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15 Nov 2016

Any Given Sunday: Seahawks Over Patriots

by Rivers McCown

The general Las Vegas consensus had the Patriots favored by 7.5 points at home against Seattle. It was a line that made a lot of sense based on the balance of the season. New England has been tearing teams apart since Tom Brady came back. The Seahawks offense has alternated from good to bad, depending on a couple things: how well they can run on a team, and how much pass rush a team can get against a hobbled Russell Wilson. Thus, New England's offensive DVOA entering the game was 18.4%, and Seattle was at 1.6%. Brady versus The Legion of Boom was the known main event of this game, but the Wilson-Belichick undercard was how we would decide the winner.

Wilson started to turn his season around last Monday night against the Bills. Sunday was the official coming-out party for his health. Seattle's quarterback, for the first time, looked mobile and able to manufacture passing yardage outside of the structure of a play. This is what makes the Seattle offense special, and the fact that it is back bodes well for their chances going forward.

What we didn't expect, and what helped Seattle get over the top despite some red zone struggles, was the play of third-round rookie running back C.J. Prosise.

Prosise, a converted safety and receiver at Notre Dame, offered the Seattle offense something it has never really had this year: a receiving back that can create matchup problems. It's one thing when you have a running back who can catch a screen and read blocks, or a back who can make something happen in the flat. It's another entirely when linebackers who pushed Jamie Collins off the Patriots start getting torched out of the slot.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

Prosise finished second in DYAR this week, behind only Ezekiel Elliott, despite offering little in the way of explosive running plays.

Now, it's important to remember that Seattle isn't necessarily going to exploit Prosise going forward. Running back pass usage is very dependent on game plan and scheme, as Patriots fans are well aware of given their history with Shane Vereen.

But it's one more option for an offense that now has a number of them. If Seattle can reach the playoffs with Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Prosise, and Thomas Rawls healthy, they're going to be a hard team to stop even if the offensive line creates a few negative plays a game. And if you combine that with a healthy Legion of Boom, well, this certainly starts to look like a team to be reckoned with come playoff time.

By the VOA

NE 27.7% 12.0% -2.2% 13.5%
SEA 24.0% -11.7% 0.8% 36.5%
NE 10.9% 15.4% -2.2% -6.7%
SEA 24.5% 3.8% 0.8% 21.5%

Seattle won on the field and in the numbers, but opponent adjustments mean this won't hurt the Patriots' overall rating very much.

New England's Pass Rush Problems

Through Week 9's games, New England had successfully pressured the passer on a middling 16.2 percent of dropbacks, a number which ranked 17th in the NFL according to Sports Info Solutions charting. They came into this game dead last in adjusted sack rate.

If we break that down a little further on an individual level, it looks like this:

NE Defenders With Four Or More Hurries through Week 9
Player Team Pos Hurries
Jabaal Sheard NE DL 12.0
Chris Long NE DL 8.0
Dont'a Hightower NE LB 6.5
Kyle Van Noy NE LB 4.0
Trey Flowers NE DL 4.0

(Ed. Note: These numbers likely look lower than our pressure stats from past years. The SIS charters are generally marking fewer pressures than we have marked in past years, an issue we are working on rectifying.)

Remember that in this game specifically, the Patriots decided to go away from Jabaal Sheard. Sheard played just 16 of 70 defensive snaps for the team. So, no wonder the pass rush could muster just three sacks and five total quarterback hits on Wilson.

This is likely New England's biggest weakness right now, and if they can barely rush the passer against one of the worst offensive lines in the league, it's a pretty big deal. What happens if they play the Raiders and Derek Carr has all day to pick them apart? The Pats have put a lot on the plate of defensive mastermind Belichick to come to play in these situations.

And, well, this is what happens when you trade Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins away. This defense simply doesn't have a star edge rusher right now. Sheard is a decent No. 2, but nobody who needs to be schemed around. If you take the long run, you look at the trades and think: Well, the Patriots weren't going to be able to pay all their 2017 defensive free agents. Jones wasn't an absolute superstar. Collins can be replaced by Roberts. The Patriots are awesome with draft picks. This is going to turn out just fine.

But in the short term, losing that much talent can catch up to a team and give them a weakness that might be exploitable. I lean more towards the long term when judging NFL moves, so I don't have any problem with what the Patriots did in creating this scenario.

But make no mistake, this will definitely need to be overcome.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 15 Nov 2016

5 comments, Last at 16 Nov 2016, 1:36am by PatsFan


by Perfundle :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 8:17pm

I can't imagine Seattle has been featured in this column as the underdog since 2011. Which team has gone the longest without being the winning underdog? It's not New England because they were featured on week 1 this year.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 8:31pm

I did like the Seahawks run blocking as well. If that becomes a typical performance, the Seahawks will be difficult to beat in January, although I really do like the Cowboys o-line against the Seahawks defensive front.

by Perfundle :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 9:16pm

A lot of people want to look at the last game between these two teams to see how Dallas' offense would do against Seattle's defense, but the biggest issue in that game was Seattle's offense, which was simply inept outside of Lynch. Harvin touched the ball 6 times for an impressive -1 yards (this was the game that got him cut), and Wilson wasn't much better outside of the rushing touchdown.

Now, Seattle's offense has a nasty habit of disappearing in the playoffs, particularly in the first half (0 points against Atlanta, 3 points against SF, 0 points against Green Bay, 0 points against Minnesota, 0 points against Carolina), so if they do meet, they have to get off to a better start.

by RickD :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 9:53pm

"Remember that in this game specifically, the Patriots decided to go away from Jabaal Sheard. Sheard played just 16 of 70 defensive snaps for the team. So, no wonder the pass rush could muster just three sacks and five total quarterback hits on Wilson."

His replacement was Trey Flowers, who was clearly the best pass rusher for the Pats on the night.

Sheard had earned his spot on the bench.

"This is likely New England's biggest weakness right now, and if they can barely rush the passer against one of the worst offensive lines in the league, it's a pretty big deal."

There's a lot of debate going on as to whether the lack of pass rush is due to scheme or pure lack of talent. On Sunday night we saw the Pats even use a 2-man rush at times. I don't know what the purpose of that was, but the effect was to let the Seahawks drive 75 yards for a TD in less than a minute.

Last season the Pats had weaknesses on the O-line. Thanks in part to the Chandler Jones trade (which led to drafting Joe Thuney), the line is better this season. But also thanks in part to that trade, the pass rush is much worse this year.

Sheard has been a disappointment this season. Chris Long has been more productive than many thought he could be, but he's nowhere near his past peaks. And I don't think trading Jamie Collins could possibly be construed to be helpful.

My hope is that the team's poor performance on Sunday was due in part to moping after the Collins trade. Certainly they need to play better or they're not making the Super Bowl. And Belichick will be roasted by the media for the Jones and Collins trades. The Boston media have gotten very spoiled by Belichick's success, and now feel it reasonable to second-guess his personnel decisions.

by PatsFan :: Wed, 11/16/2016 - 1:36am

The Boston media has been spoiled by Belichick's success and only "now" feel it's reasonable to 2nd-guess him?? I want whatever you are partaking of.