Through five games, the Seahawks lead the NFL in total defense, allowing just 258.6 yards per game. What's scarier is how well balanced the team is. The Seahawks are fifth in pass yards allowed (192.0 per game) and third in rushing yards allowed (66.6 per game).
The Seahawks showed a hint of their future dominance last year when they finished the season ninth in total defense. It's incredible how quickly Carroll put the group together. In 2010, Seattle had one of the worst defenses in the league, finishing 27th in total yards.
The former Patriots head coach took over the team two years ago, and the 2012 squad includes just eight players from the 2009 roster. The defense is a well balanced attack, but it's centered around a stout defensive line. Red Bryant is the unheralded star of the pack as a 328-pound — but athletic — defensive end. Bryant and defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch anchor against the run to the tune of just 3.2 yards per carry.
Right defensive end Chris Clemons' specialty is getting after the quarterback. He leads the team with 5 1/2 sacks and 24 total QB pressures and makes an imposing pair with third-down pass-rushing rookie Bruce Irvin, who has 4 1/2 sacks of his own. The Seahawks' interior linemen are nothing to scoff at in getting after the passer, either. Mebane has two sacks on the season, while situational interior rusher Jason Jones has 1 1/2. Bryant and Branch have each provided six QB hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
When opposing offenses have time to get the ball away, they have to deal with a scary, young secondary in Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. That group might be the biggest secondary in the league, and those four players are as imposing in coverage as they are in size. Browner has the tendency to play a little stiff at times — which is expected for a 6-foot-4, 221-pound cornerback — and he's known to makes some mistakes, but he's got great ball skills that translated to six interceptions last season and one so far in 2012. His partner on the left side, Sherman, has been targeted 28 times for 16 receptions, 216 yards, two interceptions and four pass deflections. Sherman has yet to allow a touchdown on the season.
Chancellor and Thomas are both big, physical safeties. Thomas covers the deep part of the field extremely well and is only getting better with more experience. Chancellor was looked at as a linebacker by most teams coming out of Virginia Tech and can play the linebacker/safety "money" role like few others in the league. Seattle's starting secondary has allowed just two targeted touchdowns on the season.
The Seahawks' linebackers provide a nice combination of run defense and pass coverage — an area the bigger Patriots linebackers have lacked. Leroy Hill, the elder statesman of the group, has allowed just six receptions on the season at weak-side linebacker. K.J. Wright has been a top-five outside linebacker this season, according to Pro Football Focus' ratings, while Bobby Wagner has been one of the best rookies at any position.
The Patriots have been developing more of a running game this season,
leading the NFL with 191 carries on the season. New England may need to
change that approach if it hopes to move the ball against the Seahawks' powerful defense. Opponents have only run the ball against Seattle 103 times. Both Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer left Sunday's
game against the Broncos with injuries, and the Patriots will need those
All-Pros back to move the ball on the ground and to protect
If Aaron Hernandez is healed enough to play on his mending ankle, Seattle could match up well with the wide receiver/tight end hybrid. Browner might be his best competition, with similar size and speed. Chancellor, Wright, Hill or Sherman could match up with him as well.
Seattle could also make it difficult for Brady and the offense to run the vaunted no-huddle offense. Seattle's Century Link field is known as the loudest stadium in the NFL, which could cause major problems in yelling out signals for Brady. Getting that no-huddle going could be key, though, as the Patriots will need to keep Bryant on the field for passing plays and Irvin on the field to run the ball.
Wes Welker and Julian Edelman — if healthy — could be keys for the Patriots. Marcus Trufant is the worst of the Seahawks' top five pass defenders, and he'll be asked to match up with the shifty receivers in the slot. Brandon Lloyd could be another problem for Seattle, although the Seahawks matched up well with him in St. Louis last year, allowing 10 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown on 26 targets. Of course, that was with Sam Bradford keying in on him, not Brady.
The Patriots have a suddenly tough matchup on their hands. Coming into the season, the NFC West was supposed to be a breeze.
But while New England's defense matches up well with Seattle's strengths and weaknesses on offense, the Patriots will have to do what no other team has been able to do against the Seahawks this year — move the football.