- Seattle Seahawks
- Although we're feeling good about Sunday, there are still a number of things that could go very squirrelly on us.
Spoiler alert: I’m picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl. I’m about to tell you why, and it’s going to take, like, 2,000 words. (I hope you read them, even though I'm sure the game itself will reveal me to be an idiot anyway.) But before we get to why I'm picking the Seahawks, let me just say, this wasn’t an easy pick.
It wasn’t easy to pick the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Really, really, it wasn’t. I'm scared.
Now, as we stand at the end of The Insufferable Journey to Rewinnining the Super Bowl, picking one more Seahawks win is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Part of being insufferable is being humble and honest. And I am nothing if not supremely honest. And honestly? The Patriots are scary. Also, this is a little more footbally than other posts have been, but it's the Super Bowl and I've been watching game tape, and I think we're all ready for this.
For a good chunk of this week I really thought I’d have to go the other way on this prediction. I could not get past how brutally mismatched our passing game is against New England’s secondary. “If only we still had Percy Harvin or Paul Richardson, the path to victory would be so obvious,” I’d groan at no one in particular. And then I’d toss and turn. And I'm still scared.
This isn’t to slight the Seahawks' current array of receiving options. It’s a credit to what New England has built. Doug Baldwin is not pedestrian, but he’s also not a Darrell Revis breaker. Revis is almost as good as Richard Sherman, and the only wide receivers who have shown the ability to beat Sherman are Odell Beckham Jr. and no one else. Baldwin is not “almost as good as Odell Beckham Jr.,” so that Baldwin/Revis matchup is bad. Jermaine Kearse can get outmuscled to the ball. We saw it happen against the Packers four times, resulting in four interceptions. Now he gets Legion of Boom founder Brandon Browner. And if he does manage to fight Browner off? Speedy Kyle Arrington is also available. Not good.
That leaves Ricardo Lockette and (maybe?) Kevin Norwood to be our gamebreakers at the wideout position. And the Pats still have plenty of top-tier defensive backs to throw at them.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Not good.
But then I remembered the rest of the game, and I felt better.
Let’s start with Marshawn Lynch. Forget all the Marshawn Lynch hoopla from this week. What matters is that Marshawn Lynch is great at football. So the question is, how good is the Patriots' run defense?
Well, it’s good—fourteenth in the league by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric (probably would be a touch better than that at their current health level, although they are missing a couple guys, including Jerod Mayo at linebacker, who was pretty strong against the run). Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is a beast up front. Former Seahawks practice squad guy Sealver Siliga is pretty good as a secondary run stopping defensive tackle. Also, the Patriots do not give up yards after contact or massive runs. As good as Lynch is at absorbing hits, against the Patriots he’s likely to do so and pick up an extra yard or two rather than go full beast mode.
But! Their linebackers are better in coverage than they are at hitting running backs in the backfield. You know that thing that Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor do, where they show up in the backfield to explode a running back? The Patriots don’t do that. A good zone-blocking scheme can get Lynch running into the Patriots linebackers two to four yards down the field. Center Max Unger matches up adequately against Wilfork, enough so that I would think there will be holes for Lynch at the point of attack. Then add a yard or two there, and you have the Seahawks easily able to create advantageous down and distance scenarios. 2nd and 4? That’s read option time. And suddenly the Patriots have to deal with the threat of Russell Wilson’s legs in space.
And that’s just it: The Seahawks' rushing offense isn’t good, it’s quietly been amongst the best ever. For all the talk about the defense (and we’ll get there), the Seahawks' best single attribute was running the ball. With a healthy Unger, there’s an argument to be made that this is the best running team of all time.
Why? Because Marshawn Lynch, sure. But more than that, our quarterback rushed for 8.4 yards per carry this year (excluding kneel-downs). That’s bananas. Nobody does that. Nobody. Bananas. Unbelievable. Bananas. As good as Lynch was, Russell Wilson was an unprecedentedly good running quarterback.
So, I think Lynch will get his. Wilson will also get his on the ground. The Pats are going to have to work hard to shut down the zone read. That said, Bill Belichick is smart as hell, and likely will pull off something: He’ll demand discipline from his defensive ends, use them to spy, let Wilson try to operate from within the pocket. He’ll crash linebackers down farther than usual to stop Lynch.
That said, if the Patriots keep Wilson in the pocket, but do so with their linebackers thinking about Lynch, the odds of that something involving opening up the slot receiver and tight end in the passing game are high. The Patriots are below average at defending tight ends, so get ready for Luke “Daft Punk” Willson to make some plays. Despite the brilliance of Belichick and the discipline of edge rushers Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, something will be there. We run the ball too well for nothing to be there. There will be something. Not a lot. But something.
So then if there’s something for the Seahawks on offense, the question is whether the defense will turn the Patriots into less than something.
The answer: I think so.
The version of the Patriots that destroys other teams involves the LaGarrette Blount takeover. We saw this against the Colts; if you cannot stop the Patriots' running game, you are so so very fucked. Fortunately, the Seahawks' run defense has been excellent. Despite losing run stopping tackle Brandon Mebane, when the Seahawks run out a healthy Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor, running backs have not taken over a game against us. And while LaGarrette Blount is good, he isn’t Jamaal Charles or DeMarco Murray (the two dudes who ran the Seahawks to death when Wagner was out). Plus, the last time that Belichick faced the Seahawks he didn’t run at all. I can’t imagine we’re going to see the Blount takeover and a Patriots blowout.
