Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork anchor a New England line that has been surprisingly stingy against the run this year.
RENTON — The biggest question facing Max Unger on Sunday isn’t whether he’ll be available for the game.
Seattle’s center is pretty much certain to play, returning to practice Friday after sitting out afternoon workouts on Wednesday and Thursday because of a sore hip.
The largest uncertainty is just how Unger and the Seahawks line are going to find headway against a Patriots defensive line anchored by tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love.
“They’re huge,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They’re much bigger than advertised there, and they’re really physical. They’ve built their defense around those two guys, you know, and counting on them to absolutely dominate in the middle.”
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Most of this week has been spent discussing whether Seattle’s defense, which has allowed the fewest yards in the league, can slow down the Patriots’ offense, which is averaging a league-high 33 points. But New England’s ability — or lack thereof — to stop Seattle’s rushing attack might be every bit as pivotal in Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field.
A year after allowing the second-most total yards in the league, the Patriots’ run defense could almost be described as stingy this year. The Patriots are allowing 82.2 yards per game on the ground, and while it’s worth noting that ranks No. 8 in the league, the more-telling measurement is to compare that to last season. New England allowed 117.1 yards rushing in 2011, and that 34.9-yard improvement is the fourth-largest in the league.
That’s particularly important for Seattle’s offense given its emphasis upon running the ball. In fact, Seattle has gained almost as many yards on the ground (140.2) as it has through the air (147).
Seattle wants to run the ball so it doesn’t have to rely too much on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, but getting Marshawn Lynch going will require some heavy lifting up front considering the Patriots’ pair of formidable tackles.
“We’ll put a couple of hats on ‘em and see if we can get them moving some,” Carroll said, “but we expect them to be very unique in that they are so big and so tough, too.”
Wilfork is listed at what is surely a conservative 325 pounds. He is a Patriots co-captain for the fifth consecutive year, and has been named to the Pro Bowl four times. None of the Seahawks’ current starters on the offensive line has ever played against Wilfork.
“It will be a big test,” said Paul McQuistan, who is starting at right guard. “He’s a big dude, plays with leverage. He swallows up two blockers a lot of the time, and that’s just their style.”
McQuistan remains at right guard with John Moffitt out for the third consecutive game from a knee injury. Moffitt isn’t expected to return before Seattle’s Week 7 game at Detroit.
Unger’s return provides a boost. He’s listed as probable, and according to the league’s injury report standards, that means it’s virtually certain Unger will be the man in the middle of a Seattle offensive line that is facing a sizable challenge from the Patriots.
“They play pretty quick for how big they are,” Unger said. “So we’ve got our work cut out for us, no question about that.”
• Defensive tackle Jaye Howard (foot) is out for Sunday’s game for the Seahawks, while defensive tackle Clinton McDonald is doubtful because of an injured groin muscle he suffered in the last game. Rookie Greg Scruggs is likely to take McDonald’s spot.
• S Steve Gregory (hip) and LB Tracy White (foot) are out for New England. Fourteen players — which is nearly one-quarter of the Patriots’ 53-man roster — are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, including WR Wes Welker (ankle) and tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle). Hernandez did not practice Friday before the Patriots departed for Seattle.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @dannyoneil