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Saints ready to kick off 2003 with victory

By By Richard Dark/EMG staff writer
September 7, 2003
METAIRIE, La. Today Jim Haslett's New Orleans Saints remove their collective mask and reveal their true identity.
A team shrouded in mystery through training camp and the preseason by virtue of combined factors of not putting forth a big effort, not risking injury and not showing the cards they are holding, as well as the pages in the playbook.
That process officially begins today when the Saints take on the host Seattle Seahawks at 3:15 pm.
The game will be televised on FOX.
These aren't the perennial also-rans Seahawks of years past. Despite missing the playoffs a season ago, Mike Holmgren's squad finished the regular season strong, winning four of their final six games and with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a former teammate of Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks at the controls, the Saints' much-maligned defense will get a daunting litmus test right off the bat.
Seattle turned in the league's statistically best offense during the last four games of 2002, averaging nearly 500 yards per outing.
Haslett said the defense had to force the Seahawks into third-and-long situations. The Seahawks were also tops on first down a year ago, averaging six yards on that snap. "We need to get them out of some of those comfort situations," he added.
Regarding the mystery of those "vanilla Saints", Hasselbeck is not concerned about the prospect of getting ambushed the way Tampa Bay did in last year's season opener.
Conversely, Holmgren's defense has some questions to answer, too. They are also an upgraded bunch and will key heavily on stopping Deuce McAllister up front, something the offensive line has to try and thwart.
And even though it may just be media posturing, the veteran and former Heavy Lunch Buncher downplayed the reunion.
That D-line, which also boasts a healthy former All-Pro John Randle, got a boost this week when three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones ended his holdout.
So it goes without saying the job of protecting Brooks won't be easy. The pass defenses are suspect on both sides, with Seattle's being extremely young and inexperienced, in contrast to the Saints Social Security squad of Dale Carter and Ashley Ambrose.
Penalties, turnovers and time of possession edge will be the difference in this one.