But there’s still a very good version of the Patriots that involves Tom Brady slinging it around. And there will be short routes there for him to sling at. Guys like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will catch some balls. And if things go as planned, after catching balls they’ll run into some big angry Seahawks and hit the ground short of the first-down markers. Because the Patriots don’t stretch the field very well. Their best deep threat is Brandon LaFell, and he is able to be covered with one of our cornerbacks, meaning things will be congested where the Pats want to operate. Also, the Seahawks have shown the capacity to move their cornerbacks around if needed. Byron Maxwell can move to the slot and shut things down if need be. Hell, Richard Sherman can do it, too, if his elbow is up for the tackling that would require. And yes, he rarely moves around, but ask 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin about the difference between rarely and never. This is the Super Bowl, and the Seahawks have the right pieces to make this all work.
Of course, there is the question of Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots tight end is the best at his position in football, and the Seahawks have gotten shredded by tight ends. Well, a tight end: Antonio Gates, in a game Kam Chancellor played in while injured in 100-degree heat in San Diego. Other than that, not so much. Of late, the Seahawks have destroyed tight ends, and this defense has historically done a number on the likes of Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham. I respect Gronk, but I’m not terrified of Gronk; I think he’s more likely to have a six-catch 60-yard day than a truly game-changing performance.
Which leaves the Patriots having not much. And, remember, the Seahawks have something. So, advantage Seahawks.
ALL OF THAT SAID, there’s still a version of this game in which we lose.
Last year there wasn’t; we were too healthy and the Broncos had too many weaknesses. Throw in our elite special teams play and the Broncos were doomed from the first snap. Only the specter of failure that loomed over the franchise from bygone eras, and the possibilty of Peyton Manning being a magician, suggested any outcome other than a Seahawks win.
This year there are a number of ways things could go very squirrelly on us:
• Our bad special teams play was in full effect against Green Bay, and the Patriots' return game is far stronger than that of the Seahawks'. The Pats could leverage their special teams to dominate the field position battle. The Seahawks could continue to not take touchbacks. Hey, Seahawks: TAKE TOUCHBACKS.
• The Patriots' bag of trick plays could prove decisive. Their tackle-eligible pass plays devastated the Ravens, and while those are less likely to faze the Seahawks (whose coverage scheme is simpler and therefore less easy to trick), there may be an equivalent that Belichick has concoted. Alternatively, Pete Carroll could pull out a trick play and have it blow up in his face.
• Injuries are a factor. A limited Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman would be a big fucking deal. So, too, would an in-game injury to one of our linchpins.
• A couple turnovers can always swing a game (except when they don’t, sorry not sorry Packers).
But here’s the non-squirrelly version we lose: The Seahawks' pass rush doesn’t get home.
Which is to say that if the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl, the Seahawks' pass rush must get home.
Allow me to repeat myself:
THE SEAHAWKS PASS RUSH MUST GET HOME.
The Seahawks' worst loss of the year (and of Russell Wilson's entire tenure with the team) came in that aforementioned game in San Diego, when the pass rush did not get home and noted former virgin and current father of a litter Philip Rivers went to town on our defense. Meanwhile, the Patriots' two worst losses of the year came against Miami and Kansas City, when Cameron Wake and Justin Houston, who are both amazing at getting the pass rush home, got the pass rush home. Those two guys had two sacks each and blew up the Patriots' offensive line. And, when the Seahawks came from behind in 2012 to beat the Patriots the last two times these teams met, it was Chris Clemons getting the pass rush home in the fourth quarter that turned that game around.
The good news is that the challenge is clear. The bad news is that this is a different Patriots offensive line than the one from 2012 and the one that started the year. Noted Patriots offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia, who shaped the team’s identity up front for years, is now retired (which is a good thing), but the Patriots cobbled together a pretty good offensive line by the end of the year after starting it in shambles. That said, rookie center Brian Stork, who has been a key factor in the line’s revitalization, may not play on Sunday. If he doesn't, or if his play time is limited, that would be massive for the Seahawks. I know this sounds crazy, but Stork’s health is more important to the Patriots in this game than Richard Sherman’s is to the Seahawks (this is a matchup thing—against other opponents this would not be true).
So, okay, the Pats' offensive line is a question mark, but it's also looked good of late. The question remains: Will the pass rush get home? I think Cliff Avril will get his on the edge and be disruptive. Injured Patriots running back Shane Vereen’s absence means that Bruce Irvin can rush with more abandon than usual as Blount is less of a threat to catch balls coming out of the backfield.
But really this all comes down to Michael Bennett.
Again, allow me to repeat myself:
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS SUPER BOWL COMES DOWN TO MICHAEL BENNETT.
The Seahawks defensive lineman must be an All-Pro-caliber disruptive force from all angles on Sunday for the Seahawks to win this game. If Tom Brady has time, we’re in a world of hurt. He can get balls to receivers who are well covered. He doesn’t throw picks. Unless he hits the turf regularly, he will keep New England in this game. So, he must hit the turf. And Bennett is the man to make sure he does so.
Now ask yourself, if at the beginning of this Insufferable Journey you were told all you needed was for Bennett to ball the fuck out in one game for the Seahawks to rewin the Super Bowl, would you have taken that? Fuck and yes, you would have. We’re talking about the Black Santa, the man willing to call out the NCAA on their bullshit (thanks Slog tipster, Sean). The man who grabs a bike to celebrate. We're talking about Michael Bennett.
Am I still scared about this game? Yes. Of course. The Patriots are good, and this may have just been 2,000 words of self-delusion. But Michael Bennett is the best. And now he gets to prove it on the biggest stage in football, and in the process get Seattle that insufferable second Super Bowl trophy. Fuck. And. Yes.
Seahawks 27 - Patriots 16
(P.S. I'll be LiveSlogging here on Sunday. So stay tuned to your computer during the game. I repeat, DON'T WATCH THE GAME, WATCH SLOG.)
[Ed. Note: Or do both! And here's a list of places to watch the game.]