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27 Jan 2015

QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

by Vincent Verhei

Last week, we examined the worst games the Seattle Seahawks had played this season, and asked whether those games had exposed weaknesses that the New England Patriots would be able to exploit in Super Bowl XLIX. Today we're going to look at the worst games the Patriots have played this year, looking for vulnerabilities that Seattle might be able to attack. For a variety of reasons, though, the picture for New England is a lot murkier.

By DVOA, the Patriots' worst games this year were, in chronological order:

  • Week 1: Miami 33, New England 20 (New England DVOA: -21.6%): The Patriots led 20-10 at halftime, but failed to score in the second half, while the Dolphins scored five times on seven non-kneeldown second-half drives. Tom Brady dropped back to pass 60 times, resulting in four sacks (including two fumbles), 29 completions, and only 249 yards. Knowshon Moreno trampled New England for 134 yards on 24 carries, while Lamar Miller added 59 yards on 11 carries. And they accumulated that yardage consistently -- no Dolphins run gained more than 15 yards.
  • Week 4: Kansas City 41, New England 14 (New England DVOA: -74.4%): If anything, this game was an even bigger blowout than the final score would indicate, as the Chiefs led 27-0 well into the third quarter. Before giving way to Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady dropped back only 25 times, resulting in two sacks (both of which led to fumbles), two interceptions, 14 completions, and only 159 yards. On the other side of the ball, Alex Smith went 20-of-26 for 248 yards with three touchdowns and no picks, while Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis combined for 199 yards on 34 carries.

  • Week 7: New England 27, New York Jets 25 (New England DVOA: -2.6%): The Patriots nearly sunk to the Jets' level, as New York came within a failed two-point conversion of tying the game in the fourth quarter. It wasn't the most efficient day of Tom Brady's life, as he went 20-of-37 for 261 yards, but he finished with three touchdowns, no interceptions, and only one sack. The biggest problem for New England was an inability to stop the New York offense -- you know, the unit that finished 25th in DVOA. Geno Smith nearly matched Brady's numbers, going 20-of-34 for 226 yards with a touchdown and no picks. And the Jets ran all over New England, as Chris Ivory had 107 yards on 21 carries and Chris Johnson added 61 yards on 13 carries. Smith added six scrambles for 37 yards and four first downs, including three third-down conversions.
  • Week 17: Buffalo 17, New England 9 (New England DVOA: -12.5%): With the No. 1 seed clinched before the final week of the regular season, the Patriots played Garoppolo and the backups more than Brady and the starters. Kyle Orton went 16-of-23 for 176 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in the final game of his career.

If you're looking for New England's other loss (a 21-26 defeat in Green Bay in Week 13), the Patriots' DVOA that day was 28.1%; you need to play awfully well just to have a chance to win against the Packers, as New England did with a first down at the Green Bay 21 with 4:10 to play. (And if we adjusted the single-game DVOA ratings for home vs. away, the Patriots' rating for that game would be even higher.) The bigger issue is the Week 17 game. We have always found that removing rest-the-starters games makes DVOA less accurate, not more, and really the Patriots should have scored more than 9 points even with Brady only playing a half. On the other hand, it is clear that New England wasn't giving 100 percent that day. If we removed that game, we could replace it with their next-worst contest:

  • Week 3: New England 16, Oakland 9 (New England DVOA: -1.1%): The Patriots took the lead in the second quarter and never gave it back, though the Raiders actually had the ball for one drive down by just four points in the fourth quarter. New England's anemic rushing attack failed to put the game away, with just 83 yards on 29 carries. The Patriots gained 2 yards or less 17 times, including seven stuffs for no gain or a loss, and didn't gain more than 11 yards on a single carry.

So what should we do here? Stick to our guns and look at the four worst games, including Buffalo? Swap out the Bills loss for the Raiders win? Or take the five games in total? As it turns out, the results don't really change no matter which of those options we choose. So, since I looked up data for all the games anyway, we'll go ahead look at all five results.

