New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks: 10 Keys to the Game for the Pats
The Patriots are faced with the tricky task of defusing a shutdown defense on enemy soil. This is never an easy job, especially when the opponent is feeling good and building momentum.
The Seahawks are deep, tough and well-coached. Their defensive backs are massive and physical. Their pass-rushers are freakishly effective. Their quarterback has a proven ability to orchestrate big wins. The team's chemistry is sharp and focused.
What are the secrets to overcoming these obstacles? Let's find out.
Here are 10 keys for the Patriots to beat the Seahawks on Sunday.
Stick with What's Working
New England's offense is clicking right now.
Wes Welker totaled 375 yards over the last three weeks. Brandon Lloyd broke 100 yards in Week 3 and found the end zone in Week 4. Stevan Ridley has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the team's three victories. Brandon Bolden ran for 137 yards in Week 4, and Tom Brady has thrown 1,450 yards.
This formula is working. Don't change it.
There's no need to rush back to the double-tight-end offense from last season, especially with Aaron Hernandez still healing and Rob Gronkowski not playing in his peak form.
Eventually, the two-tight-end offense will return and be dominant as ever, but it's important to let that process happen organically.
The Patriots don't need to force the ball to Gronkowski in order to score points. They can beat the Seahawks with the blueprint they've been using.
Stick with what's working.
Reduce the Self-Inflicted Wounds
Rob Gronkowski has four penalties on the season, the most of any player on the Patriots. Devin McCourty has chipped in three devastating penalties of his own.
This is unacceptable.
Rob Gronkowski is a top-shelf tight end, one of the best players in the league. Devin McCourty is a Pro Bowl cornerback. These guys are supposed to set a positive tone for the rest of the team, not lead the team in flags.
New England's self-inflicted wounds will give Seattle a fighting chance to steal this game. These guys need to straighten up and play a clean game on Sunday.
The same goes for Stevan Ridley, whose ball security issues have resurfaced after his fumble last week. Let's hope he gets back on track and takes care of that ball.
Know Your Weakness
New England's weak link is their secondary. Their defensive backs are a step slow; miscalculations are common; tackles are late; their technique is out of whack, and flags are flying.
Pete Carroll would be wise to strike that nerve through the air. Russell Wilson will find his receivers downfield and take some bold chances.
Those bold chances will tell the tale of the game. It's up to New England's secondary to decide how that tale unfolds and ultimately how it ends.
Seattle will try to abuse them. They'll put a big play on the table and challenge the secondary to stop it.
Patrick Chung really needs to have a big game. He's in danger of slipping into the kind of season that Devin McCourty had last season. The Patriots can't afford to let that happen.
Protect the King
Tom Brady's bodyguards are always on high alert, but the threat is even more severe this week.
Seattle's defensive line is extremely active and dangerous, possessing the ability to create confusion, defend passes and get to the quarterback.
Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin are two guys to watch out for, having already turned in 5.5 sacks and 4.5 sacks, respectively.
This is where crowd noise becomes a factor. It's no secret that CenturyLink Field is ridiculously loud. Such noise could create havoc on New England's communication at the line. It can also infuse Seattle's pass-rushers with extra venom, put a little pep in their step and get their adrenaline pumping.
In the face of this hysteria, New England's offensive line must find a way to protect their king.
Keep Woodhead Involved
Danny Woodhead's true colors have gotten a bit cluttered over the years. He's had plenty of sensational moments, but he's also endured lengthy periods of ineffectiveness and near invisibility.
At this point, it's probably fair to say that he isn't the next Wes Welker or Ray Rice. He is, however, the kind of unassuming player who can make a heroic play. He proved that last week when he converted a crucial 3rd-and-17 situation with an epic run. It was simply spectacular to witness.
That's who Woodhead is. He's tough and fearless.
He wants to be in big situations. Sometimes, the results are ugly (fumble in the AFC championship); sometimes, the results are awesome (touchdown in the Super Bowl).
Either way, pass or fail, he's ready for the next moment, the next challenge. That's the sign of a potential hero down the road. That's why the Patriots need to keep him involved.
Keep feeding him the ball in crucial situations. He's small, tough and squirmy. Let Seattle's oversized defenders chase him around all day. More often than not, Woodhead will get the better of them.
Contain the Beast
Marshawn Lynch is one of the most powerful running backs in the NFL. He runs with an aggressive style, notable for his giant and dramatic steps, as if his legs were alligator jaws chomping down and eating massive chunks of field. He can move without blocks. He breaks tackles with fury. He's a machine.
In just five games, he has 113 carries (second overall in the NFL) and 508 yards (third overall). He has 229 yards after contact. His lowest single-game total has been 85 yards. Incredible.
The pressure now falls on the shoulders of New England's run defense. Thus far, we've seen some good and some bad from this crew. In Week 1, they held Chris Johnson to just four yards. A few weeks later, they gave up 101 yards to Ray Rice.
The outcome of this game will be decided, in part, by which run defense shows up.
Keep an Eye on Washington
Leon Washington ranks 11th overall in punt returns with 103 yards. The closest guy to him on the Patriots is Julian Edelman, who ranks 22nd with 63 yards returned.
That wide gap paints a clear portrait of Seattle's advantage on special teams.
It's essential that the Patriots keep an eye on Washington and put a cap on his returns. They must prevent him from making a momentum-swinging run, especially with the crowd ready to go nuts at a moment's notice.
Coverage needs to be top-shelf this week.
Stick with Dennard
Last week, Alfonzo Dennard made his presence felt. He stayed energized, broke up passes, played tight coverage and looked totally comfortable in the moment.
Can he repeat that performance in Seattle? Can he snowball it into something bigger and better? Impossible to say, but I'm definitely interested to find out.
New England would be wise to continue Dennard's trial by fire and let him earn his stripes at CenturyLink Field. The crowd will be crazy, and the pressure will be intense, but that's just the sort of hectic situation that forces a player to rise to heroic heights.
Pressure the Rookie
A quarterback with six interceptions is always on the verge of throwing his seventh.
Russell Wilson has six picks.
New England's pass-rushers need to get in Wilson's face. They need to get in his mind, too. They need to block his mental clarity, detach him from the energy of the crowd, force him into confusion and get him to make rash decisions with the football.
Wilson's a good quarterback, but he's still a rookie, which makes him vulnerable.
The Patriots need to jump on this opportunity with pressure, picks, hits and sacks.
Attempt a Blowout
In the first half of the Bills game, the Patriots were awful. They mostly hurt themselves with mental errors and poor execution. They were fortunate to stop the bleeding just before halftime.
They stormed out of the gates and destroyed the Bills in the second half, but that didn't totally erase the memory of how poorly they started the game.
The following week against the Broncos, the Patriots built an extremely comfortable lead before slowly watched that lead deteriorate. They still won, but not without a little sweating down the stretch.
After all that drama, the Patriots might find themselves in the mood to inflict an old-fashioned, wire-to-wire blowout on the Seahawks.
They certainly have enough weapons to run the table here. From a mental and physical standpoint, it would do them a lot of good to hit this out of the park from the get-go.
They should punch the Seahawks in the mouth when the game starts. Punch them and keep punching them until the game's over. Try and break the scoreboard.