The New England Patriots won their home opener against the Miami Dolphins 21 to 11 last week and are now 1-0 and on top of the AFC East (along with the Buffalo Bills). New quarterback Cam Newton led the way passing for 155 yards and rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns. The stifling defense picked-up on last season’s top-ranked defense by intercepting three passes (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
With the strongest division in football on their schedule this year (the NFC West), the Patriots fly into the blazing smoke-filled Pacific Northwest to take on Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson completed 88.6% of his passes last week against the Atlanta Falcons weak secondary throwing for 322 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
Head coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have been a thorn in the side of the Bill Belichick Patriots. Belichick is 2-2 in the regular season versus Seattle, but both regular season games won were against the Mike Holmgren coached Seahawks. Other than the fantastic finish of Super Bowl 49, Pete Carroll has had Belichick’s number winning two close games.
This week’s game will be broadcast at 8:20 p.m Eastern time by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC-10 in the Boston market and on WJAR-10 in the Providence market. Al MIchaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines.
Sunday night’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. Ryan Radtke will call the game with former Seahawks and Packers head coach Mike Holmgren providing analysis.Locally the game will be broadcast as always on 98.5 The Sports Hub. The flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network, it will also be found on the network’s 38 stations that carry each and every Patriots game live across New England and even into the Rochester region in upstate New York. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with the ever-entertaining and always excited former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense and defense that will determine if the Patriots are able to emerge victorious on Sunday night.
Patriots Offensive Strategy and Key Match-ups:
Patriots’ WRs N’Keal Harry and Julien Edelman vs Seahawks’ CBs Shaquill Griffin, Quinton Dunbar and Marquis Blair (and maybe Tre Flowers):
New England wide receivers N’Keal Harry and Julien Edelman combined to catch 10 of the 15 completed passes last week against the Dolphins. Cam Newton seemed equally comfortable targeting both the second-year outside receiver and veteran slot receiver. Edelman snagged five passes for 57 yards and Harry had five catches for 39 yards.
Miami had one of the highest-paid (and presumably talented) cornerback duos in the league. The Seahawks feature top cornerback Shaquill Griffin (who will get his money this offseason). However, the Patriots have the advantage of being able to dictate the match-ups with the corners with Griffin on the left side of the field exclusively..
Much like back in the day with the Legion of Boom, each cornerback for Seattle is assigned a side of the field. While Stephon Gilmore will play on the defensive right or left side (or even in the slot if need be) to track his number one receiver, the Seahawks will keep Griffin on his side and allow New England to decide if he covers Harry, Edelman or someone else altogether (running back, fullback, tight end, Damiere Byrd, etc.).
The Seahawks blew open a close game in the third quarter and then gave up a ton of yards passing to the Falcons while the game was out of reach last week. The numbers look terrible, but most of the yards came with Seattle keeping the plays in front of them and letting the clock run.
Surprisingly, Quinton Dunbar–the long and lean former Redskins cornerback–seemingly pushed Tre Flowers out of the top role on the right side across from Griffin last week. Rookie Marquise Blair aligns in the slot and could have a “Welcome to the NFL, rookie” kind of game if he has to go against Julien Edelman (provided Edelman’s knee is healthy). Like any Pete Carroll defense, the corners are long with Griffin the “short” cornerback at six-foot even.
New England struggled in the passing game mightily at the end of last season but showed improvement with a new quarterback able to establish a strong running game early. They may well struggle on Sunday night to run the ball with the Seattle defense able to slow the running game and need to pass more. The Patriots need to spread the ball and attack the Seattle Cover-3 underneath, but that will only work if the wide receivers can make plays and open the field by making the cornerbacks respect them.
Patriots’ RBs Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and QB Cam Newton vs Seahawks’ LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright (and maybe Jordyn Brooks):
Another year, another strong game by the New England rushing attack. Instead of the focus on the backs, the Patriots attacked Miami with quarterback Cam Newton rushing 15 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Beyond Newton, the Patriots had five other rushers gain at least 20 or more yards on the ground as the team bround out 217 yards rushing.
The Seattle defense was hardly tested by the Falcons. Matt Ryan threw 54 passes and Todd Gurley–who hasn’t been a rushing threat for years now–was the primary back in Atlanta. Gurley did gain 56 yards on 14 carries, but the Seattle front was strong and Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were able to make plays when called upon.
Cam Newton and the New England backs are a different beast than an over-the-hill back behind a weak offensive line. Seattle will find it harder to establish the line of scrimmage. Another huge advantage for the Patriots is the Seahawks will not have the advantage on defense of the 12th man, as the Seahawks will have no fans for at least the first three games.
