Of course, the Seahawks’ defense is so well-balanced, you could probably say that for any opponent they’re facing. When the Patriots want to run outside, they’ll run into Red Bryant and K.J. Wright. When they want to run up the middle, they’ll be met by nose tackle Brandon Mebane. When they want to pass to one of their talented tight ends, they’ll find just as many big, fast, pass defenders that match up perfectly.
Because the Seahawks match up so well, the Patriots will need to find mismatches and exploit them in order to move the ball in “The Clink,” as Seahawks fans affectionately call Century Link Field in Seattle.
The Seahawks defense is great, but it’s also methodical. When the Seahawks expect run, they play mostly in a base set with Bryant manning the left defensive end spot with three linebackers on top of the line. When they expect pass, they’ll move into a nickel defense, put rookie Bruce Irvin in Bryant’s spot, pull a linebacker and stick Marcus Trufant in the slot. They very rarely go to six defensive backs, and they very rarely stray from the system — because it works.
Of course, they don’t face an offense as versatile as the Patriots each week.
Because of the Seahawks’ system and because of the Patriots’ versatility, New England will need to run their no-huddle offense to keep those mismatches on the field. When the 330-pound Bryant is on the field, they’ll have to start running the high-tempo offense to keep him there so Tom Brady will be able to pass without Irvin getting in his face every snap. And when New England does find Irvin on the field, they’ll need to run the ball straight at him. Irvin was a surprise first-round-pick, not because of his pass rushing or athletic abilities, but because he’s not a versatile player and can’t contribute — yet — against the run or in pass coverage.
The Seahawks utilize three 310-plus-pounders on their base defensive line, rare for the NFL. Because big players tire quicker than smaller players, running the no huddle can only help. Of course, it also makes running inside extremely difficult.
While there’s certain specialty players on the Seahawks’ defense without the added value of versatility, there’s just as many who can stay on the field every snap because of their prowess against the run and pass and because of their size/speed combination.
That’s why you shouldn’t expect the Patriots to simply rely on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez — if healthy. The Seahawks have been extremely effective against tight ends, allowing a season-high 60-yards to Jermichael Finley of the Packers in week three. It’s almost tough to name all of the defenders in Seattle that have the size and athleticism to cover the Patriots’ tight ends. Linebackers Wright, Leroy Hill and Bobby Wagner, safety Kam Chancellor and cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman could all do the job depending on where the Patriots’ tight ends are lined up.
All of those Seahawks defenders are between 6-foot and 6-foot-4 and 200-to-246-pounds. They’re also all fast enough to keep up with Gronkowski and Hernandez. One way New England could utilize Hernandez is to to go with an empty backfield, and then motion him to running back. That either traps the Seahawks into using a dime set, leaving the team susceptible to Hernandez running the ball at them, or leaves linebackers trying to cover tight ends deep down the field.
Another perk the Patriots have is that they have three running backs with experience lining up split out wide at receiver. The Patriots can show sets with two or three tight ends and either Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen in the backfield and then have all of those players out wide in their next play.
The biggest matchup that the Patriots must exploit is in the slot. Marcus Trufant is a decent veteran player at this point in his career, but he’s not on the same level as the rest of the Seahawks’ secondary. If Julian Edelman is able to come back this week from injury, the Patriots will be able to use him and Wes Welker in the slot, and both could be able to exploit mismatches from either Trufant or a safety.
The Seahawks are coming into Sunday’s game inexperienced against the no-huddle in 2012. They’ve faced just nine snaps in the hurry up this season. The Patriots ran 44 snaps in the no-huddle Sunday alone against the Broncos.
While other teams may be scared to run the no-huddle in Seattle due to crowd noise, the Patriots may not be. Greg Bedard from the Boston Globe wrote a terrific piece highlighting how the Patriots began borrowing one-word playcalls from Oregon head coach Chip Kelly a year ago in 2011. That not only lets them play at a breakneck speed, but it also limits how crowd noise will affect playcalling.
The Patriots may not be able to put many points on Seattle if they fall into the Seahawks defensive schemes, but if they can break Seattle’s mold and exploit players with less versatility using the no-huddle, they have a very good chance to beat the best defense in the NFL.