Can Russell Wilson improve Seattle's subpar red-zone offense this week?
Keys to Seahawks victory
1 Stay patient on defense. That might sound silly given how fast the Patriots play with their no-huddle offense, but even though the Patriots run plays in rapid succession, they specialize in long drives. They’ve gone three-and-out only twice this season. Seattle’s defense can’t get frustrated if it doesn’t get off the field quickly. The Seahawks must stay composed as it lines up play after play, because when a defense gets frustrated or impatient, it starts making alignment errors, which is exactly what New England tends to exploit to produce its biggest gains.
2 Protect the ball. This is always one of Pete Carroll’s priorities, but Seattle has committed six turnovers the past two games. Seattle won last week despite committing more turnovers (three) than it forced (one) at Carolina, but that’s an aberration. The Seahawks are 2-13 under Carroll when they commit more turnovers than their opponent. The Patriots have 14 takeaways this season, which is tied for the second-most in the league.
3 Improve the short game. Seattle has had the ball inside its opponent’s 20-yard line 14 times this season and come away with four touchdowns, the lowest percentage in the league. Improving that conversion rate is the single biggest point of emphasis for quarterback Russell Wilson this week. He had a similarly focused mission last week, too. After he was 1-for-10 passing on third down in Weeks 3 and 4, that element of the game was emphasized throughout the week, and he went 9-for-10 passing on third down in Carolina. Can he show a similar improvement this week inside the red zone?
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Keys to Patriots victory
1 Keep Seattle from staking out a lead. The Seahawks have scored first in all five of their games this season, and while they haven’t held onto that lead each week, the fact Seattle held that early lead not only eased the pressure on the Seahawks’ offense, but forced opponents to play catch-up against Seattle’s defense. Keeping the Seahawks from jumping on top early would not only mute the crowd, but it would put the onus on Seattle’s offense and its rookie quarterback to keep pace.
2 Don’t give the Seahawks a short field. Seattle has scored eight touchdowns this season, tied for fourth-fewest in the league. One of those touchdowns was the result of a blocked punt. Three others were scored on drives that began in the opponent’s half of the field after either a turnover or a special-teams return. There have been only four times this season that Seattle has been able to cross midfield on its own and continue on into the end zone, which illustrates how important it is not to give the Seahawks any shortcuts.
3 Don’t give up on the ground game. The Patriots have rushed for more than 200 yards each of their past two games, something the team last accomplished in 1978. For all the attention given to Seattle’s success running the ball, the Patriots have actually been more productive on the ground, averaging 165.4 yards, which is No. 3 in the league. And while Seattle’s defense has been stout against the run, the Patriots’ hurry-up offense could keep Seattle from rotating its defensive line between its big-bodied base defense that includes Red Bryant and the pass-rush package that features rookie Bruce Irvin. If the Patriots can get Seattle in a smaller personnel package, they might be able to run away with things.
Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez vs. Seattle’s defense. The biggest mystery entering this game for Seattle is how it will match up with these two tight ends. Free safety Earl Thomas could be a consideration, though he might also see time against slot specialist Wes Welker. Linebacker K.J. Wright can go pound-for-pound with Gronkowski, but Hernandez is a pretty nifty receiver. Seattle hasn’t been a team that junks its defensive principles to draw up something for a particular opponent, which has everyone wondering just how the Seahawks plan to defend those tight ends.
Seattle and San Francisco are the only NFL cities where Tom Brady has never played with the Patriots. He was out with a knee injury the last time New England played in Seattle, Matt Cassel starting at quarterback in New England’s 24-21 victory in 2008. This is only the third meeting between the teams since 1993, when the teams played twice in what was the rookie year for both Rick Mirer and Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots have won the last two games in the series.