Super Bowl 2015: New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks: Three Key Questions

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Question Three: Can Vince Wilfork and the Patriots hold up when taking on Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch and the Seattle rushing attack?

Jan 18, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (75) reacts after being called for a penalty during the second quarter against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the season, the Patriots rush defense struggled mightily. With veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork coming back from an Achilles injury last season, he immediately shored-up a run defense that was gashed far too many times in 2013 while depending on inexperience defensive tackles Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. After being gashed early in the season by the Dolphins, Chiefs, and Jets, the Patriots run defense improved dramatically and in their last 8 regular season games they allowed just 632 yards on the ground for an average of 79 yards per game.


Of course, none of the teams facing the Patriots featured Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch at running back. Head coach Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and Wilfork have all faced Lynch previously, as the powerful running back began his pro career in Buffalo. In the Seahawks week six 24-23 victory over New England in 2012, Lynch was held to just 41 yards rushing on 15 carries as the Patriots locked down on him and forced Wilson to beat them (which, to his credit, the then-rookie quarterback was able to do driving his team to two fourth quarter touchdowns).


Considering New England held Lynch to 41 yards on the ground with Kyle Love and Jermaine Cunningham starting on defense, they would seem to be able to hold him down. However, going back to Buffalo, Lynch averaged 6.1 yards per rush against the 2010 Patriots in week three rushing for 79 yards on just 13 carries. In 2009 he missed the week one Buffalo loss and gained just 25 yards on 8 carries in the week 15 loss. In 2008 Lynch was held to 46 yards on 14 carries in week ten and missed the week seventeen “Wind Game” with a shoulder injury that saw quarterback Matt Cassel attempt just 8 passes while New England ran the ball 47 times winning 13-0. In 2007 Lynch rushed 20 times for 74 yards in a week three blowout loss and did not play in week 11.


Dec 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (76) defends against St. Louis Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks actually like to run the ball outside the tackles where Lynch can use his quickness and power to break tackles and run over the tacklers in the secondary for big gains. Fortunately, outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich excel at setting the edge (“setting the edge” on defense has long been a Bill Belichick mantra).  While focusing on quarterback Russell Wilson in the passing and running game, they cannot forget about Lynch.


The Seahawks are going to run Lynch no matter what. Whether ahead, behind, or in the hurry-up offense, the Seahawks are going to run the ball on offense. In the NFC Championship game Lynch ended up rushing the ball 25 times for 157 yards despite the Packers jumping out to a 16-0 halftime lead. Even at the end of the game, Wilson handed off to Lynch four times and completed a pass to him as well.


January 18, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) runs the ball ahead of Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry (53) during the second half in the NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

New England will lean on Ninkovich and Jones to set the edge with veterans Wilfork and Alan Branch inside along with young run-stuffer Sealver Siliga to clog the rushing lanes. Both Branch (two seasons–2001 and 2012–played in Seattle) and Siliga (signed last year off of Seattle’s practice squad) have faced Lynch in practice so there is some familiarity with the big running back. Inside linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are effective against the run filling lanes and strong safety Patrick Chung (along with all of the New England secondary) never hesitates to come up and make plays in the running game.


The Patriots would likely be ecstatic to hold Lynch to 41 yards rushing again, but it will not be easy. The Seattle offensive line is strong at the tackle position and center Max Unger and guard J.R. Sweezy are excellent run blockers. Marshawn Lynch is a load to bring down and it takes an entire defense to do the job. If the Patriots can do that with all 11 players on the field doing their job, it will go a long way to helping set up another Super Bowl victory.