Seattle Seahawks: 10 Keys to Week 6 Game vs. New England Patriots
In short, something's got to give.
Both teams enter Sunday's game with three wins, two losses and the strong desire to piece together an impressive win that could help them build momentum toward something greater.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 keys to the game on Sunday for the Seahawks. Some will seem obvious, but against a team like New England, the 'Hawks need to bring their A-game to make a statement in what's been, so far, an uneven start to the season.
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Let's cut to the chase. If the Seahawks intend to win on Sunday, they can't afford to trade field goals for touchdowns.
Against the Carolina Panthers perhaps, but against an offense like the Patriots, the 'Hawks face the potential of finding themselves in a deep hole if they're unable to convert.
This week the 'Hawks need to score by any means necessary in order to compete with Tom Brady.
Yes the 'Hawks defense has made the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton look human, but can they do the same against the veteran Brady?
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Simply put, the 'Hawks need to make his trip to Seattle unpleasant.
For the better part of the past decade, giving Tom Brady either or both the time and space to work is not a good idea.
Fortunately the 'Hawks seem to have a few players at their disposal who can chase him down, as Clare Farnsworth outlined on the Seahawks.com blog:
On the spot: Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Brady has been sacked 12 times in five games, compared to 16 in the entire 2009 season, 25 in 2010 and 32 last season. At the current pace, Brady will be sacked 38 times, the most since he went down 41 times in 2001. Sunday, Solder, a first-round draft choice last year, and Vollmer, a second-round pick in 2009, will have to contend not only with the din generated by the 12th Man crowd at CenturyLink Field, but the heat generated by Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin. The Seahawks’ rush-ends have combined for 10 sacks, the second-most by any end tandem in the league.
If Irvin and Clemons can work their magic along the defensive front in the same way they did against Aaron Rodgers, they can, perhaps, slow the Patriots hurry-up attack.
Of course, at some point, you figure Brady will get the chance to throw though...
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If, and more likely, when Tom Brady gets the chance to throw, he has quite a few impressive weapons at his disposal, but none are quite as challenging to cover as his tight end.
Rob Gronkowski, folks, is a dangerous man who will need to be kept under control.
In all likelihood, Kam Chancellor and the linebacking corp will be tasked with keeping a close eye on him.
It will be interesting to see how this matchup plays out, as Chancellor could earn another trip to the Pro Bowl if he manages to minimize the damage Gronk has a tendency to create.
Meanwhile, as if Gronkowski isn't enough, Wes Welker underneath and Brandon Lloyd downfield also present interesting matchups for the 'Hawks.
If the 'Hawks' secondary wishes to be considered the league's best, Sunday's matchup should be as good as any to prove their worth.
Stop the Pats Run Game
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At the same time, the Patriots aren't simply going to throw all day either. In fact, they're quite good at running the football, it seems, having rattled off two consecutive 200-plus-yard rushing performances against Buffalo and then Denver, respectively.
Youngsters Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden give the Patriots a one-two punch that will require run-stuffers Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane to get busy up front on the defensive line.
For the first time this season, the Seahawks will face a balanced attack with the ability to both run and pass effectively. This means Gus Bradley really has his work cut out for him in scheming to keep the Pats in check.
Don't Get Cute
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Speaking of coaching, the entire staff needs to take a smart approach in going up against the Patriots.
In other words, don't go for an onside to start the second half when the opposing team's kicker is knocking the laces off the ball from anywhere on the field like they did in St. Louis two weeks ago.
Love him or hate him, Bill Belichick is one of the best in the business and is not someone who suffers fools gladly. Getting cute could backfire in ways that I'm almost afraid to contemplate.
That's not to say that the team needs to come out tight, but sticking to their core strengths would be a good place to start.
No More Stupid Penalties
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Yet, before the 'Hawks can do anything on Sunday, they need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
Penalties are part of the game, but some major unforced errors have been causing problems on both sides of the ball.
Each week, it seems that somebody takes on the role of goat.
