Both teams have arrived in Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX and "Deflategate" will still dominate most of the storylines. But there's one particular backdrop that should get more press -- the stellar play of the respective defenses.
The Seattle Seahawks have an opportunity to become the first back-to-back champions in 10 years -- the last being these New England Patriots. But to do so, they'll need to do something that's difficult to accomplish: win multiple championships via its defense in an era that is mainly catered toward offenses.
Last year’s Super Bowl pitted the greatest single-season offense in NFL history in the Denver Broncos against these very same Seahawks, who turned in one of the greatest single-season defensive efforts in league history. The same could be said again, as quarterback Tom Brady and Co. possess a potent passing attack that's filled with playmakers and quirky formations.
Should Seattle best New England, one could argue that this current Seahawks defense is the greatest of all time. Now, for the old-school football fans, there's still nothing coming close to the mid-1980s Chicago Bears defense -- specifically the 1985 and '86 seasons -- or the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers' "Steel Curtain" outfits that carried the team to four Super Bowl wins. But when considering the era in which the Seahawks dominate, it's not such a far-fetched thought. Today's league makes it nearly impossible to field a great defense, as the stringent pass-coverage rules take away a defensive back's aggression and physicality. Today's games are virtually 7-on-7 passing drills, which makes the Seahawks' defense even more impressive, as they've found a way to neuter most offenses.
Even if the Seahawks don't knock off the Patriots, it's still worth examining whether or not this current run has beenlegendary. During the course of the last three years, 31 of the 32 NFL teams have allowed more than 10,000 passing yards. Seattle is the lone exception, as it has allowed fewer than 9,000. During this three-year stretch, the Seahawks have allowed an average of 282.3 yards per game, while the other 31 teams have allowed an average of 350.1 -- with no other team allowing fewer than 310. And, since 2012, the Seahawks have allowed 15.2 points per game. Only one other defense (the San Francisco 49ers, 18.4) has allowed fewer than 20 points a game during that time, and the other 31 teams have allowed an average of 23.2.
Playing in today’s offensive-friendly environment has actually cast a shadow on how dominant the Seahawks’ defense has been. Seattle has led the NFL in points allowed in each of the past three seasons, becoming the first team to do so since the Minnesota Vikings (1969-71). The Seahawks have also led the NFL in yards allowed in each of the past two years. And since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the only other defense to lead the league in points allowed and yards allowed in consecutive seasons was the 1985-86 Chicago Bears.
The Patriots defense hasn't been too shabby this year either, because while Brady and Co. are the engine that makes the team run, their defensive counterparts have managed to hold their own. Any unit that's lorded over by BillBelichick will always find a way to compete. Remember, this is a coach who’s a magician at squeezing the best out of mediocre talent -- like when he used receiver Troy Brown to play cornerback. So, when a coach like Belichick actually has talent to use (cornerbacks DarrelleRevis and Brandon Browner, defensive linemen Chandler Jones and Vince Wilfork, to name a few), it appears the Patriots will have every bit as productive a defensive arsenal to match Seattle's.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, also known for a keen defensive mind, gave kudos to New England's budding defense, and noted that any unit with Belichick as its mastermind, will be a force.
"Coach Belichick for years has been a guy that really varies his gameplans as he sees fit for the opponent -- more so now than I recall them playing," Carroll said. "They play a lot more man-to-man than they used to, and I’m sure that has come about because of his confidence in the corners. So, that stands out as something that they have focused on -- and [former Seahawk] Brandon [Browner] has really added to that as well.”
Seattle undoubtedly has the better defense heading into this game, but if the aforementioned Patriot defenders play to their abilities, this may go down as one of the most entertaining low-scoring affairs in Super Bowl history.
Super notes and anecdotes:
-Seattle is a ball-control offense, with a strong running game, so if they're to befuddle the Patriots, they'll need to gain explosive plays off the read-option sets and limit its turnovers. The Seahawks didn't do the latter in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay as they committed five turnovers. That's something that can't happen against a Patriots defense that finished tied for second in the NFL this season with a plus-12 on the takeaway/giveaway charts.
- As for the former, the Seahawkswere the most-penalized team in the NFL, getting flagged 144 times for 1,112 yards. Their opponents, meanwhile, were hit with just 80 penalties -- the lowest total in the NFL. And with a team as disciplined as thePatriots, it'd be wise for the Seahawks to not give away valuable hidden yards.
- One weakness the Patriots can exploit is Seattle's pass protection -- specifically rookie offensive tackle Justin Britt, who has had trouble as a pass blocker. According toPro Football Focus, while Britt played well in run plays, he ranked dead last as a pass blocker among right tackles in 2014 and was fourth worst among all tackles.
- If the Patriots want to rattle the vaunted Seahawks' defense, they might want to engage in smashmouth football.The only way to beat the Seahawks this year has been with an effective running game. In all four of the Seahawks’ losses this season, the opponents (San Diego, Dallas, Kansas City, and St. Louis) had at least 27 carries and more than 100 yards rushing. The Packers pushed the Seahawks to the brink in the NFC Championship with 135 yards on 30 carries. The trouble with New England trying to duplicate that is theirrun game has been inconsistent. When they beat the Ravens in the divisional round, they only amassed 14 rushing yards. But then they turned it around and punished the Colts on the ground for 177 yards in the AFC Championship when LeGarrette Blount had 148 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. If the Patriots can duplicate the latter performance, the Seahawks will be primed for the plucking.