The New England Patriots are finding the Seattle Seahawks at an ideal time.
Quarterback Russell Wilson and left tackle Bradley Sowell are banged up, the Seahawks are struggling to run the ball, and running back Thomas Rawls and pass rusher Michael Bennett already have been ruled out. For those reasons, it would be surprising if the Patriots don’t beat the Seahawks on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Seattle is among the top teams in the NFC, however, so these teams could meet again on a neutral field in Houston this February.
Here’s how the Patriots can ensure victory Sunday night.
FORCE THE SEAHAWKS TO RUN
Because right now, they can’t.
No one would blame this version of the Seahawks for throwing from the goal line with seconds remaining in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks are averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, and starting running back Christine Michael carried the ball five times for 1 yard in Week 9 against the Buffalo Bills.
Rawls won’t be back against the Patriots, though the Seahawks are expected to give rookie C.J. Prosise more carries. He’s averaging just 3.1 yards per carry this season, so that might not be a fix.
The Patriots likely will spend most of the game with five safeties on the field, using Patrick Chung combined with either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon to take out tight end Jimmy Graham. The Patriots should go with a dime defense (three cornerbacks and three safeties) in sub packages with Chung playing a pseudo-linebacker role.
FEED JULIAN EDELMAN
With Chris Hogan banged up, expect to see a lot of Julian Edelman lined up outside, rather than the slot. It would be in the Patriots’ best interest to line him up across from DeShawn Shead, against whom he could have similar success as he did in Super Bowl XLIX against Tharold Simon and Byron Maxwell.
The Seahawks use long cornerbacks on the edge and stay mostly in man coverage and Cover-3. Edelman should be able to beat Shead with his quickness against man and find holes in the middle of the field against the Cover-3.
Edelman had the game of his life, catching nine passes for 109 yards with a touchdown in the Patriots’ Super Bowl win over the Seahawks. He could have similar results Sunday night.
ASSESS RUSSELL WILSON’S HEALTH
If Wilson continues to look banged up, the Patriots should try to pin their ears back and deliver pressure against the Seahawks’ anemic offensive line. If Wilson appears to be moving better, the key will be to stop him from beating them with his legs. The Seahawks can’t run the ball with their backs, but Wilson can take off and beat any team when he’s feeling 100 percent.
STAY AWAY FROM RICHARD SHERMAN
Playing keep away from Sherman isn’t difficult, since he likely will stay on the defensive left side of the field without an obvious receiver to shadow. That means the Patriots should focus their attention on the offensive left side and middle of the field.
Brady is completing 74.7 percent of his passes — best in the NFL — to the left and middle of the field, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Thumbnail photo via Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports Images