Scouting report, Part I: Patriots’ little guys could be a big problem for the Seahawks
The Seahawks have revolutionized what teams look for in cornerbacks by stacking their roster with long, athletic guys who can go up and swat the ball away from wide receivers who have the ability to jump over smaller defenders.
The approach has helped Seattle piece together one of the better defensive backfields in NFL history.
But there is one flaw to this approach.
Some of these bigger guys struggle to keep up with small, shifty receivers — the kind of guys the Patriots like to stock their roster with, as it turns out.
So the key for the Patriots will be how well Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman perform against the Seattle secondary.
Since the Seahawks typically play Cover 3 and the corners stick to one side of the field, New England should be able to dictate the matchups it sees. This could create an opportunity for Edelman to routinely beat Byron Maxwell, who struggles against quicker receivers, off the line and routinely get open for short throws.
If New England wants evidence of how this approach might work, it can go back to a Week 3 game between Denver and Seattle when Emmanuel Sanders routinely beat Maxwell off the line and finished with 11 catches for 149 yards.
It might be enticing for the Patriots to go deep and try to challenge Richard Sherman but, as many other teams can attest, that is not typically a recipe for success.
The best approach might be to settle for short gains to the outside and over the middle.
Scouting report, Part II: Seatle will counter with physical play on defense
Give him the slimmest of margins, even just a crack, and Tom Brady will find a way to pick you apart.
For the Seahawks to have a chance in this game, they’re going to need to get physical with New England’s receivers and disrupt the rhythm of New England’s offense. Knocking this team out of whack can be a huge advantage for a defense — especially when you consider so much of the offense is predicated on option routes and Brady often throws to a spot before the receiver makes his break.
To take this advantage away and negate the impact of receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who might be able to exploit Seattle’s bigger corners with their quickness, the Seahawks cannot afford to play off coverage and give them free releases.
Even Rob Gronkowski, who appears big and strong enough to fight through jams, often struggles when presented with a physical defensive approach. Don’t be surprised if you see him and hulking Seattle safety Kam Chancellor (who’s probable with a knee injury) clashing at the line of scrimmage.
This approach shouldn’t be an issue for the Seahawks. They held their own in the NFC title game against a Green Bay offense that has a quarterback and weapons who are on par — if not better — than what New England will roll out. They just need to make sure that, if press tactics are employed, they are successful in doing so.
If not, Brady certainly will spot the open men and take full advantage if one of his receivers happens to slip by and leave the corner in his wake.
Players to watch
Patriots LB Jamie Collins
He might not be a household name for the rest of the nation, but he very well could become one by the time Sunday comes to a close.
Taken in the second round of the 2013 draft, it took Jamie Collins about 12 weeks before he was able to gain his footing and carve out regular snaps with the Patriots. But once he got his feet planted, he was ready to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Over the past year, Collins has become one of the more explosive linebackers in the NFL, and he has the kind of sideline-to-sideline speed all teams covet.
He’s so often around the ball, sometimes you begin to wonder why he wasn’t in on a play instead of questioning how he managed to get to the last one.
He’s the shining example of how drafting and developing a player who is considered a project can work out.
Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell
Even with Delvin Breaux now in the fold, the Saints enter the offseason in need of help at cornerback.
It just so happens that Maxwell could reach free agency this offseason. So if you’re interested in doing some window shopping, he’s worth keeping an eye on during the Super Bowl.
From the outside looking in, it appears that the Saints are trying to follow the blueprint Seattle has laid out in building its secondary, so there’s little question the 6-foot-1 cornerback would fit in well with New Orleans.
Maxwell isn’t a top-shelf corner, but he’d be a solid No. 2 guy next to Keenan Lewis. He finished the season with a pair of interceptions and 38 tackles.
ProFootballFocus.com gave Maxwell a minus-0.02 grade for the season, meaning he made about as many positive plays as negative ones during the season.
1. Gronked out
The Seahawks are unlikely to be dominated by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has carved out a living dominating any force bold enough to oppose him. But look at the work the Seahawks did against some of the better tight ends in the NFL this season: They held Denver’s Julius Thomas to 17 yards, Carolina’s Greg Olsen to 16 and Dallas’ Jason Witten to 24. The only tight end this season to give Seattle fits was San Diego’s Antonio Gates, who hauled in seven passes for 89 yards.
2. By ground, not air
Expecting to see Tom Brady and Russell Wilson attempt to air it out against two of the better secondaries in the NFL? It might happen, but it seems more likely these teams will attempt to first establish the run and bowl their way to victory. The Patriots surrendered 129 yards to Baltimore’s Justin Forsett in the AFC title game, and Seattle also has had issues stopping the run, despite faring well in that category during the regular season. This one might come down to the power backs, the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount and the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch.
3. But maybe by Air, too
Expect the Patriots to find out early whether Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas are healthy. Sherman is battling an elbow injury — he kept his arm clutched across his abdomen in the waning moments of the NFC title game — and Thomas has a shoulder injury. Both players claim they will be fine by kickoff, but expect Brady to seek the truth early in the game. If either player is hindered, it will give New England a sizable advantage.
4. Oh, the trickery
The rest of the league has had two opportunities to get a look at how the Patriots play games with ineligible receivers to create confusion for the opposition, and Seattle has had two weeks to prepare for it. Call it cheap, call it ingenuity — it doesn’t matter to coach Bill Belichick. Seattle has no excuse for being caught with its pants down, as Baltimore and Indianapolis were in back-to-back weeks. The league has said its officials will help Seattle better identify what the Patriots are doing, so there should be no complaints after this one.
Nick Underhill’s prediction
If I’m being honest, my predictions for the Saints this season bordered on embarrassing. I never seemed to get a read on the team, and things got worse as the season progressed.
Before the season, I did get something right. I predicted the Patriots and Seahawks would square off in the Super Bowl — like nearly everyone else.
Back then, I picked the Seahawks. I’m not sure I’d go to the bank on that one, but I’m going to stick with it.
Seahawks 17, Patriots 14