Super Bowl XLIX between the Patriots and Seahawks is featuring the two best all-around teams from this season. Granted, they are the number one seeds in their respective conferences. Being that both of these teams are so well rounded, game-planning for this match-up will be extra tough on both teams. Though, here are some things to look out for in the big game.
Make Russell be the muscle
One thing the Patriots defense has to focus on is forcing Russell Wilson to have to beat them with his arm. The Seahawks don’t have great receivers on their team, and transversely, the Patriots have a very good secondary. Both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner have the advantage in their match-ups against Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, respectively. That leaves safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chang free to roam around in different zone concepts to take advantage of Wilson the way the Packers did in the NFC Championship game. The Patriots have guys like Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich who each can take up a couple of blockers in order to free up the linebackers to be able to stop Marshawn Lynch. So slowing down the run game and forcing the Seahawks in to third-and-medium or third-and-long situations will put the Patriots in a favourable situation. While making Wilson pass the ball will be integral to winning the game, the Patriots should focus on making him throw passes shorter than 10 yards. Russell Wilson is notorious for making big throws downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been way more impactful throwing 10+-yards deep, scoring good grades in every direction. However, shorter than 10 yards, Wilson has scored bad grades across the board. So if the Patriots play a defensive scheme where Wilson will have have to throw short, he will likely not make big plays.
The Patriots are practically unbeatable when they have a 100-yard rusher. Under Bill Belichick, they’re 46-1 when they reach that mark in a game. Running the ball so well will give them limitless options on offense. In the AFC Championship game against the Colts, the Patriots were able to run over them so easily. Looking back at that game, you can see that the Colts’ run defense was extremely sluggish and wasn’t playing hard. However, the Seahawks’ run defense is the polar opposite. They play harder than any other team and they get after the ball-carrier so quickly. That definitely makes it loads harder for Blount to have another huge game, but the Patriots have to establish the run and at least try to win the ground game.
A forecast of rainbow coverage
Tying into what I said about the Patriots having the edge with the defensive back-wide recover matchup, you should see plenty of rainbow coverage from the Patriots. Against the Colts, they blitzed just once but still got pressure on Andrew Luck on half of his dropbacks. The Seahawks don’t have a great offensive line and they’re banged up. Rushing the defensive line alone should again get enough pressure on Russell Wilson. Not blitzing would also drop the linebackers in coverage, which would free them up to make sure Wilson doesn’t scramble and loosen the secondary, which will be very congested with seven or eight players dropping back. The Patriots have plenty of ways to expose the Seahawks offense without leaving their defense vulnerable.
Share the Gronk
The Seahawks have plenty of options for guarding Rob Gronkowski. They can match him up with Kam Chancellor, a linebacker, or even one of their cornerbacks based on the Patriots offensive formation. What’s great about having all of these options is that it expounds what they can do vis-à-vi coverages and disguising their coverages. The Patriots don’t throw the ball downfield very often. Among the 75 most deep-targeted receivers in the league (20+ yards), Brandon LaFell is ranked 50th and Julian Edelman is ranked 75th. Rob Gronkowski is ranked in the mid-tier of tight ends. Since the Seahawks don’t have to worry so much about the deep ball, they can move Earl Thomas, put more players in the box to slow down the run game, and fool the Patriots offense by giving them plenty of different looks. As I said before, the Seahawks defense is the fastest at pursuing the ball-carrier, so all of the shorter passes can work to their advantage.
Tom Brady is the most different quarterback under pressure this season than any other in the league. With a clean pocket, Brady’s passer rating is 113.1, and under pressure his passer rating is 53.4. That’s a difference of nearly 60 points! The Seahawks have plenty of pass rushers and should be able to give Brady some fits behind his offensive line which has been reshuffled this season an uncountable amount of times. However, given some time together, this offensive line unit has been playing better in recent weeks. In the Divisional Round game against the Ravens, they held the tandem of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to just a half a sack. So the Seahawks defensive line will have to work a little harder to get the job done. But if the different coverages do their job, the pass rush will have a little extra time to get to Brady.
Take care of the football
The Seahawks offense had a major problem of giving the Packers plenty of extra chances. That can’t happen on Sunday. To win the Super Bowl a team has to be flawless. Last year, the Broncos fell apart right away when they fumbled the opening snap leading to a safety. The Patriots are ranked number two in the league in takeaway points, and Bill Belichick coaches his team to be disciplined and to not make mistakes of their own. So the Seahawks likely won’t get many chances at takeaways, if any. And if they even have a fraction of the giveaways they had against the Packers, then Patriots will run away with the Lombardi Trophy.
This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up.