Against the Panthers it was Breno Giacomini who owned up to his mistakes earlier this week, according to Daniel O'Neil of The Seattle Times:
I've just got to play smarter. Marshawn is a back that doesn't stop so I'm not going to stop until he stops. I've just got to gauge it a little bit better. Those are my penalties so it's my fault, but I'm not going to stop playing the way that I'm playing just because of the backs we have, but I've got to play smarter.
While it's nice that he came clean, deeds, not words, are what the 'Hawks need most.
It'll be hard enough to beat the Patriots on Sunday without giving them extra plays, yardage or killing any positive momentum.
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As a team this season, the Seahawks have only once scored more than 20 points in game, meanwhile only once this season the Patriots haven't.
Therefore, getting into a track meet with the Pats would seem like a bad idea.
How can the 'Hawks keep the ball moving and control the game?
If there was ever a game where Marshawn Lynch needed to both chew up yardage and the clock, it's this one.
Yes, the 'Hawks will need to mix it up a bit with the occasional pass, and perhaps, give rookie Robert Turbin a few carries, but "Beast Mode" will need to be in effect as part of the winning formula this Sunday.
Unfortunately, the Patriots are quite strong against the run this season, so the 'Hawks might need to go to the air?
Exploit the Pats Secondary?
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Will this be the week the Seahawks take to the skies?
It's at this point where things can go off the rails if quarterback Russell Wilson tries to force anything through the air.
Unlike some recent opponents, though, it won't be easy. Fact is it's not too often you can throw two interceptions against the Pats and go home victorious. Yet, Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke highlighted the point earlier this week that the Patriots secondary can be challenged:
13. New England could not cover Demaryius Thomas: The Patriots’ pass defense continues to improve, but it had no answers for Thomas on Sunday. It took Denver longer than it should have to fully take advantage of that — Thomas was targeted 10 times and caught nine balls for 188 yards. Teams with elite receivers are going to pose problems for the Patriots, especially if Devin McCourty struggles as he did Sunday.
While it's hard to say that the 'Hawks have an elite receiver, could Sidney Rice, perhaps, have a big week?
At any rate, achieving a workable balance between running and passing will probably be the difference between the 'Hawks making the playoffs and spending the month of January on the couch.
This weekend will really put that theory to the test as we will see whether Russell Wilson is capable of maturing as a professional quarterback.
Receivers Need to Step Up
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Of course, Russell Wilson can't do it alone.
Last week against the Panthers, Wilson, for a time, looked like he finally had a working relationship with his pass-catchers as Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate all had at least three receptions.
Can they build upon this, or will they revert back to the unit that has generally looked terrible through the first few weeks of the season?
If they can consistently beat the Pats secondary and avoid any funky turnovers, then this might be the week the 'Hawks go from pretenders to contenders.
This group doesn't need to have a million yards, just simply hold their own and make Wilson look good in the process.
The 12th Man
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Finally, it's up to you.
Understand, this isn't some cheesy pandering appeal to the 12th Man expected of fans every week.
Instead, this is the simple fact that Tom Brady in his long career has never played in Seattle as Danny O'Neil of The Seattle Times let Brady explain:
I'm actually excited to get out there and play in a place I've never played. I think what makes it loud is that they're very good. So, when they make plays, the crowd is into it and they get a lot of support.
Pats head coach Bill Belichick also commented on the crowd, according to Field Yates of ESPN:
[The] crowd is totally into it, they do a great job of being loud, causing false start penalties and things like that on the offense. Seattle has historically played very well at home, it's a huge home field advantage for them. Record-wise, their record at home has been amongst the best in the National Football League. Really, they're right up there with I want to say the Packers in the NFC. Absolutely, that'll be another big challenge for us, the whole long-trip out there and the environment and hostile crowd that we'll be facing.
Bring the noise Seattle as the 'Hawks will need all the help they can get.
At the same time, I honestly feel this is a game the 'Hawks can win. Months ago when the schedule came out, I wasn't quite so sure.
Both teams are talented, but the question is whether either one can actually close the deal.
That, I'm not so sure of. I believe this could be a nail-biter that will come down to who has the ball at the end.
Like I said at the beginning, something's got to give. Let's just hope the 'Hawks employ the right mix of give and take to win on Sunday.