New England Patriots on Paper: Twelve


If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A better question this week may be “If Pete Carroll builds a football team in the Pacific Northwest – essentially in the middle of a forest – does it make a sound”?  Either way, the answer to the question is a resounding “Yes”.

Being isolated in the Pacific Northwest makes anything the Seahawks do under the radar, so it’s no surprise that Carroll has quietly assembled a team that is a solid playoff favorite, a team that has as dominating a defense as you’ll find, a team with a running back that is fueled by Skittles, a team that is led by Number twelve.

As Jersey sales go, Number 12 is by far the most popular and best selling.  Everywhere you go in the city, you will see folks wearing it, you’ll see “12” flags rippling in the omni-present tempest that whips down the wind tunnel known as the Puget Sound.  So popular is the number that it is considered a supreme honor for a Seahawk’s fan to raise the “12” flag in a ceremony before each game…

On December 15, 1984, the Seahawks organization retired the number 12 – never to be worn again.  But it wasn’t a player that wore the number that caused it to be retired, it was the raucous fans that made every defensive series the loudest, in decibel level,  in the NFL.

The Number 12 is worn by “The 12th Man”

Living across the Puget Sound in the city of Bremerton in the early 80’s and craving professional football, I attended Seahawk games with regularity.  Climbing aboard the Seattle ferry bound for Bremerton after the games, my ears were literally ringing.  I also got to see the Rolling Stones in concert in that cold echo chamber, the experience forever burned into my brain by, among other things, the sheer power of the amplified noise.

So when the Seahawks introduced CenturyLink Field in 2002 as the replacement for that old concrete morgue and it’s dynamic acoustics, one had to think that the decibel levels would decline to a tolerable level.

Well, they haven’t, as the Seahawks play in front of the loudest fan base in the league – particularly with the opposing offense on the field – and it doesn’t help the visitor’s cause that Carroll has built the top rated defense in the league.  The defense, nicknamed the “Legion of Boom” coupled with the frenzied crowd noise can be as intimidating as any venue in the NFL.

Sep 30, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) in the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

And it will be even louder this Sunday for two very large reasons.  First, the Defending AFC Champion New England Patriots bring their #1 ranked offense into the CenturyLink vortex, and Seahawk legend Cortez Kennedy is having his number 96 retired in a halftime ceremony, which should have the hometown faithful pumped up for the second half.

So, how does a team counter this decided advantage for the Seahawks?  It helps to have Tom Brady running the offense, and it helps even more to have a solid running game.

The Patriots have both.

As identities go, the Patriots won’t have a true one until Tight End Aaron Hernandez rejoins the mix after having been out for the past 3 games with an ankle injury – but the core is present for a dominating attack that features balance and tremendous size.  The only real question for the Patriots on offense is their patchwork offensive line, which is stellar in run blocking but only average in keeping Brady upright, giving up 12 sacks on the young season.  In their defense, however, most of the sacks given up were on desperation all-out blitzes.

The Patriots are the #3 rushing team in the league at 165 yards per game.  The Seahawks counter with a rush defense that is giving up a meager 66 yards per game.  The Pats throw for nearly 300 yards per game – Seattle allows over 100 yards less than that.  Something’s gotta give.

New England scores a robust 33 points per game.  Seattle gives up 14.  Again, something’s gotta give.

And here’s what gives:  Mystique.

The Patriots are, well, the Patriots.  Their track record speaks for itself, and the awe factor will be in play, particularly in the defensive backfield where the most tenured of the Seahawks are their safeties Cam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, both of whom bring 3 years of experience – While Brady is in his 14th year, throwing to Wes Welker (9 years of beating corners) and Brandon Lloyd with 10 years of acrobatic, sure-handed catching.

The young stable of running backs have risen to the occasion, with 2nd year man Stevan Ridley taking the point as the 5th leading rusher in the NFL – just 18 yards behind Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch at #3.  Power back Brandon Boldin is a load to bring down in short yardage and scatback Danny Woodhead continues to deliver clutch plays, seemingly every time he handles the ball.

Even young Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with their 3 years each bring a mystique as the top Tight End duo in the NFL – so one wouldn’t blame the Seahawk’s defense for being a bit star-struck.

But Seattle’s good old reliable Number 12 won’t be star-struck.  Their 12th man gives this defense the best home field advantage in the NFL.  Just ask the Dallas Cowboys.  The Green Bay Packers will tell you the same thing.  The decibel level will be particularly on display against the Patriots with their no-huddle, hyperactive, Up-Tempo offensive attack.

Oct 30, 2011; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez raises the Seattle Seahawks 12th man flag before the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

When New England’s offense is on the field at home, you can hear crickets chirping between Tom Brady identifying the “Mike” linebacker, calling out audibles and the snap count.  In Seattle, he will have to use hand signals and stomp his feet to do these things.  It goes to figure that the crowd alone will be able to slow the attack a little but it will ultimately be up to Seattle’s defense to stop New England’s offensive juggernaut.

The Seahawks have quietly assembled a defense that is as collectively stout as it is fast.  Even the corners, traditionally the smallest players on defense, have linebacker size to go along with top end press coverage skills.  Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are both 6′ 3″ and right around 225 pounds each and are super-aggressive, resulting in some unneeded and untimely penalties, but there is no better set of true bump-and-run coverage corners in the NFL.

This talent at the corner leads to a bit more freedom for their safeties, who are among the top tandem in the league.  Cam Chancellor is a big, downhill hitter who could probably play outside linebacker, but has decent coverage skills from his strong position, while Thomas is also a big hitter, but offers range and angle technique that makes him, essentially, a third corner in their base 4-3 set, all but eliminating the need for a nickle back.

The Defensive front consists of widebodies Red Bryant (whom the Patriots seemed fond of during free agency) and Chris Clemons at ends, with even wider-bodied Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane as the tackles.  On passing downs, lightening quick 1st round draft pick Bruce Irvin and fifth year End/Tackle Jason Jones come in to give the Seahawks an intimidating pass rush.  Again, just ask the Cowboys and Packers.

The Linebacking corps is the weakest link in this unit – which seems to be a theme for Patriots’ opponents this season.  Rookie Bobby Wagner anchors the unit from his middle linebacker position, flanked by 2nd year man K.J. Wright and veteran Leroy Hill.  While the starters are average, either by experience or discipline issues, the depth behind them is marginal at best…and this is the rub on this defense.

The Seattle Seahawks’ #12 can be very intimidating in their home stadium.  The Patriots’ have their own #12 who is pretty good, no matter the venue.  If the past two games have told us anything, he is more than up to the task.

He is the best Quarterback in the NFL.  Patriots’ fans hope he will be the best number twelve at CenturyLink Field on Sunday afternoon.