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 Rushing Offense vs Seattle Seahawks Rushing Defense

New England Patriots
Oct 23, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs the ball past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) during the second half at Heinz Field. The Patriots won the game, 27-16. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports /

Halfway through the 2016 season and the New England Patriots have a top-ten rushing offense. While the team had to run the ball with Brady suspended for the first four games, the Patriots still have been effective running at times–particularly at the goal line.

LeGarrette Blount leads the way with the New England running game with 609 yards through eight games and nine touchdowns. Since Brady’s return in week five Blount has just one 100-yard game (week seven against Pittsburgh) but he has five touchdowns in his last four games.

A lot of credit goes to the offensive line: Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon are very good run blockers on the edge and having both healthy have been a boon for the Patriots’ running game. The interior of the offensive line has been another huge upgrade for New England.

Last year in the AFC Championship game the Patriots had Bryan Stork at center with Josh Kline at left guard and Shaq Mason. Mason had split snaps with fellow fourth-round draft pick Tre Jackson until Jackson injured his knee in the second half of the season. That offensive line (with Sebastian Vollmer out of position at left tackle and Marcus Cannon playing right tackle with a broken toe) was overmatched, overpowered and beaten time and time again.

This year, the Patriots turned their second round draft pick for Chandler Jones into two picks and used one on left guard Joe Thuney. Thuney stepped into the left guard spot on the first day of training camp and has not surrendered the position since. He has had some rookie growing pains and mistakes, but overall he has been a huge upgrade over Kline.

At center, the Patriots upgraded again by releasing the oft-injured and concussed Stork and re-inserting 2015 undrafted free agent David Andrews. Not as big and strong as Stork, Andrews is a technician who is smart and understands leverage and rarely gets beat. Last week he put on a clinic against Buffalo keeping the dangerous Marcell Dareus out of the backfield.


New England Patriots
Oct 23, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) 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 /

In Super Bowl 49 the Seattle Seahawks had a defensive front with Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin and Cliff Avril.  Irvin is gone via free agency to Oakland, Bennett is out of the game this week with a knee injury, Williams retired after the 2015 season, McDaniel is back after a detour to Tampa Bay last year, and key backup in that game O’Brien Schofield is in Atlanta.

Go back to Seattle’s statement making regular season win in 2012 against the Patriots and that front seven was anchored by big bodies Red Bryant, Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane, and Chris Clemons. That defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage and was a key factor in creating room for Wright and Wagner to make plays in the running game.

In order to pay their defensive core of Wagner, Wright, Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor the Seahawks had to take away from another area. On defense, that position was the defensive line.

Beyond Bennett, there is little impact coming from the defensive line outside of Avril and Clark on the outside. Seattle has allowed 790 yards over eight games which is not bad for a defense. For Seattle, against whom running the ball was near impossible, it is terrible. Other than giving up 135 yards to the 49ers in a blowout win, no one was able to run on Seattle in the first quarter of the season.

In the last four games the Seahawks were pounded by David Johnson and Arizona, the Saints, and last week Buffalo ran the ball at will becoming the third straight team to pile up at least 120 yards rushing against Seattle.

Tony McDaniel is not the same player he was just two or three years ago as he has struggled at the point of attack this season at age 31. Ahtyba Rubin was signed to be the big body at nose tackle and was serviceable last year but like McDaniel he has been regressing as the season progresses.

The rest of the defensive line is retreads and washouts.  Damontre Moore and Casssius Marsh stepped in for Bennett last week. Moore played for the first time this season and showed that he has some pass rush moves but appeared undisciplined in the run game. Marsh is basically a special teams player and is not ready for regular snaps.

Sealver Siliga was cut by the Patriots losing out on a roster spot to undrafted rookie free agent Woodrow Hamilton this summer. He is probably the best interior run stuffer on the Seattle roster right now. Jarran Reed is a second round draft pick who is still acclimating as a rookie but has been getting a lot of snaps inside. He is big and strong and dominate on one play and is blown away the next play. He will have a bright future but Seattle need more from him right now.  

The Seahawks prefer to have depth up front and rotate players in and out but this year their depth has been tested. Just this week they were reduced to signing cast-offs from New Orleans (hardly a mecca for great defensive tackle depth). The Seahawks picked up John Jenkins for depth after he played his way out of New Orleans and went unclaimed via waivers.

Seattle will still have big plays in stopping the running game with K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner flying to the ball. Kam Chancellor acts like another linebacker in the run game with his size and power, but if the defensive line keeps allowing opposing offensive linemen and tight ends and fullbacks to the second level to pick them off.

The Patriots may not be planning to run the ball much, but when they do, they should have the advantage against Seattle’s weakened defensive line.