W2W4: New England Patriots (7-1) vs Seattle Seahawks (5-2-1)

New England Patriots strong safety Malcolm Butler intercepts a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots strong safety Malcolm Butler intercepts a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots Passing Offense vs Seattle Seahawks Passing Defense

New England Patriots
Oct 30, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. The Patriots beat the Bills 41-25. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

Tom Brady has been otherworldly in his return to the New England Patriots after his ridiculous “Deflategate” suspension. While the rest of the NFL failed to take advantage of the Patriots as they played the first four weeks without Brady and with tight end Rob Gronkowski hobbled, the Patriots are now 7-1 and at the top of the AFC.

Brady has completed a ridiculous 73.1% of his passes in his first four games throwing for 1,319 yards and 12 touchdowns without an interception (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). The team is 4-0 with Brady under center and the team has scored 33, 35, 27, and 41 points over those games.


The return to health of Gronkowski has also been a major factor over those four games as he has 21 receptions for 473 yards and three touchdowns since Brady returned to the offense in week five. What is scary to consider is that fellow tight end Martellus Bennett has been hobbled with an ankle/leg injury since Gronkowski returned and New England has not had their lethal two-tight end offense able to operate at full strength yet.

Now New England should have both tight ends on the field and Bennett nearing full strength. If not, they still have their three-wide receiver attack which has put pressure on opposing defenses. Julian Edelman is still not at full strength and has struggled to get on track with his lingering foot injury and has 41 receptions for just 358 yards and one touchdown in the first half of the season.

The Patriots still have outside threat Chris Hogan who is starting to make an impact as his comfort level with Tom Brady grows. After just eight receptions for 122 yards in the first four weeks of the season Hogan has 11 catches for 259 yards including establishing himself as a deep threat for Brady outside the numbers.

Danny Amendola has had limited snaps in the offense but maximized his time in the offense and been an effective weapon on third down and in the red zone. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell has struggled to stay healthy in his first season in New England but the bye week may have been a perfect opportunity for the rookie to integrate himself into the offense.

The Patriots have weapons galore on offense, but the Seattle secondary is not going to just let them run rampant.


New England Patriots
Oct 23, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) celebrates a play against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The game ended in a 6-6 tie after overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Seahawks have made their way to the top of the NFL on the backbone of their defense–specifically their defensive backfield.  Under the guise of the “Legion of Boom”, cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and free safety Earl Thomas (and whoever else cycles in at cornerback) have been leading the defense by shutting down opposing defenses.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll built strong defenses everywhere he went building from the back end of the defense. With the Vikings in the late eighties, the Jets and Patriots in the nineties, at USC heading down to the college level for a while, and then this current group in Seattle. Simple in design, dangerous and attacking, Carroll’s aggressive defenses start with a strong secondary.

From his time in New England prior to Belichick, it was clear to see Carroll was trying to build a secondary along the same lines. With Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy already in place, Carroll drafted Chris Canty, Chris Carter, Tebucky Jones, and Tony George trying to find a Richard Sherman (Jones?) and Thomas.

While the plan did not work in New England for Carroll, his success in Seattle speaks for itself. This season the Seattle defense has “struggled” and is “only” tenth in the league against the pass this season allowing 1,871 yards in eight games. However, they are third best in the NFL having allowed only six passing touchdowns.

Teams have had success passing this season recently as Atlanta put up over 300 yards in the air in week six and both New Orleans and Buffalo passed for over 250 yards and a score against the Seahawks. In reality, that is not terrible–but for the standards of excellence set by the secondary in Seattle it is terrible.  

In Super Bowl 49 Tom Brady shredded Seattle’s secondary in a way they had not experienced before. He had over 300 yards passing, completed over 70% of his passes, and despite throwing two interceptions he had a quarterback passer rating over 100.

Seattle uses a cover-3 (or occasionally a cover-1) while switching to man coverage often on third down.  They have complex coverage assignments but focus on taking away deep passses and forcing teams to dump-off short passes over and over again.

For the Patriots, that is playing into their hands. If forced to dump off short passes of four or five yards Brady will take that until he is four yards from the end zone. He did it then–he will do it again Sunday night just like he has all season since coming back.

For as good as Earl Thomas is in the middle of the field or linebacker Bobby Wagner and strong safety Kam Chancellor in man-coverage, they do not go against precise route runners with insane athleticism and size like Rob Gronkowski. Add in Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, James White, and maybe even Dion Lewis and there are too many weapons to cover all game.

Seattle’s secondary had a rough game Monday night as Tyrod Taylor ripped apart the Seattle secondary all game using wide receiver Robert Woods to work open against man coverage and find the spaces underneath the zone defense in order to get him the ball.

However, there is so much talent with Chancellor, Thomas, Sherman, and cornerbacks DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane. They have the talent to shut down any offense at any time. Brady, Gronkowski and the rest of the offense has to be clicking on all cylinders to move the ball consistently.

Not just the skill position players but also the offensive line.


New England Patriots
Oct 30, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots tackle Nate Solder (77) against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Patriots beat the Bills 41 to 25. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

One huge difference between the Patriots’ offense this year and the end of last season is the play of the offensive line. A healthy Nate Solder at left tackle and improved play from right tackle Marcus Cannon has made a huge difference. Cannon has stepped in and not missed a beat for Sebastian Vollmer who is on the PUP list and unlikely to play this season.

New England catches a break with Seattle’s defensive lineman Michael Bennett (and brother of tight end Martellus Bennett) out after knee surgery. Without Bennett the Seahawks will lean on defensive ends Frank Clark (6.5 sacks) and Cliff Avril (9.0 sacks) to slow the New England passing attack by applying pressure from the edges.

In the Super Bowl, the Seahawks used Bennett inside and wreaked havoc by collapsing the pocket the entire first half as Avril and Bruce Irvin forced him to step into the pressure. On Sunday night it will be Clark taking over for Irvin (who left Seattle in free agency) but without Bennett inside Ahtyba Rubin, Tony McDaniel, and Jarran Reed (combined one sack in the first eight games of 2016) are not going to duplicate his performance.

New England right tackle Marcus Cannon will be tasked with slowing Clark and left tackle Nate Solder facing off with Avril. Avril is the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Month of October with 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles last month. Solder had his worst game of the season against Buffalo and needs to bounce back with a strong game.

Seattle’s defense is at it’s most dangerous when pressure is creating hurried throws that the secondary can feast upon. Against Buffalo last week Seattle blitzed linebackers Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Brock Coyle (a player to watch Sunday night as the former backup middle linebacker has played extremely well since switching to strongside linebacker) blitzing up the middle.

As the Patriots have shown, blitzing Brady is a recipe for disaster as it opens passing lanes for Gronkowski, Bennett, and Edelman. Seattle is going to have to throw a few blitzes at Brady just to mix things up. If the Seahawks cannot get pressure without blitzing, they will have a long night trying to cover all the weapons in New England’s passing game.