Anyway you look at it, though, the causes of New England's bad games are less predictable than those of Seattle. With the Seahawks, it came down to a very simple formula: if their pass defense played well (which it usually did, obviously), they won; on the rare occasions that the pass defense struggled, they lost. With the Patriots, though, every bad game seemed to have a different fatal flaw. This may be a reflection of New England's well-rounded, versatile team. When one aspect of the team fails, the Patriots are usually strong enough otherwise to overcome that failure. Tom Brady, of course, is often good enough to win games on his own, but when he does play poorly, they can often get by running the ball. Or, if the offense is just out of sorts in general, their defense might carry the day.

So there is no "magic bullet," no one facet of the game where Seattle must come out ahead to get a win. There are, though, areas where New England looked vulnerable more often than not. Let's go over those five games and look at New England's performances in the four basic facets of football: rushing and passing, offense and defense. (Special teams would be the fifth facet, but the kicking game was not a major factor in any of New England's bad games.)

Passing Offense

Brady's collective numbers in these five games: 95-of-171 for 1,029 yards with six touchdowns. That's a 56 percent completion rate, for 6.0 yards per pass and 10.8 yards per completion. He also gained 14 and 32 yards on two defensive pass interference plays. He only threw two interceptions, because bad Brady is still pretty good. He was also sacked ten times, which isn't bad in 183 dropbacks, but four of those sacks resulted in fumbles. That all works out to a -19.8% DVOA, and -102 DYAR. So there's a good chance Seattle will be able to limit Brady's efficiency and explosiveness, but big defensive plays will be hard to come by. If the Seahawks need a turnover in the Super Bowl, a sack-fumble could be their best bet.

New England's individual receiving numbers, though, were pretty awful in these games. Brandon LaFell led the team with 290 receiving yards, just 58.0 per game. (Remember, Brady was throwing the ball more than 34 times per game in this sample.) Rob Gronkowski was held to 14 receptions and 183 yards in 30 targets, a Catch Rate of only 47 percent, with -19 total DYAR. In fact, Gronkowski was held below 1 DYAR only five times this season, and three of them came in New England's bottom-five games. If New England had a dangerous receiver in these games, it was usually Shane Vereen, who gained 32 DYAR by catching 22 balls in 31 targets for 178 yards. Given Seattle's usual conservative defensive schemes, Vereen could see a lot of opportunities in the passing game this Sunday.

Rushing Offense

The Patriots' leading rushers in these five games were Vereen (35 carries, 3.6-yard average) and Stevan Ridley (32, 3.2), the latter of whom hasn't played since tearing his ACL in October. LeGarrette Blount, who appears to be New England's top runner these days (though that could change at a moment's notice), had only 10 carries, all in the Buffalo game. One of those runs gained 34 yards; the others averaged 3.1 yards apiece. Collectively, New England's running backs were stuffed for no gain or a loss on 22 percent of their carries. (League-average rate: 19 percent). It's worth noting that wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell combined for a 7.8-yard average on six carries. That is some extremely small sample size stuff, but it does show that the Patriots will try the end-around if their running backs aren't getting the job done.

Passing Defense

In our five-game sample, the Patriots allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 95 of 149 passes for 1,004 yards, a completion rate of 64 percent with 6.7 yards per pass and 10.6 yards per completion. They threw for seven touchdowns and also gained a 24-yard DPI, with only two interceptions and eight sacks. Keep in mind this wasn't against the Ben Roethlisbergers and Aaron Rodgerses of the world, this was against Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr, Alex Smith, Geno Smith, and Kyle Orton. Interestingly, no receivers really had big days against the Patriots, even in their bad games. Travis Kelce and Dwayne Bowe both gained 34 DYAR against New England, and Robert Woods had 33. That's not a lot of DYAR for one game; it usually wouldn't even make the top ten in our Quick Reads listings. So even at their worst, the Patriots were able to limit the damage done by individual receivers. However, that probably won't matter much against Seattle, a team that likes to spread the ball around anyway.

Rushing Defense

Opposing running backs gained 751 yards on 156 carries against the Patriots in these five games, an average of 31.2 carries per game and 4.8 yards per carry. They also had a cumulative RB Success Rate of 60 percent, with a 10 percent Stuff Rate; for perspective, Lamar Miller's 57 percent RB Success Rate was the best in the league this season, while Jamaal Charles led all runners with a 10 percent Stuff Rate. It's probably not a coincidence that Miller and Charles played against the Patriots in two of New England's worst games. Even in their bad games, the Patriots didn't allow many long runs (0.62 Open-Field Yards per carry, compared to a league-average rate of 0.65), but Seattle won't need 10-yard runs if they're gaining 5 and 6 yards a pop.

