The Patriots are looking to start the season 2-0, but will have to beat the Seahawks in Seattle in order to get there. They face a tough challenge, an offense led by a Top 5 player in the game in Russell Wilson. They’ll need to find a way to limit Seattle’s offense to under 30 points while being able to control the ball and maximize the few opportunities they have. A similar effort to their Week 1 win over the Miami Dolphins may be the answer.
Player to Erase: WR D.K. Metcalf
Metcalf has a rare blend of size and speed at the receiver position, which makes him a tough cover for most of the cornerbacks in the NFL. Last week against the Atlanta Falcons, the former 2nd round pick logged 4 catches for 95 yards and a score in the Seahawks Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
The Patriots are one of the few teams that can match up against him, and they have different ways to do that. Some plays they might put Gilmore, one of the few corners who can match both size and speed, on him or they may go with a double of J.C. Jackson/Joejuan Williams and Devin McCourty and free up Gilmore to go against Tyler Lockett, former Patriot Phillip Dorsett, or David Moore. By taking away Seattle’s home run threat on the boundary, it will force Wilson and the Seattle offense to have to execute 12-play drives to score.
Tyler Lockett would have been my choice to erase from the get-go, due to having better chemistry with Wilson over the years and his ability to make winning plays, but it’s harder to keep double teams on him when Seattle can move him all over the field. They’re going to have to hope Jonathan Jones and/or Jason McCourty can keep him in check.
Find the holes in Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme
The Seahawks’ defense is pretty much the same scheme as it’s been in the previous three meetings between the two teams. The Patriots should expect a lot of Cover 3 with Seattle banking on their Front 4 to generate the bulk of their pass rush. The one weakness of a zone scheme defense is teams that have time to find the holes will be able to move the ball with relative ease. The Patriots are very good at identifying zone or man through personnel, formation, and/or motions to get the defense to tip their hand.
In Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots were able to exploit the defense by getting 5-yard passes to the flat to Shane Vereen and force the Seattle defense to switch to man, where they were beaten by crossing routes by Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. The Patriots have the horses to exploit that issue with James White, Rex Burkhead, and possibly even J.J. Taylor capable of catching passes in that area. As Seattle is forced to either change to man coverage or play their linebackers up against the flat, that will open up the crossing routes in the 5-15 yard area for Cam Newton to find Edelman, N’Keal Harry, or the tight ends.
They will need to stay away from Jamal Adams if they can help it. He’s the one player who will punish mistakes by the QB.
Ground game must keep the offense on schedule
The Patriots did a good job of controlling the clock in their Week 1 win in large part due to dominating the ground game with 217 total rushing yards and just over 5 yards per carry. They will need the run game to be effective again in Week 2 in order to keep Russell Wilson off the field while allowing themselves to be in manageable down and distance situations. Last week, the Patriots were 5/10 on 3rd down and 1/1 on 4th down, extending drives and ultimately being a bad fumble away from a possible 4/4 in the red zone. Seattle’s run defense will most likely be better than the Dolphins, although last season they were 23rd in DVOA against the run in 2019.
The Seahawks are not too particularly deep at the defensive tackle position, with only four players on the roster, so I believe the Patriots will be able to test their opponent’s depth. With Newton as an extra run threat, teams can’t afford to overplay the handoff or risk getting burned for a big gain. By making the defense less aggressive against the run, that will allow more space for Sony Michel and the other RBs to get some extra yards on the Seattle defense.
Don’t let Russell Wilson improvise
Wilson is very good at extending plays with his feet and picking up chunk yards on scrambles when it’s there. The Patriots will need to make sure they don’t get past the Seahawks’ QB in their pass rush, so he can’t escape the pocket and make highlight reel plays against the Patriots defense. The Patriots will have great initial coverage on the Seahawks receivers thanks to the level of skill and depth they have in their secondary. If they can keep Wilson in the pocket and force him to have to make tight window throws, that could create some opportunities for the defense to make plays on the ball.
The Patriots also have the capability of sending pressure at Wilson and try to force 5 one-on-one matchups against the Seahawks OL. With the secondary they can boast, that frees up the defensive playcallers to send 5-man pressures at Wilson to also take up all the possible gaps he can escape from.
X-Factors: SS/LB Adrian Phillips, Slot CB Jonathan Jones, RB Sony Michel, TE Ryan Izzo
You can pencil in Adrian Phillips every week due to his swiss army knife role in the defense. He’ll likely draw the assignment of keeping tabs on Wilson from the linebacker spot.
Jonathan Jones will be critical to the defense’s success since he’ll have to cover Tyler Lockett with very little safety help out of the slot.
The Patriots ground game in general is the X-Factor, but with the bulk of the carries likely going to Michel his effectiveness is critical to the success of the entire ground game in general. The Patriots can throw 4 RBs at Seattle with 4 different run styles to throw them off-balance.
Izzo’s blocking and ability to leak out for a big catch or two will be important. Against Cover 3, there may be some opportunities for him to get open either down the seam or on deeper crossing routes. There may be an opportunity for him to sneak behind the linebackers off play action passes as well, as Seattle will be keying in on the Patriots ground game.