The lack of a compelling matchups and real life circumstances conspired against letting you know What to Watch last week, but this Week 10 matchup against the New England Patriots offers an obvious and yet deep and wonderful matchup to look at. Seattle can’t run, and New England defends the run well. Seattle passes well, and New England defends the pass poorly. New England is a mediocre run team, and Seattle locks down the run. Where Titans collide is in the pass game, with Tom Brady rocking Revenge Tour 2016 with a very highly rated Passing Offense and the Seattle Seahawks counter with the Legion of Boom and their highly regarded Passing Defense.
The ability for the Seattle Seahawks to slow down Tom Brady is key on Sunday. If the Legion of Boom can limit passing and eliminate big plays, Seattle could possibly out gun New England in a shootout. If they cannot, the limitations of the Seahawks Offense make it a more vulnerable group than Brady’s Bunch.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots currently have the 3rd ranked Offense and the 1st ranked Passing Offense according to Football Outsider’s DVOA. Since Tom Brady returned from suspension after 4 games, the Patriots scored 33 on the Browns, 35 on the Bengals, 27 on the Steelers, and 41 against the Bills. None of those teams have great defenses this year, but hanging those kinds of numbers consistently on NFL teams is impressive. Brady has been a great Quarterback for a number of years now, and this season is running parallel to one of his best ever in 2007.
What ties 2016 Brady to 2007 Brady? Completion percentage. Brady’s previous career high in completion percentage is 68.9% back in ’07, and he is blowing that number out of the water so far this year by hooking up on a spectacular 73.1% of his throws. Not only is he completing a ton of his passes, but he’s doing it to the tune of 9.84 per attempt. When you hit that many passes and hit them all big, that is how a player puts together a big season. That is also how an Offense plays middling football for 4 weeks and then runs to the top of the league when their Quarterback returns.
The weapons Brady uses are as important as the man himself right now. This is probably the best set of tools he’s had to work with in the last several seasons, and he is spreading the ball around and using the full complement of skills at his disposal. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola are the primary Wide Receivers, but Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett as well as Runningbacks like James White are also making plays in the passing game. While Bennett and Gronkowski are both over 400 yards receiving on the season with a combined 7 touchdowns, the rest of the pass catchers are sporting fairly pedestrian numbers. A slightly deeper look though shows a variety of skills. Chris Hogan is averaging 20.6 yards per catch, making for a reliable deep threat. Edelman has 41 catches on the season, making a nice target for moving the sticks. The variety of weapons mixed with an extremely accurate Quarterback means that the Defense has to cover every inch of the field. A breakdown in just one or two places is enough to let the Patriots put up 3 or 4 touchdowns and pull away.
When a team forces you to cover every inch of the field, it takes a very good Defense to handle that kind of pressure. The Seattle Seahawks just so happen to have a very good Defense. According to Football Outsider’s DVOA numbers, Seattle has the 6th overall Defense and the 6th ranked Passing Defense. They are in the top 10 defending WR1’s, interior receivers, and Runningbacks. However, they have struggled a bit (or maybe much more than a bit) against WR2’s and TE’s. Seattle in 25th in efficiency covering number 2 Receivers, yielding nearly 50 yards per game on just under 6 targets. They are also giving up about 41 yards on 6 targets to Tight Ends, and while that doesn’t sound like a lot the type of talent that New England has will put a big time stress test on those numbers.
Covering Tight Ends and Wide Receivers over the middle has long been the Achilles Heel to this Seahawks Defense, but this year there is a secondary factor that needs to be considered, health. Kelcie McCray has shown some ability as he has played, and the revolving door at the SAM Linebacker spot has been productive, what that health issue has done is lead to some issues with communication and some very up and down play. What it has also done is lead to some changes in the way the Defense lines up. The return of Kam Chancellor this week is huge, and I would wager you will notice a difference in the way the team plays as a result. Kam, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and KJ Wright have been cornerstones of this Super Bowl caliber Defense, and having all of them on the field means roles ought to be better filled. However, there is a secondary importance to the return on Kam Chancellor. Kam is a Safety with a Linebacker’s body and makes for a really heavy nickel formation for Seattle. Against a team that thrives on the pass and has been middling in the run game, look to see the depth of the Seahawk’s secondary show as a strength. With Kam playing in the box and plus tackling Defensive Backs like Kelcie McCray and DeShawn Shead the team can be flexible in keeping Defensive Backs to cover the two Tight End sets New England likes to run while not making themselves vulnerable to a physical Runningback like LeGarrette Blount.
On Sunday Night, look to see how Seattle chooses their personnel to address the Patriots’ Passing Offense, because a team that trots out KJ Wright, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, DeShawn Shead, and Jeremy Lane has the size, flexibility, and versatility to cover the multitude of weapons that Tom Brady throws to as well as any Defense in the league. The big worries here will be covering crossing routes over the middle and how the zone covers that space, combined with whether we get the lights out play Jeremy Lane had the first several weeks of the season, or the exploitable Jeremy Lane of the last few weeks who has struggled at times in coverage and appears to be pressing too much for plays and getting burned. That coverage is key though because blitzing Tom Brady is suicide. Seattle needs great coverage and pressure from the Front 4.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are going to score some points. You can bet on at least 3 Touchdowns even if the Defense is playing great. The question is can Seattle make plays on Defense to steal an extra possession or two. If Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, and the Defensive Line can get a bit of pressure and the coverage is strong, that could be enough to help the Seahawks escape Foxborough with the win. That of course depends on if Russell Wilson and the Offense can put up scores and keep the Defense from spending two-thirds of the game on the field, but that is just too much of a wild card at this point to examine with any level of confidence. Seattle will have to put their faith in the Defense, and that squad has about the best shot of any in the NFL at slowing down New England.