Seattle's game plan

Given all of that, how does Seattle match up with some of New England's weaknesses? It must be disconcerting for Seahawks fans to see that at their worst, the Patriots still held opponents to just 10.6 yards per catch. That's actually lower than the 11.2 yards per catch they allowed over the full season, and implies that the best way to beat New England is a death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach, a station-to-station attack that focuses on picking up first downs, not necessarily big plays. The Seattle passing attack, meanwhile, was just 25th in Success Rate. The Seahawks pretty much rely on big plays to get their passing game going, but those will likely be few and far between in the Super Bowl.

The good news for Seattle is that it looks like they have a clear edge in the rushing game. Marshawn Lynch was stuffed on 17 percent of his carries, probably higher than expected, but still better than average. Meanwhile, he was fifth in the league with a 53 percent Success Rate, and of course he led the league in rushing DVOA. Speaking of league-leaders, the Patriots must also deal with Russell Wilson and his record-setting rushing DYAR. Defense against quarterback rushing is always small-sample-size theater, but the damage that Geno Smith did to New England on the ground can't be encouraging. The Dolphins, Chiefs, Jets, and Bills all did serious damage to New England on the ground, and none of those teams boasted anything close to the rushing attack that Seattle was this year. It sounds like an outdated cliche, but in this case it might be true: the more carries the Seahawks can amass in the Super Bowl, the greater their chances of winning.

On the other side of the ball, opponents have frequently shut the New England rushing game down; sometimes, the Patriots have even shut it down themselves. For all the attention Seattle's pass defense gets, by DVOA, their run defense was even better this season, so this could be another case when the Patriots go a quarter or a half without even trying to run the ball. That will leave it up to Brady to win the game, and by and large, that will leave it up to Seattle's defense to cover Rob Gronkowski. Cian Fahey wrote yesterday about how the Seahawks might try to cover the big tight end. It's required reading heading into Sunday, because it could be the matchup that decides the game.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 27 Jan 2015

43 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2015, 1:57pm by mehllageman56


by MJK :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 1:44pm

The problem for this approach, for Seattle, is that (leaving out the post-preseason game vs BUF), 3 of the 4 games above were in the first four weeks of the season. Leaving talk of "momentum" and "turning points" out, that was not the team Seattle will face. Ridley was the lead back, they favored a 4-3 with Mayo at MLB, Gronk was on a limited snap count, Browner was suspended, Dennard or Ryan were the starting CB opposite Revis, and the O-line was a revolving door of piece parts, with both Kline and Devey and Cannon playing significant snaps at guard. Plus, LaDell admitted in an interview that he didn't really know the offense till week 6, so you could argue that WR2 is different too.

Even if Stork doesn't play in the SB, forcing Kline to start, that's still 5 important starters who will be different now (RG, RB1, TE1, MLB, CB2), plus a different defensive scheme. Some of the pats more significant role players down the stretch (Branch, Ayers, Silaga, Blount) weren't even on the team for those games. And they've shifted main defensive scheme to a 5-2.

I actually think SEA matches up well with NE strengths, especially because Kam/Earl can probably limit Gronkowski. I think this is the second hardest challenge they've faced all year, after having to play GB at Lambeau. I just don't think looking at the Pats bad games this season will help SEA, because that was a very different Pats team.

by PaddyPat :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 1:55pm

Hey, nice piece. A few things:

Under Passing Defense, you say opposing "cornerbacks" when you mean "quarterbacks".

As a general thought, this sampling of games for New England underscores trends in the development of the team, which might make it a relatively poor sample. Early in the year, the New England offensive line was struggling terribly to gel in the wake of the Mankins trade, hence the sack fumbles, which were uncharacteristic for the team throughout the season. The week 17 game did seem like a half-speed type performance, and the Jet game that you have highlighted came on a Thursday night after the massive gutcheck for the team of turning around their season against the Bengals and then heading to the division-leading Bills for a knockdown fight. That week 7 game really felt like an unfocused performance by a team that was tired and drained, which is, honestly, how many Thursday games appeared for teams this year.

