The Seattle Seahawks got there on Saturday. The New England Patriots got there on Monday. And by next Sunday, they’ll play a football game.
But before the two sides kick off Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, there are some questions and best guesses to review in this midweek mailbag.
Let’s walk through them.
“Do you think if the Pats spread out the Hawks, the pass rush will vanish like it did against the Packers?” –@14martinc
The Seahawks brought down Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers just once in the NFC Championship Game, despite the former Super Bowl MVP’s hindered mobility due to a calf injury. Green Bay did spread the field with four-receiver sets in that matchup and found some success underneath Seattle’s zone drops, but a 19-of-34 passing day with 178 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions and a loss was the end result. Rodgers was hurried nine times and hit five times, according to Pro Football Focus.
If the Patriots elect to go a similar route, it’s hard to expect the Seahawks’ pass rush to vanish. Seattle’s front has been known to send six rushers in third-down passing situations, trusting the back end to hold up with five. And in turn, New England bookends Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will have their hands full with the likes of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright.
The neutralizer in all this figures to be New England’s running game, which could follow in the footsteps of Green Bay’s after 135 yards on 30 carries were netted two Sundays ago. The Packers didn’t make drastic changes with quick passes or rollouts from Rodgers; the offense stuck to the identity that got them into the postseason. Look for the Patriots to do the same, and look for Seattle’s run defense to be tested early with LeGarrette Blount, who is coming off a 30-carry, 148-yard, three-touchdown performance. Handing the ball off to him may sound all too simplistic against a Seahawks defense that allowed only 3.4 yards per attempt over the course of 16 games. But the best way to keep quarterback Tom Brady on his feet – and the defensive front on its heels – is through the ground.
“Who would you say is the biggest matchup nightmare for the Pats, offense or defense?” –@espo2525
At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, Kam Chancellor built for this Super Bowl matchup with the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Rob Gronkowski. The Seahawks strong safety and the Patriots tight end Gronkowski have six Pro Bowls between them, and they way the play the game also ties them.
They play it downhill. Chancellor may not man up with Gronkowski exclusively, as Seattle’s linebackers are expected to handle zone responsibilities to close the middle of the field, yet he will meet the “Y’ target at the top of his seam and post routes. And he will also meet him at the catch point of his slant routes. From there, he’ll deliver an impact like few at his position can.
Chancellor is the crux to why the Seahawks conceded just over 40 receiving yards per game to opposing tight ends during the regular season. And after Gronkowski posted 82 receptions for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season, there’s reason to believe he is the toughest defensive back the tight end has faced all season.
“Do you think the Patriots attack Sherman head on, or make him chase decoys like Tyms or Hooman all game?” –@LukeTansley2
Richard Sherman has picked off six passes and allowed one touchdown pass since the season opener in September. The three-time All-Pro cornerback has become just that for what he’s done on the left side of the Seattle secondary this year. And while he doesn’t go against opposing No. 1 wideouts each snap because of his jurisdiction over there, he does take one player off the field more often than not.
The Patriots may very well reassemble so it isn’t solely Julian Edelman who’s stuck in Sherman’s web. There very well could be Brandon LaFell mixing between the split end and flanker positions against the Cover-3. And there very well could be some outside matchups with Gronkowski stepping into Sherman’s territory against two-deep man situations. Whatever it is head coach Bill Belichick, coordinator Josh McDaniels and the New England offense choose to do, it’s best not to let one defensive player dictate the personnel of 11 offensive players.
As for Brian Tyms, the wide receiver was inactive when the Patriots faced the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game, while Michael Hoomanawanui played half of his snaps as an inline run-blocking tight end. Their roles in the Super Bowl remain to be seen, but it’d be a mild surprise to see them line up across from Sherman. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound corner encountered the likes of Deion Branch, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker the last time the Patriots encountered the Seahawks, though, so a lot remains to be seen.
“What’s the bigger worry for the Patriots, the Seahawks running game or the Seahawks pass rush? –@Bushnaski04
There may not be a right answer to this one, but the Patriots cannot afford Marshawn Lynch and Seattle’s rushing attack to control the pace of the game. Lynch rushed for 41 yards on 15 carries when he last met the Patriots two seasons ago, yet there’s reason to be mindful of the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back with six 1,000-yard seasons on his NFL resume. Lynch led the league in yards after contact in 2014, and what he’s been able to do before contact is just as much a part of it.
A one-cut runner who operates with excellent vision to set up his lanes in Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme, Lynch is the type of back the Patriots have struggled with before. He works the zone-stretch plays with the patience and consequent burst to find the opening and fight through it, not unlike Justin Forsett of the Baltimore Ravens did against them in the divisional round, and not unlike former Houston Texan Ben Tate did in December of 2013. Those two compiled 231 yards and three scores on 46 carries in their meetings with New England.
The Patriots’ defensive line will be prioritize contain on quarterback Russell Wilson, who amassed over 800 yards rushing this season, and so it will be up to linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower to stay ahead of Seattle’s second-level blocks and bring down Lynch before he gets into the open field. Bringing him down is a tall task in and of itself, but Collins and Hightower are tall tasks for the Seahawks in and of themselves.