Few would argue against the statement that says Seattle has the best defense in the NFL. In the regular season, the Seahawks gave up the fewest yards, had the No. 1 passing defense and No. 3 rush defense. As such, the defending Super Bowl champions really don’t have a weakness on that side of the ball. But if you had to choose a way to attack it, New England appears – on paper at least – to be better suited to try and run on them rather than force Tom Brady to throw 40-plus passes against their superb secondary.
This is assuming that All-Pro safety Earl Thomas (shoulder) and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) both play and are relatively effective after each player was injured in the NFC Championship win over Green Bay. The health of Thomas and Sherman is very important to the Patriots in terms of game-planning, then again it’s hard to predict what Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will cook up for Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday (6:30, NBC) in Glendale, Arizona.
When you look at the breakdown of statistics, New England’s previous two games this postseason couldn’t be more different. Against Baltimore, the Patriots fell behind early and had to abandon the run pretty quickly as it proved completely ineffective (14 total rushing yards) against the Ravens’ top-notch run defense. Indianapolis, on the other hand, was simply overmatched. The Patriots lined up and pounded down Indy’s throat. LeGarrette Blount dominated the Colts last year in the playoffs and he did the same thing in the AFC title game with 148 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Blount figures to get plenty of work on Super Bowl Sunday, although this could also be a Shane Vereen (80 yards receiving this postseason) game if the Pats feel like his speed on the edge and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield will be a mismatch. It sounds simple, but to win the game New England will need a strong performance by its running backs and offensive line. If the Pats get too predictable and Brady (and his receivers) need to do everything on offense, then they probably won’t have much success against the Seahawks’ secondary – which is second to none.
Talking about Seattle’s large secondary, Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman noted that “they are a little different because they’re all big. They are strong and ferocious players. They play in their scheme. They’re well-coached. They play hard.”
Seattle’s defensive line and linebackers are on the smaller side as the idea is that their speed will make up for their lack of bulk. This means that with a good running back, you can successfully run on them in spurts. Packers running back Eddie Lacy had 73 yards rushing in the title game while Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart had 70 yards gained in the divisional round. If Blount and Vereen can find some daylight, that should also help Brady and the passing game get going. It’s all about balance when you play Seattle. If you get stuck doing one thing then you are done.