The New England Patriots will look to win their fourth Lombardi Trophy Sunday evening in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks and below are five things that I feel they must accomplish in the game in order for that to happen.
Short Passing Game Must Click – Much like Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady prefers to throw a lot of short passes that travel less than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage to receivers who have quickly worked themselves open via smash or rub route concepts. In fact, during the regular season, the Patriots led the league in short passes to the left side as they threw that direction 220 times for an average gain of 6.89 yards. Brady is not the kind of quarterback who can beat defenses deep consistently as including the playoffs, he’s only completed 38.3 of the passes he’s attempted that have traveled more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. The Patriots wide receivers must get free releases in this game against the Seahawks physical defense.
Don’t Forget The Run – While the Patriots proved in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens that they can abandon the run completely in order to win games, they probably won’t want to do that against the Seahawks. They have two capable running backs in Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount who should be able provide balance for the offense on the ground. The Seahawks defense allowed 4.36 yards per carry on 50 regular season runs off left tackle in 2014 and that’s the direction the Patriots offense should try to attack in this game. The Patriots offense must have some semblance of balance.
Get Gronk Mismatched – Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski figures to be a huge x-factor in this game. The Patriots should try to get him matched up one-on-one with a linebacker early and often. Of the Patriots 106 pass plays during the regular season and playoffs that gained 15 or more yards, Gronkowski was responsible for 37 of them (34.9%).
Prevent Beast Mode Yards After Contact – While I don’t believe the Patriots defense will be able to completely shut down Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in this game, they can eliminate some of the damage he does by getting him down on the ground consistently after first contact. The last thing they need is for their cornerbacks and safeties to have to consistently come up and make tackles on the powerful running back as that will take a toll on the unit as the game progresses. Holding Lynch under 90 yards should result in a win.
Contain Mr. Wilson – The Seahawks love running the read-option in order to keep defenses honest. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ran for 849 yards during the regular season and not only will he take off with the football on designed runs, he’s also not afraid to tuck the football and run after he drops back. The Patriots will have to keep a spy on Wilson in the middle of the field and their edge defenders must be disciplined on the outside. Wilson can easily flip the field with an explosive play by using his legs and he had eight such runs of 20 yards or more during the regular season.