By: Ian Mahan January 26, 2015
Keys to Victory: Patriots Vs. Seahawks
All the talk leading into Super Bowl XLIX hasn’t actually been about Super Bowl XLIX. However, while I am passively fascinated by how the NFL comes to any conclusion in terms of Deflategate, I can’t help but wonder why the majority of the sports media is refusing to focus on a game that could potentially end one dynasty and launch another in favor of what could be a total of 22 PSI. It just doesn’t make sense. When this Super Bowl matchup was decided, I remember reaching out to my friend Jason who is a very knowledgeable coach and sports fan. He has seen all the great ones play and knows that someone is always going to be good in some generation. I remember sending him a text saying something about how excited I was about this Super Bowl, and he responded in perhaps the most appropriate way ever.
“Now vs. Next.”
How fitting. How fitting that in order for the Seahawks to become the next back-to-back Super Bowl champions and launch discussion of them being the NFL’s current standard of a dynasty, they have to knock off the team that was the last to accomplish the feat. In order for Russell Wilson to go from a mid-draft, unheralded quarterback to NFL darling, he has to outplay one more future Hall of Famer and lead the Legion of Boom to the promised land one more time. How fitting that Russell Wilson is just so easy to like even through his Tony Robbins like insurance company advertisements.
How fitting. How fitting that the media and sports fans alike raise questions as to whether the condition of the footballs used in the AFC Championship game actually gave Brady an advantage. How fitting that just because he has ultimately separated himself as the most accomplished quarterback of his generation, people can’t wait to disqualify it because they don’t necessarily like him. How fitting that in a postseason where he sets records for post season TD’s (previously held by Joe Montana) and postseason passing yardage (previously held by Peyton Manning), he somehow hasn’t done enough to convince everyone that he just might be the best ever. This is his sixth trip to the Super Bowl, which is one more than any other quarterback that has EVER played, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer John Elway for that mark. Call him a cheater, cry-baby, or whatever else you want to call him, but when it comes to having the game on the line and someone flipping the switch on their model like TV personality, and All-American like demeanor to Michael Meyers from Halloween and basically gutting a defense for everything they are worth, give me Brady every time. However, I’m starting to think that Wilson might not be a bad choice either.
This game isn’t about illegal practices during the offseason, conspiracy theories of steroid use, or the implication that the Patriots gained somewhat of a competitive advantage over a team they would have beaten by playing with a brick. This is about two extremely compelling storylines and two quarterbacks that despite their different playing styles, might not be all that different when it comes to wanting to win. It all comes down to how these teams play against each other with two very different playing styles. Here’s where I think the biggest keys to the game are:
For the Patriots to win they must:
-Not be afraid of the physicality of the Seahawks devastating secondary. I can’t imagine it’s much fun being hit by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, and I don’t ever want to be hit by them, but it’s not my job to run a route, catch a ball, and hope they just tackle me and don’t knock me into my next birthday or reincarnation. That lovely pleasure falls upon the likes of Brandon LaFell, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola. Regardless of knowledge and prior experience playing this team, the Patriots receivers cannot be afraid of the physicality. They have to make the catch and worry about hanging onto the ball before anything else.
-Do not avoid Richard Sherman. In fact, I would gun for him every chance I get. Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers offensive staff really missed one here when they didn’t test a one armed Richard Sherman with Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson. And call it what you want, but Sherman did much more than just “sprain” his elbow. If I am calling the shots for the Patriots I am running passing plays to running backs Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright right at Sherman and forcing him to be physical. Forcing him to use that arm and try to make plays.
-Do not pass the Blount. Just because Seattle has a great defense, doesn’t mean they can’t be exploited. Now I am well aware that LeGarrette Blount is not DeMarco Murray or Jamal Charles, but he is formidable and seems to use some defenders as subway turnstiles, but Seattle has given up 100-yard games to running backs this year. Blount is capable and the Patriots need to use him.
-Keep Tom Brady upright. Earlier this season the Patriots had the hardest time keeping Brady on his feet. If they can give him the kind of protection that they have given him thus far this season, I see a very productive day for the Patriots offense and a potentially long day for the Seattle defense. The Patriots go as far as they can get Tom to carry them.
-Defense, defense, defense. While the Patriots offense is important in this game, the old adage that, “Defense wins championships,” might not have been more true in the Patriots history that it is now. They overhauled the secondary last off-season by acquiring Darelle Revis and Bradon Browner, adding skill and physicality to a defense that had none of it last year. The real importance in this game is going to be how the Patriots respond to what they know Seattle does well on offense. I have a hard time believing Bill Belichick will let Marshawn Lynch run all over his defense willingly. He is going to make Marshawn work for it. The major problem then becomes, how to stop Russell Wilson. He can run, throw, and get out of trouble. You have to have a spy on him at all times. I’m looking at you Rob Ninkovich and Akeem Ayers. There is nothing frightening about the Seattle passing attack as I am sure Browner knows how to get in the heads of Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse and I have no fear of Revis struggling with either of them. Stop Beastmode and Wilson and Brady will be joining the four-ring club.
For the Seahawks to win:
-Stop the Big Man. Seattle has struggled against tight ends all season giving up yards in chunks to them. So naturally they should be focused on stopping Gronkowski first and foremost. However, Gronk doesn’t just beat you when he catches the ball he beats you when his teammates are catching the ball as well. He draws so much attention that before you know it Julian Edelman has 8 catches for 119 yards somehow. If the Seahawks can limit the amount of personnel they devote to Gronkowski they will have a very good chance of doing what they did to the Broncos offense a year ago.
-Somehow win the passing game. I don’t like the matchup of Kearse vs. Revis and Baldwin vs. Browner for the Seahawks. It doesn’t bode well especially for a quarterback coming off a game where just threw four interceptions against a much lesser defense, and New England has the personnel to mimic some aspects that Green Bay utilized. The key is going to be for Wilson to find his time, which he is capable of doing and letting his receivers try to find just that little bit of extra space.
-Feed the Beast. Marshawn Lynch. Do I need to say more? Keep giving him the rock and hope that he breaks out at some point to wear the Patriots defensive front down.
-Special teams. Part of what made Seattle so devastating to Denver in last years Super Bowl was their tremendous play on special teams. Few teams have been better on special teams than the patriots this season so if the Seahawks can match up well with them in this phase of the game, they have a great shot at coming away with the Lombardi.
-Russell Wilson has to shine from start to finish. New England is too talented and too well coached for them to struggle to put Seattle away if they start out like they did against the Packers. New England also won’t be afraid to go for touchdowns on the one-yard line like Green Bay was. If Russell Wilson starts turning the ball over in the air (which is possible because if the PSI of the ball is determining games nowadays we should expect lots of interceptions with the Chicago Bears equipment manager handling the footballs) New England will make them pay drastically for those turnovers. Wilson has to outplay Brady from start to finish. If he can do this, he might start getting the respect that he already deserves.
Fans of these teams or not, if you are skipping this game because you simply don’t like either team, go ahead and skip next season because it probably means you aren’t a fan of football. This could be one for the history books.