2014 NFL playoffs, Saints vs. Seahawks: Percy Harvin's impact on the game

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The return of Percy Harvin to the Seahawks could be a defining moment -- now it's time to look at his impact on Saturday.

SB Nation 2014 NFL Playoff Coverage

Every great playoff run contains a kernel of luck. It's tempting to wax poetically in evocative terms of football romanticism about greatness, but every teams that makes deep run is gifted with a signature moment that unexpectedly defines their season. For the Seattle Seahawks this could be the arrival of Percy Harvin, who has the opportunity to take an already dangerous team and make them a juggernaut.

Seattle made the bold trade to acquire the wide receiver in 2013 in an effort to diversify its offense. The lack of a signature receiver was one of the few things the Seahawks lacked in 2012, with no pass catcher finishing with over 800 total yards. Part of this is Russell Wilson's propensity to share the ball, but it was also a product of receivers who lacked an ability to gain yards after the catch. No Seattle receiver finished in the top-50 in YAC, with Golden Tate leading the team with 272 yards, good for 65th in the league.

It's here where Harvin is most dangerous. This is a player who missed seven games due to injury in 2012, and still finished eighth in the league in yards after the catch. He's a unique receiver that doesn't require the perfectly lofted deep pass or frozen rope through coverage. Winning with him means finding a quarterback with a quick trigger who can get him the ball in space -- even if that's a pass behind the line of scrimmage. Since entering the league, a total of 55 percent of Harvin's total receiving yards have come on yards after the catch.

Harvin's teammates in Seattle marveled at his ability in practice Thursday, telling The Seattle Times about what he can bring to the table.

"We saw a glimpse when he wasn't even healthy against Minnesota," Tate said, referencing Harvin's only action this season on Nov. 17. "He's definitely going to open things up for a lot of us, I think."

Golden Tate assumed Harvin's mantle while the star receiver was sidelined and gave the Seahawks a breakout season. Remember that thing about luck? Tate becoming a 900-yard receiver is one of those small kernels. Harvin's ability also stood out to one of the Seahawks best defensive players.

"If he gets a step on you," warned Seattle's All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, "there is no coming back from that."

Suffice it to say he's a major threat and the Seahawks offense with Harvin in it is clearly more dangerous, but analyzing the matchup gets sticky from here. The long-standing stereotype of the Saints is a team with a powerful offense but a non-existent defense, which was largely true until 2013. Adding Rob Ryan to the staff as defensive coordinator hasn't immediately turned the Saints into one of the league's best defenses, but they are aggressive and swarm the ball -- two characteristics that derail YAC-reliant receivers.

Sporting Charts list the Saints as the second-best team in the league at preventing YAC, allowing fewer than 100 yards per game. They're one of two teams under the mark, sharing the throne with (you guessed it) the Seattle Seahawks.

This could be a case of threat being greater than reality with Harvin on the field on Saturday. There's little question he's an elite talent, but taking pressure off other offensive players could be far more important than getting yards himself. Aggression from the Saints sometimes leads to lapses in coverage, and forcing them to play tight coverage on Harvin, possibly with safety support can open up lanes for other receivers.

There are many factors that could influence a win on Saturday and Harvin's availability is a wild card. He's a player who's difficult to scheme for, and while the Saints have the tools to stop him in isolation, it's unclear if their defense is ready to stop the host of weapons the Seahawks can throw at them.

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