Tom Brady and the Patriots offense must keep their balance in the Super Bowl against Seattle. (USA TODAY Images)
The Patriots have arrived in Arizona and are preparing for Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots offense faces a tough test against the best defense in the NFL and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to come up with a stellar game plan for New England to be successful.
The key to this matchup is for the Patriots to use their versatility against Seattle and bring all of their weapons to bear against the Seahawks who bring a deep, fast, athletic unit.
No one changes their identity from week-to-week more than New England. They are the most game-plan specific team in the league. Facing Baltimore in the Divisional Round, the Ravens front seven was one of the tougher units in the league at defending the run. But their secondary was beset with injuries and as a result, the Patriots all but abandoned any pretext of running the ball relying on a short passing game that was a death by 1000 cuts. New England passed for 418 yards in a 35-31 win.
Flip the switch to a week later and the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had a good secondary but were light on the front seven. The Patriots went to a power running game with LaGarrette Blount and gashed Indy for 177 yards on the ground enroute to a 45-7 rout.
The Seahawks donāt have a glaring weakness on defense to attack, so the key this week is to mix up the play-calling and use both facets of the offense to keep the chains moving and scoring against a defense that hasnāt allowed a lot of points in the second half of the season.
Running Game Key to Open Up Offense:Seattle has been very good against the run in 2014, (3.4 ypc) but that doesnāt mean the Patriots canāt run the ball, in fact they must win the battle at the point of attack and attack the middle of the Seattle defense.
Teams that ran successfully against Seattle did so by running up the middle. Long developing stretch plays wonāt work against this defense as they are too fast, too athletic and will swarm to the ball.
With LaGarrett Blount, the Patriots will have to attack the middle, specifically to the left side behind C Bryan Stork and LG Dan Connolly and try to keep that defense from just teeing off in the pass rush.
Carolina and Green Bay had some success running the football gaining 132 and 135 yards respectively in the two playoff games thus far. But the offensive line, which has been inconsistent at times this season, will have to win the battle upfront.
Spread āem Out: The Patriots bread-and-butter is the short, to intermediate passing game. Seattle has the personnel on the back end of the defense that can take that away. See the SB against Denver last season. The Broncos WRs couldnāt beat the jam at the line of scrimmage and the game quickly got out of hand. Seattle is adept at times, rushing only three and dropping a DL into coverage which takes away those short crossing routes.
Seattle is also excellent at limiting yards after catch (YAC), that is how the defense is constructed and they flow to the ball better than anyone.
Look for New England to spread out the Seattle defense which will allow Tom Brady to get the ball out quickly and try to slow down the Seattle pass rush. Brady has been getting the ball out in about 2 seconds which makes it very hard for opposing pass rushers to get to him.
The onus will be on receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski, to beat the jam at the line and win the one-on-one battles. LaFell could be a big target in this game; he has the size, physicality and ability to make the all-important yards after catch.
An interesting matchup will be who the Patriots line up opposite Richard Sherman. The Seahawks generally line Sherman up to one side and leave him there. Donāt be shocked if that turns out to be Gronkowski, split out wide. Much like opponents attack New England, look for the Patriots to utilize the 2nd, 3rd and 4th options in the passing game.
Brady has been better this season at throwing to his left, so Edelman and/or LaFell may be split wide left in this one. The Patriots donāt throw the ball deep down the field and Seattle is excellent at covering the deep pass, but the intermediate part of the field will have to be targeted.
Forget the screens and bubble screens this week, Seattle is rarely fooled by those and will flow to the ball and stuff them with ease.
Gronkowski Will Have Plenty of Attention: Pats TE Rob Gronkowski will have lots of company wherever he goes this week. Expect the Seahawks defense to contest every release and look for them to give him plenty of looks.
Seattle safety Kam Chancellor will probably draw primary responsibility of coverage of Gronk and the big, physical safety will be a fascinating matchup to watch. But donāt be surprised to see LB Bobby Wagner with help over the top from Earl Thomas try to take away the seam routes that Brady loves to attack with Gronk.
Expect to see Gronkowski split wide right, if Seattle leaves Sherman in one-on-one coverage, the big TE will test Shermanās ability to tackle with the one arm.
Vereen the āX-Factorā This Week: Patriots running back Shane Vereen may be the guy who provides the matchup winner for the New England offense in the Super Bowl.
Vereen caught 52 passes out of the backfield this season and with the Seahawks looking to limit Gronkowskiās ability to stretch the seams, Vereen may be the guy who stretches the field for New England.
Vereen has been targeted only nine times this post-season but has seven catches for 80 yards. Look for McDaniels and Brady to try to isolate Vereen on LB Bruce Irvin and get a longer look down the field (wheel route), where he can win the battle.
Irvin has been good in coverage this season, but itās a matchup that Vereen can win and it serves a double purpose, taking Irvin out of the pass rush scenario.
The Patriots have a tough task in attempting to take down the Seahawks who have the opportunity to be the first team since the 2003-2004 Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. But if Josh McDaniels uses the entire playbook, the Patriots, who have scored 80 points in their first two playoff games, have a great chance of upsetting Seattle.
The game plan is one thingā¦then it will be up to the players on the field to produce.