Patriots Cheat Sheet: A Battle of Offense & Defense in Seattle
It’s a good thing the Patriots have the most the most productive offense in the league right now, as they are going to need it this week against the Seattle Seahawks’ menacing defense.
The Patriots travel to Seattle for their fourth road game this season, and while Seattle may be in fourthplace in the NFC West, they are still 3-2 and have plenty of motivation to stay within striking distance of the 4-1 Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. With one of the best home field advantages in the NFL, they are always a tough team to play on the road and the Patriots are surely preparing for a battle on Sunday afternoon.
The game-time stories
The greatest factor in the game with inevitably come down to whether Tom Brady and the Patriots offense can outperform the Seahawks defense; a defense that features a deep and talented roster and an underrated front seven. This front seven includes two premier defensive ends in Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, who have combined for 9.5 sacks on the season thus far. Brady held his own last week under serious pressure from the Broncos’ own tandem in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, but that was largely due to his ability to diversify the snaps between the pass and the run.
Much of the Patriots offensive success this year has come through balancing their dependably high-powered passing attack with 827 yards gained on the ground. The Pats are coming off of their two best rushing performances all year, accumulating 247 rushing yards in Week 4 against Buffalo and then 251 last week against Denver. Second-year standout running back Stevan Ridley has rushed for 257 yards by himself in the past two games, making it three games on the season with 100+ yards rushing. His best help has come from undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden, who has emerged as a surprisingly versatile and talented addition to the New England backfield. Danny Woodhead has also been successful in various must-need situations; including last week when he converted a huge 3rd and 17 with an explosive 18 yard run.
The Patriots certainly won’t be the only team at CenturyLink field today with an exceptional running game though. Even better than Ridley this year has been Marshawn Lynch, who is averaging just over 101 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry to put him at third best in the league at the position. The top thing the Patriots can do against the Seahawks offense is shut down Lynch and force their young QB Russell Wilson to throw.
Although New England’s secondary has seen more struggles this year, they still tend to do well accumulating turnovers against quarterbacks who are prone to desperate and inaccurate throws. Right now the Patriots are tied with the Atlanta Falcons with the best turnover differential in the league at +10, as they have garnered 14 turnovers but only given up 4.
Even with the productivity of Lynch and their staunch defense the Seahawks have struggled converting first downs and putting points on the board, averaging just 17.2 points per game. The Patriots, on the other hand, have seemed to not only score at will lately but also convert the ball early and often on first downs. The Pats have racked up an incredible 151 first down conversions; the next best is a three-way tie between Atlanta, San Francisco and the New York Giants at 120 first down conversions. The Seahawks have converted on first down just 88 times.
So despite the slight advantage that Seattle has defensively, they also to match up against a much more comprehensive and cohesive offense.
Injuries in Week 6
Four players have been ruled out for this Sunday’s game in Seattle; safety Steve Gregory (hip), linebackers Tracy White (foot) and Dont’a Hightower (hamstring) and wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez was one of three Patriots to miss practice on Friday, but is still listed as questionable and is expected to see playing time. Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe reported that he did in fact travel with the team to the west coast, which is a good indicator that Bill Belichick plans to play him. While Hernandez did return to practice last week, he sat out the game against the Broncos and has not seen playing time since his injury early in week 2 against the Cardinals.
His return may be more vital than ever right now, as the Patriots offense is plagued with injuries that will likely limit their action on the field. Other offensive players listed as questionable in week 6 are wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Shane Vereen (foot), and offensive linemen Logan Mankins (calf/hip), Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), and Nick McDonald (shoulder). The likelihood is that both Welker and Gronkowski are on the field for a significant amount of offensive snaps, but without Edelman and having been limited in practice, it may be a rusty start for them.
The offensive line saw the return of Mankins last week after having been out for the game in Buffalo, and he should be present again Sunday afternoon to help against the Seahawks defensive line. But with these injuries, watch for backups Marcus Cannon and Donald Thomas to be rotated in for more snaps to give their starters some rest.
On defensive side, the following are all also listed as questionable: linemen Justin Francis (ankle) and Brandon Deaderick (ankle), and cornerback Sterling Moore (knee). All were limited in Friday’s practice, and the absence of standout rookie Hightower will most likely see an increased role in the linebacker position for dependable utility defenseman Rob Ninkovich.
Checking in with the coach
For Belichick – who will be facing off with his New England predecessor in Pete Carroll- it is definitely all about not underestimating the Seahawks offensively or defensively, especially as they will be playing on their own turf which is a notoriously loud and rowdy place for visiting teams to keep their bearings. Belichick talked on Friday about preparing for their personnel this week.
“We talk guys and we talk about that as a staff”, Belichick explained. “Who is going to be who, who is going to be [Chris] Clemons, who is going to be [Bruce] Irvin, who is going to be [Sidney] Rice, who is going to be [Marshawn] Lynch, who is going to be [Robert] Turbin, who is going to be Leon Washington, who is going to be everybody. … We talk about that every week and try to put those players in the position that helps them and helps us the most as a team, whatever that is. It changes from week to week.”
Belichick also talked about matching up against Seattles’ big cornerbacks and whether it is more difficult to match up to that type of size.
“Sure, yeah, absolutely”, he said. “The technique is different. I think competing against that type of player is different….We’ve played against those guys before, the [Ryan] McNeils and the [Antonio] Cromarties and Drayton Florence in Buffalo and guys like that: 6-2, 6-3 type corners. They definitely present a problem. [Bobby] Taylor in Philadelphia, those kind of guys, over the course of the years. They’re unique. You don’t usually see those guys with that kind of length out there. It presents a problem for the receivers and for the quarterback.”