The Seattle Seahawks may not be the most well-rounded team in the NFL, but the things they choose to hang their hat on they do very, very well. The New England Patriots will bring their new-look run game and all-out passing attack to CenturyLink Field on Sunday looking to impose their will on the Seahawks.
Standing in the way of another 300-yard, three-touchdown game by Tom Brady is one of the biggest, most physical secondaries in the NFL. Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner all stand at least 6'2", while Earl Thomas is one of the most talented free safeties in the game today.
With smaller receivers like Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd—and possibly Julian Edelman—likely to get pushed around a bit, the bulk of the offensive responsibility (at least in the passing game) will fall on Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski has made a living in the NFL of being such an athletic player for his 6'7" frame. He dominates smaller safeties and outruns linebackers, making him as close to unguardable as one can find in the NFL.
Chancellor will likely find himself on Gronkowski for much of the game, and that matchup will be an interesting one to watch. Neither player is known to back down from a challenge, and it is a sure bet that with the 6'4", 221-pound Browner locking down at least one of Brady's outside targets, Brady will be leaning on Gronkowski more than he has in recent weeks.
There is another factor that makes Gronkowski a vital part of the offense: run blocking.
Much like Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll coaches his teams to take away what their opponents do well. In this case, Carroll will look to take away the passing game and force the Patriots to run the ball—something they have proven they are more than capable of doing.
This is where Gronkowski comes into play. Much of the Patriots' sets involve Gronkowski on the line, and once Brady scans the defense and makes his checks, chances are Gronkowski will be sent on a blocking assignment.
Through five games, Gronkowski has done this job admirably, the one notable slip-up being a holding call late in the Arizona game. It will be crucial for him to continue blocking at a high level and force the Seahawks defense to get some guys in the box and respect the run.
Once that happens, things open back up for the Patriots in the passing game, and Gronkowski gets to go back to his matchup with Chancellor.
If Gronkowski does his job on Sunday, the Patriots will walk out of one of the NFL's toughest environments with a well-deserved win.