Some other games where the Pats struggled also have a situational feel: the Baltimore game seemed like a game where the team came out weak and unfocused and rounded into form as the game continued. That seems like a bit of a trend for this Patriots team--weaker in the first half, especially on defense. This was definitely true against Green Bay. Perhaps it will be important for Seattle to hit hard in the first quarter?

Running the ball well is definitely a trend for teams that beat or seriously challenged New England this year, including Green Bay, the Jets, etc. Even the Bengals ran rather well against them before they got away from it. Are there specific weaknesses that these teams are targeting in the running game? Is it a feature of Wilfork's age? Mayo's absence? The lousy contain by Jones? Poor discipline by the linebackers? Or just Belichick's schematic refusal to prioritize the run? Would love to see some thoughts on it.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 2:22pm

I'll say it again before Sunday, but I strongly believe the key unit in this game is the Seattle offensive line. If they don't out-perform their typical performance this year, I think the Seahawks lose, because while I don't expect the Patriots to be super-prolific on offense, I think they'll do enough to force the Seahawks offense be more than scavengers of short fields. Revis and Co. will handle the Seattle receivers without too much problem, unless the Seattle offensive line does more than what they have typically shown this year. I don't think a Belichik defense is going to be so undisciplined as to allow Wilson to burn them with regularity, unless the Seattle o-line physically whips the Patriots defensive front more often than not. I certainly am not predicting that they will be terrible, and it is very unlikely that Wilson will be anywhere near as bad as he was against the Packers, unless the Patriots score a lot of 1st half points, but I don't think the Seattle o-line is up to the task on a regular basis. Patriots win by more than 3.

by coltrane23 :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 4:17pm

As a Seattle fan, this is the match-up that scares me the most: NE front 7 against the Seattle offensive line. I'm not worried about Gronk v. the Legion of Boom because he'll get some catches and some yards, maybe even a touchdown, but NE can't throw him the ball on every play and expect to be successful. I haven't seen many NE games this year, but I know that Seattle's O-line is terrible in pass protection, and I can imagine Belichick has some ideas about how to get pressure while keeping Wilson in the pocket. And I know NE has the personnel to cover Seattle's WR corps.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 4:40pm

My local HS team has the personnel to cover Seattle's WR corpse.

by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 2:39pm

Why didn't the Packers sign them so they could play in the Super Bowl?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 3:52pm

GB was undone by one very bad series, but they mostly kept SEA's passing game bottled up.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 5:02pm

I could see them getting by with bad pass protection if they gashed the Patriots enough on first down to avoid a lot of third and longs. Much like Peterson and the Vikings since 2008, however, Lynch has made the Seahawks o-line look a lot better in run blocking than they really are, and they really need to step up their performance, in all aspects, to win this game. Getting a unit to really step up their performance in February isn't well trodden path. If they haven't been good in 16 regular season games and two playoff games, chances are it ain't happenin'.

by Perfundle :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 5:26pm

Just last year, the OL looked pretty bad in pass protection against New Orleans and San Francisco, and then looked great against Denver. If New England's pass rush isn't that good to begin with and they choose to spy Wilson a lot, I could certainly see Wilson getting more time to operate; whether he finds anyone open against that secondary is another thing.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 6:19pm

Eh, they didn't look that great against Denver in the 1st half, when the game was still in competition. They had about 5 yards per play on their meaningful possessions, with 20% of their yardage coming on the early jet sweep to Harvin. Denver's offense just played so poorly, the Seahawks defense so well, in the 1st half, that the 2nd half became non-representative.

by Perfundle :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 6:36pm

Yards per play isn't a good measure of OL play. It certainly isn't a good measure of OL pass protection, considering it includes runs.

Wilson went 9-14 for 94 yards in the first half. His incompletions were:

Horrible overthrow to a wide-open receiver.
Failed flea flicker.
Drop by Willson.
Slightly misthrown pass to Harvin which he dropped.
Well-thrown ball to Kearse that was equally well defended.

