By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots undoubtably took care of business in their Week 1 win over the Miami Dolphins. But as has been the case for the last two decades, that’s what the game was. TCOB. Do what you need to do, play sound, structural football, and get out with the win.
Week 2 is much different. On the road against a superior opponent, the Patriots can’t ‘by the book’ their way to a win Sunday night. They will need to not only play mistake free football, but stay a step ahead of an experienced Seahawks team and jump on the opportunities they’re given. Which matchups give them the best chances to capitalize? Here’s who I’ll be keeping an eye on…
When New England has the ball: N’Keal Harry vs. Quinton Dunbar
Given their zone-heavy scheme, the Seahawks are one of a few teams in the league who lock their corners on a side of the field for the majority of a game. What this allows the Patriots to do is essentially pick their receiver/cornerback matchups. If they feel they have a mismatch with a certain receiver going up against a certain corner, they can line that receiver up on the side of the formation that corner is responsible for.
In Week 1, Shaquill Griffin was on the left side of the Seattle defensive formation, with Quinton Dunbar opposite him on the right. Against Atlanta, Griffin struggled at times with the shifty Calvin Ridley. Expect the Patriots to test him with a similar receiver on Sunday, whether it be with the vertical speed of Damiere Byrd or horizontal quickness of Julian Edelman.
That leaves Quinton Dunbar to N’Keal Harry. The second-year receiver had what was really an overall promising first game outside of his goal line fumble. However, he wasn’t pressed too much, and the Patriots were never really in a situation where they needed to throw the ball. He’ll likely get more attention this week, with more creative coverages. Let’s see how he handles it, and if he can continue to prove last year was a fluke.
When Seattle has the ball: John Simon & Chase Winovich vs. Russell Wilson
If Wilson is allowed to escape the pocket, the play is likely already a loss. And while it will be a team effort keeping Wilson in check, it starts up front with the Patriots main two edge guys holding contain.
Simon and Winovich have to be careful to not get too far upfield or too far inside the pocket and allow Wilson room to roam. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but the duo can have a massive impact on this game without recording a sack, as long as they stay disciplined in their rush lanes.
“Literally every inch of the field you have to defend with him,” Bill Belichick said of Wilson on Thursday. While all 11 guys on the field will need to be aware of No. 3, Simon and Winovich keeping him in between the tackles will allow everybody else to focus on their own assignment just a little bit more.
Bonus: Cam Newton vs. Jamal Adams
This is the chess match of the week. Part of the reason the Patriots were so dominant on the ground against the Dolphins was Miami spreading out their defensive backs and playing with a light box. Expect Seattle to throw Adams, an excellent downhill player, right into the middle of the formation to counter the read-option and Cam Newton’s running ability.
How will Cam and the Patriots react? Will Newton feel more comfortable checking out of plays at the line (something he said Wednesday was still “a work in progress”)? Or will the Patriots be forced to throw the ball more, using more traditional sets? There will be a lot of on-the-fly adjustments happening back and forth revolving around the two smartest players in the game. Should be fun to watch.
For a complete breakdown of the Patriots-Seahawks matchup, check out this week’s Patriots Preview podcast with Matt Dolloff and Alex Barth.