PHOENIX—A big challenge for the Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl is the ability to match Seattle’s intensity, which few teams do. Not many NFL teams play with the collective motor and toughness of the Seahawks.
“They compete relentlessly as well as any team or any organization I’ve ever observed,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s from the opening kickoff to the final gun and they’re just never going to let up in any phase of the game: offense, defense, special teams, the receivers, the defensive backs, the linemen, the quarterback. Everybody just competes at such a high level for every single second that they’re out there.”
Many teams have tried to match Seattle’s toughness and claim they can before the game but then fall short.
Catching passes over the short middle on Seattle’ defense, an area Pete Carroll calls “The Kill Zone,” poses a big challenge for New England.
Catch passes in this region at your own risk. You are going to get walloped by the likes of safety Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks bank on receivers eventually backing down, not wanting to deal with the punishment. It’s important for the Patriots to not cower.
And injuries to three of the four starters in the Seahawks secondary might help the Patriots. Chancellor hurt his knee in practice on Friday. Fellow safety Earl Thomas suffered a shoulder injury in the NFC Championship Game. This could take away from the force of his hits somewhat. Richard Sherman deals with a hyperextended elbow.
These are all pretty new injuries, so it stands to reason that some, or all, of these players will have their performances impacted.
And speaking of the Seahawks secondary, their nickel back play has been somewhat inconsistent this year, with different DBs taking turns at the spot. Look for the Patriots to exploit this position with slot receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
In September, the San Diego Chargers upset the Seahawks 31-20, and the Patriots have studied that game long and hard. The Chargers had a very good plan to counter Seattle’s top-shelf defense. They threw short, quick passes, ran the ball a lot (37 times), and dominated the time of possession.
In that game, Chargers tight end Antonio Gates scored three touchdowns, two on Chancellor.
Look for the Patriots to try and exploit Chancellor when he’s matched up with their star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, who should be playing with a major chip on his shoulder after Seahawks nickel back Jeremy Lane said last week, “I actually don’t think he’s that good.”
Lane probably doesn’t have a future as a scout. Gronkowski had 82 catches and 12 touchdowns to win Comeback Player of the Year this season.
Aside from likely using short, quick passes to help negate the Seahawks’s talented pass rush, also expect the Pats to try to establish a power running game with their version of “Beast Mode,” 6-0, 250-pound tailback LeGarrette Blount, who can run over you, and moves surprisingly quickly for his size, so he can also make defenders miss.
This should be a terrific game, between perhaps the two best teams in the NFL.
But due to the injuries in the Seattle secondary, the Patriots enjoy a good chance of pulling this one out.