Overall, I don't remember that much pressure on Wilson on most of his throws.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 6:50pm

If the yards per pay is high, it's a pretty good bet the o-line play was solid. If my memory serves me right, they really didn't block Knighton well until the 2nd half. We'll see.Maybe they will outperform what they've done for the year. I do think the game is pretty evenly matched, and in an evenly matched game on a neutral field, I tend to think the team with the poorest performing unit loses. Now, the Patriots are certainly thin on the offensive line, so it wouldn't take much to push them over the edge, especially with one of their starters banged up, but then I'm also assuming that Sherman and Thomas are full go, which may be an unwarranted assumption.

by Perfundle :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 7:00pm

They didn't block Knighton well in the run game, yes; I don't think he did much in pass rushing. But looking at at the post I originally responded to, it seems you're talking about both, so I would agree that we shouldn't expect them to be great at run blocking.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 7:26pm

Yeah, my point is that the Seattle receivers are going to likely have a hard time against Revis and Company, unless the Seattle o-line really gets the better of the Patriots defensive front, both pass blocking AND run blocking. Of course, the same might be said in reverse; the Patriots o-line has to give to take the pressure off. It's just that the Patriots o-line has had a better year since mid October.

I hope I'm wrong. While I don't really care much who wins, I'd like to see Kevin Williams cap a great, great career, by looking like he's 28 again, getting a sack, a couple of passes knocked down, and just having an overall great game against the run. If that happens, then the Seahawks chances of winning are pretty good.

by Perfundle :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 5:23pm

I don't think a Belichik defense is going to be so undisciplined as to allow Wilson to burn them with regularity

New England's defense is much better than they have been in previous years, but a Belichick defense was certainly burned by Wilson multiple times the last time they matched up. He completed passes of 29, 22, 50, 24, 51 and 46 yards, and I don't think the pass protection was particularly great that day. I don't know why Belichick's defenses would have a reputation of being particularly disciplined.

As for Seattle's OL, Wilson's best games have come when he's decisive with the ball and fires off passes very quickly. Another option is to max protect, which is what Seattle used on the last play against Green Bay. Lynch actually ends up blocking no one because the other six blockers did their jobs, but not calling more max protection is one area of Bevell's play-calling that I don't like.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 6:22pm

Belichik's defenses usually are disciplined. They haven't been consistently talented in the past decade, but that is bit different this year.

by coltrane23 :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 11:33am

Pretty sure that the last time they played each other, Belichick ended up fielding two rookie safeties by the end of that game. I could be misremembering that, but I'm pretty sure that's why Rice was able to get behind the safeties to score the game-winning TD. I fully expect the Seahawks D to keep this game in the "manageable" category all game long. Marshawn Lynch will probably pick up 100+ yards in the game, and it'll probably still be tight in the 4th quarter. I think the challenge for the Seattle offense will be on Wilson: be accurate, and be on time. I think he's unlikely to see many blitzes because NE can probably apply pressure with 4 rushers, and they're likely to have a spy in place to prevent long gains on the read-option or scrambles. With that in mind, he's going to have to be patient and take what the defense gives him instead of bailing early on a semi-clean pocket (they're almost never entirely clean) and looking for the long ball. I know he's perfectly capable of playing effectively in that style, but I think it would be an atypical game for him.

by Vincent Verhei :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 3:05pm

Under Passing Defense, you say opposing "cornerbacks" when you mean "quarterbacks".

Fixed. Thank you.

by RickD :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 3:48pm

"In fact, Gronkowski was held below 1 DYAR only five times this season, and three of them came in New England's bottom-five games."

And in one of those five games (Buffalo), Gronk didn't take a snap.

by Vincent Verhei :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 4:01pm

Actually no. If it's not clear, I was only referring to games where Gronkowski actually played:

Week 1 vs. MIA: -15 DYAR
Week 2 vs. MIN: -3 DYAR
Week 3 vs. OAK: 0 DYAR (technically, 0.4, which is why I couldn't just write "below replacement level," which annoyed me)
Week 7 vs. NYJ: -18 DYAR
Week 16 vs. NYJ: -28 DYAR

by B :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 5:31pm

So, for Seattle to beat New England, they need to be like the Jets? This seems counter-intuitive.

by Vincent Verhei :: Tue, 01/27/2015 - 9:39pm

The Jets lost two games to New England this year by a combined three points, with DVOAs of 28.9% and 16.2%. So yes, in this VERY SPECIFIC SITUATION, Seattle might win if they play like the Jets but just a little bit better.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 10:25am

The Jets have given NWE more trouble, relative to their talent level, than maybe any other team in the league. BAL might have a claim, but they've been much better than NYJ overall, too.

