory to give them the NFC West, so he’s a guy we can’t take lightly.”

The Saints’ secondary also has a key injury concern after Malcolm Jenkins, who starts at safety and moves to nickel back in passing situations, hurt his right knee in the finale Payton declined to speculate on Jenkins’ status for Saturday.

“The guy is a playmaker. He makes game-changing plays,” Shanle said. “He’s a huge part of our defense (and) what we try to do.”

Carroll said he will consider Hasselbeck’s performance against New Orleans this season when he decides who to play this week. The Saints gave up only 194 yards passing per game, often confusing quarterbacks with the vast array of coverages and aggressive blitzes defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known to employ.

Carroll acknowledged Whitehurst, who has made only two NFL starts, may not be as prepared to deal with Williams’ defense as Hasselbeck is.

“Gregg Williams is a complex defensive coordinator. He’s got all kinds of stuff he gives you,” Carroll said. “I think Matt felt OK about that, he had played against him in years past, and the guys prepared him very well so that he could handle it. That’s part of it and we have to take all that into account.”

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.

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