Forget stopping the Seattle Seahawks offense; it's a pretty obvious fact that they go as Marshawn Lynch rumbles. You can bet the house that the Patriots will focus this week on stopping the Skittle devouring, earthquake starting, bull-dozer known as Lynch.
The story of this upcoming game is the match-up between the Patriots offense and the Seahawks defense. The Patriots have an explosive offense (#1 in yards, #1 in points) and they will be squaring off against the Seahawks dominant defense (#1 yards, #2 points). For how great the Cardinals and Ravens defense played against the Patriots- neither have been as excellent as the Seahawks defensive front.
Add in the twelfth man advantage? Well, the Patriots are going to have their hands full.
Let's look at some of the defensive numbers:
~Aaron Rodgers (66.7%) is the only quarterback to post above a 57.5% completion rate, and he was only able to throw for 223 yards.
~Tony Romo's 251 passing yards are tops this season and teams have averaged 210.6 passing yards/game.
~Steven Jackson's 55 rushing yards on 18 attempts (3.06 ypc) is the best output by a single player.
~Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, Miles Austin, Danny Amendola, and Greg Jennings combined for 25/54 for 256 yards and 1 TD; that's a 46.3% completion rate and 51.2 yards/game and 0.2 TD/game to opposing #1 receivers.
~They have a sack rate of 5.4%- that's a sack every 18.5 plays. In comparison, the Patriots have generated a sack once every 33 plays (nearly half the rate).
~They've allowed 5 touchdowns on the season (3 passing, 2 rushing). The Patriots have given up 12 passing touchdowns (but 0 rushing!).
It seems all too recently that the Seahawks and the NFC West were the laughing stock of the league. It's time to take the division, and their stout defenses, seriously.
Let's look at the players that make the defense so dangerous.
LDE Red Bryant - 6'4, 323
LDT Alan Branch - 6'6, 325
RDT Brandon Mebane - 6'1, 311
RDE Chris Clemons - 6'3, 254
Sub Bruce Irvin - 6'3, 248
This alignment looks similar to how the Patriots operated the last couple of seasons. It's basically an adjusted 3 DT front, with a pass rusher on the outside. Think- Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and Mike Wright, with Tully Banta-Cain coming around the edge. It's not a hybrid defense, but Patriots should be familiar with this four man front.
Bryant and Branch are as stout as they come, while Mebane, Clemons, and Irvin consistently wreak havoc on the blind side. The Patriots offensive line will definitely have their hands full.
Luckily the Patriots offensive line is matching strength against strength. Nate Solder and Logan Mankins are coming off one of their best games in a long time and they get to suppress the pass rush. Sebastian Vollmer had his hands full with Von Miller, so squaring up against the larger Bryant should bring some relief. Ryan Wendell has a crucial role of protecting the pivot against Mebane and any potential blitzing linebackers, while Dan Connolly needs to step up his performance at right guard.
SLB Leroy Hill - 6'1, 238
MLB Bobby Wagner - 6'0, 241
WLB K.J. Wright - 6'4, 246
The three linebackers are all light and fast- Wright is taller, but all are able to make plays in the open field. They are all stout run defenders as the defensive line in front makes it easy for them to do their job.
K.J. Wright (22/30 for 219 yards) is likely to be in coverage of the tight ends and outlet running backs and has done a solid job in protection. Neither Leroy Hill (6/14, 61 yards), nor Bobby Wagner (1/1, 8 yards) have truly been challenged in coverage so you can expect the Patriots to try and spread them out and remove them from their comfort zone.
On the flip side, Hill and Wright rank as Pro Football Focus's 9th and 10th best coverage linebackers to date. For reference, Jerod Mayo is 7th and Dont'a Hightower is 12th.
Not sure if that inspires much confidence (or not), but the Patriots will definitely try to challenge the Seahawks linebackers to open up the field and stay away from the defensive backs.
Slot Marcus Trufant - 5'11, 195
LCB Richard Sherman - 6'3, 195
RCB Brandon Browner - 6'4, 220
SS Kam Chancellor - 6'3, 230
FS Earl Thomas - 5'10, 200
Just look at the ridiculous size of those players. It's no surprise that the 6'3+ DBs are able to defend players like Fitzgerald- their length is a huge benefit on the outside. They have the strength to press receivers and force them off their routes, while their efficient pass rush forces the quarterback to throw the ball away. Both Browner and Sherman are devastating defenders- just skim through this terrific piece at Field Gulls. Don't cross your fingers for Lloyd or Branch to have a resounding impact on the outside.
Trufant is in the slot and he's the "weakest" corner as he allows 0.76 yards/snap in slot coverage. Look for Welker to try and have a ridiculous day as the Patriots are forced to throw quickly. However, don't be surprised if the Seahawks either compensate and adjust to eliminate Welker- or challenge the Patriots to win by chipping away on long drives.
Chancellor is one of the rising studs at the safety spot (5th in PFF's rankings) and ties for the safety lead in targets against- and that's purely because they trust him so much they let him cover receivers, not just tight ends.
Thomas complements him on the opposite side and the former first round pick is actually the weakest link in the whole secondary. He's a liability in run defense and he's fairly low impact in the passing game.
Some bad news for the Patriots: The Seahawks have allowed only 11 passing plays of 20+ yards (compared to the 27 allowed by the Patriots).
Some good news: Four opposing tight ends have registered plays of 20+ yards.
As a whole, the Patriots are facing one of the most dangerous and fast paced defenses in the league. Their corners are monsters on the outside (that would be nice), their linebackers can move with any receiving player (that would be nice), and the defensive line consists of mountains of men who can generate pressure at any given time (that would be nice).
Can the Patriots offense find weaknesses, rack up yards and points, and win the game? Absolutely. However, the Seahawks have a great defender at every position on the field and the coaching staff of the Patriots will have to work their hardest to break through. The Patriots will have to step up their tempo on offense if they wish to move the ball and they'll have to take advantage of the lighter linebackers if they elect to power rush the ball.
I predict that one of the number 1 ranked units in the league will fall at the hands of the opposition. I'm crossing my fingers that the Patriots are able to stay on top.