by Paul R :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 10:49am

Since they are division rivals, it's not surprising that the Jets can give New England a hard time. Studying their strategy would be time well spent. Their execution, not so much.

by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 2:45pm

Trying to think about how the Jets actually covered Gronk this year. Usually, he kills them.

by ClavisRa :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 1:37pm

We looked at games with bad overall metrics and found some bad individual metrics. Not exactly a compelling window for analysis. I'm interested in what Jaws and Hodge present on the Match Up show, because it seems like Patriots match up extremely well with the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, along with a distinct edge in special teams. The only gray area is how well they contain the 'Hawks run game. Carroll takes smart risks. I expect him to focus on the Pats running game initially and blanket short passing routes. I also expect Brady to work the middle of the field over the top of the linebackers with great success. Then as the linebackers play deeper, pound runs up the middle.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 1:46pm

Does NWE ever pound runs up the middle?

I thought much of their short yardage rushing success was driven by Brady sneaks?

by Perfundle :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 1:54pm

Seattle isn't in vanilla Cover 3 all the time. If New England chooses to work the middle of the field they'll switch to Cover 3 Buzz, which is what they did against Denver last year, and the middle of the field is a lot more congested that way.

by MJK :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 2:31pm

Really? I almost feel the opposite--that the Seahawks match up very well with the Pats.

NE relies on a short passing game with YAC plus Gronk down the seam to make its passing offense go. SEA is insanely good at limiting YAC, and Kam Chancelor is maybe one of the few guys that can shut down Gronk 1-on-1. In the run game, NE relies on surprise (draws and runs from pass-looks) to really have success (except against lightweight run defense teams like the Colts); but a Carroll team that can get pressure with just 4 likely isn't going to bite as hard on these and leave running lanes open. Maybe for 2-3 yards, but not for 6-10. NE needs those longer runs to keep its running game going, since they are not really a 4.5 ypc team.

On the other side, Lynch being a big, powerful back will pull the Pats into their heavier defense, which has shown over the season to be vulnerable to QB scrambles. So I see Wilson having a big day with his legs. And while the Pats secondary should be able to blanket the SEA WR's, Wilson will probably get off one or two Houdini throws where he buys time and someone comes free eventually or gets Browner to commit PI.

I don't think the Pats are definitely going to lose, but SEA is probably the worst NFC matchup they could have drawn. I would have taken Cowboys or Packers (even with a healthy Rodgers) over SEA.

by Perfundle :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 3:49pm

I think his reasoning is that Brady is most susceptible to interior pressure, which Seattle doesn't have anymore with the loss of Mebane and Hill. But as you said, Seattle matches up very well in the back seven (they match up well against every other team, for that matter). In the end, I don't think any team has an obvious advantage on a particular side of the ball.

by duh :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 4:05pm

Really? I gotta think that Seattle has a pretty good advantage on offense. New England's D has been vulnerable against good running teams all year. I think the weakness has been partially disguised by the Patriots offense putting up enough points often enough that teams had to abandon the run, I'm not sure I see them being able to do that here.

by Perfundle :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 4:20pm

Bad run defense is rather overrated. Most teams can devote enough resources to stopping the run if they really tried, and Lynch has been stopped several times this year by worse run defenses. The issue is that doing so leaves the secondary vulnerable, but New England has one of the best secondaries to prevent the coverage breakdowns that Seattle forced against Philadelphia, Arizona and Carolina. I think the best secondaries Wilson has faced this year are Green Bay's, Denver's and San Francisco's, and for the most part he has struggled against them.

by duh :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 4:42pm

Which run defenses worse than the Patriots 'shut down' the Seattle running game?

by Perfundle :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 6:39pm

Looking at this season's opponents, several teams turned out to be better at run defense than I thought, so no one in 2014, but in 2013, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Minnesota and New Orleans (first game) all held Lynch to respectable yardage but were overwhelmed through the air.

Still, New England has a pretty mediocre pass defense DVOA despite their secondary. I know their pass rush isn't much, but neither was Seattle's in 2012 and they still managed -18.8%. Can anyone who has watched them play explain what their weaknesses are?

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/28/2015 - 7:33pm

They aren't tremendously deep, and their best pass rusher was either off the the field or hobbled a good chunk of the year. He seems much healthier now. Health, of course, is the great subtext to playoff football that is hard to evaluate in January and February. How close to full go are Sherman and Thomas going to be? Hell if I know.

by duh :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 1:14pm

As Pen notes below they gave up a ton of big plays, close to the most in the league. They seemed particularly vulnerable to TEs as they gave up more than 15 plays of 20+ yards to TEs (Fleener had 5) and several more to RBs.

I attribute it mostly to Hightower being vulnerable in coverage and Patrick Chung's history of poor coverage. Finally as Will noted, they aren't deep and Logan Ryan often seems to have a target on his back for opposing QBs, it was no accident that Flacco was going after him when he threw the crushing INT late in the playoff game.

Lastly I took a look to see if maybe the long plays were the result of meaningless 'garbage time' passes and I don't see that. Of the 65 20+ yard plays the patriots gave up only 8 of them occurred in the 4th quarter with the Patriots up by 14 or more points.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 3:58pm

I think it is more that we have different perceptions of 'deep' or 'big' plays. The Patriots give up a ton of plays that go between 15-30 yards. They don't seem to give up many that go 40+ yards, but a lot of 15-30 yard plays isn't that great either.

by duh :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 4:28pm

The Patriots gave up 8 plays of 40+ yards which is pretty much average. Though clearly there were some team who were REALLY hurt by long plays.

Full stats at the link below


by Pen :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 4:37am

"The Seahawks pretty much rely on big plays to get their passing game going, but those will likely be few and far between in the Super Bowl."

Interesting hypothesis considering that despite how talented the NE secondary is, they ranked 30th in allowing the big play passing. Seattle ranked 6th in % of explosive plays passing (New England ranked 25th in % of explosive passing plays).

When one factors in Seattle's advantage running the ball and NE's need to stop the run, letting Revis and Browner hold down the fort, I would think that Seattle should find some success passing for decent chunks of territory.

by Mugsy :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 11:41am

Ol' Rex Ryan very effective scheming against Brady and the Pats. The key is to pressure Brady relentlessly. Rex knew if Brady has time in the pocket, the Jets are dead --they don't have a professional secondary. The Jets played them very competitively this year with cornerbacks named Philip Adams and some other hopeless chumps. But Rex dialed up enough plays that brought pressure. If you can make Brady pick himself up off of the cold hard ground, over and over, eventually it pays off and he gets frustrated, starts yelling at his receivers and he gets uncomfortable. That's the key -- Rex makes him consistently uncomfortable in the pocket. That is the key to the Jets effective defense against Tom Brady. Wilkerson and Richardson hitting him over & over again seems to throw a wrench into the Pats game plan. Rex will drop defensive linemen into coverage and hit Brady with a blitzing linebacker, whatever works. He will have Coples hit Gronkowski on the line of scrimmage to screw up the timing of routes. The Jets just seem to play Brady real tough, I guess that's why B.B. wanted those practices and defensive signals filmed so badly!

by PaddyPat :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 8:42pm

There was no scheming about taping signals after Rex got to New York. You're just being incendiary for the purpose of vexation. Yes, Ryan's defensive schemes were often well constructed. Then again, his team just as frequently flopped horrifically against Brady and the Patriots. Go back and watch the week 9 game in 2011, a game in which I expected the Jets to not only win, but to win convincingly. Brady put on a clinic with his audibles in one of the most impressively managed games of his entire career. He absolutely shred the Jets, with their full complement of players, including Revis and Cromartie, Wilkerson, Harris, et. al.

by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 1:57pm

I remember that game; Gronk and Hernandez killed them. The turnovers didn't help either, but the Jets had their full complement of players on defense, but not on offense; a bunch of their receivers were hurt for that game, if I remember right.

by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 1:54pm

When Rex Ryan got to New York, Darrelle Revis was coming off his first Pro Bowl season. In Ryan's second offseason, they trade for Antonio Cromartie. The Jets had a very good secondary until two years ago, when they traded Revis and Cromartie got hurt. By the way, as the article states, the reason the Pats almost lost the first game was their inability to contain the Jets offense. Most of your points only apply to the second game.

As Paddy Pat states, Spygate happened two years before Rex Ryan went to New York. Your timeline is off.