Michel had his ups and downs in week one rushing ten times for just 37 yards. However, 25 of those 37 yards came after contact. The Dolphins were keying on him and he was actually very effective. He will need to bring that strong running style on Sunday night. Wagner and Wright may be on the wrong side of 30 (and rookie Jordyn Brooks does not have many snaps to make an impact), but the duo is still one of the better linebacker tandems in the league.
The Seahawks’ defense struggled to stop the run last year allowing almost five yards per rushing attempt but have not been tested yet. Newton is no surprise for Pete Carroll having faced him in the past while he was in Carolina. The Patriots would love to ground-and-pound again and keep Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ potentially high-powered passing offense on the sidelines.
Patriots’ Ts Isaiah Wynn and Jermaine Eluemunor vs Seahawks’ Edges Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa:
One of the best things of week one was that starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Jermaine Eluemunor (starting for Marcus Cannon who opted-out of the 2020 season) were barely mentioned during the broadcast. For offensive linemen, that is exactly what they are looking for. Usually, the only attention they receive tends to be negative.
The big difference with Seattle on the defensive edge this year is no more Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney had only three sacks but drew double-teams and created pressures. Bruce Irvin, back in Seattle at age 33 after stops in Oakland, Atlanta and Carolina, is probably a situational rusher at best but had an effective week one.
Opposite Irvin is Benson Mayowa. Mayowa is unknown by approximately 99% of NFL viewers. However, the former undrafted free agent is a handful and is a perfect fit in Seattle’s aggressive front. Another “full circle” player like Irwin, Mayowa spent 2013 on the practice squad and roster in Seattle before stops in Oakland, Dallas, Arizona and Oakland again.
Mayowa abused the weak Atlanta offensive line in week one and has no doubt been well-known in the New England offensive line room. He got pressure and made plays in big situations last week and Seattle needs edge pressure to be effective on defense.
The Patriots’ offensive line has a tough match-up on the edge with Seattle’s experienced pass rushers. While New England may need to pass the ball to win, nothing is happening on offense if Mayowa and Irvin are able to generate pressure on Newton.
The New England offense faces a defense which can struggle, but with safety Jamal Adams it has play-makers at a number of positions. Points will not come easy against this group. New England must focus on running the ball, controlling the field position and staying away from negative plays on early downs and, as always, no turnovers. It may be another “boring” offensive game plan for fans who are used to the exotic passing attacks of the New England offense, but it is the way to win the game.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS SCORED: 24
Patriots Defensive Strategy and Key Matchups:
Seahawks’ TEs Greg Olsen, Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister and Luke Willson vs Patriots’ LB/Ss Ja’Whaun Bentley, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland, Joejuan Williams, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger
There are just too many names listed here. But bear with me! The Seahawks roll out all four of their tight ends each week and the Patriots will throw linebackers and safeties and cornerbacks at them depending on the alignment of the defense. In week one, the Seattle tight ends combined for seven of the 31 completions for Seattle.
Olsen is the best of the bunch and he was a primary target of Newton for years in Carolina. He is big, athletic and although aging, knows how to get open and will catch anything thrown his way. Dissly is the same player as Olsen. Not the best blocker, no one competes more than Dissly. In the passing game, Dissly is intelligent and has soft hands.
Willson and Hollister are field stretchers who will try to find a seam if in at tight end. Hollister is well known in New England and Willson has seemingly been around forever in Seattle. Neither are there to block and if the game, they’re basically big receivers.
New England has a plethora of defenders to throw at tight ends. In a zone defense, linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley, Shilique Calhoun and Brandon Copeland will have to play a key role in keeping the tight ends from being disruptive. Calhoun and Copeland are average in coverage, but Bentley–who had a reputation coming out of college as weak in coverage–has been excellent, especially in a zone defense, in locking up and staying with tight ends.
Last week the Patriots were in their sub defense most of the game with Miami’s smaller backs and tight ends. Dissly and Olsen are big and long and a match-up problem as they’re too quick for linebackers and too big for safeties.
Look for a heavy dose of big cornerback Joejuan Williams, the versatile Joejuan Williams, Adrian Phillips and rookie Kyle Dugger getting a chance to cover Dissly and Olsen. Holister and Willson should see plenty of Williams as well, unless he’s drafted to help out with the big receivers for Seattle.
The Seahawks showed in week one they are no longer a “running the ball early and often to control the time of possession” type of offense. The Patriots need to respect Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde in the running game with their linebacking group that may require that unit to play more than in week one and be actively involved in slowing the Seattle tight ends.
Seahawks’ WR DK Metcalf,Tyler Lockett and David Moore/Phillip Dorsett vs Patriots’ CBs Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones:
The Seahawks failed to rush for at least 100 yards just twice in the 2019 regular season. Last week in Atlanta, the Seahawks racked up 506 total yards, but just 84 on the ground. Of those 84 yards, 29 came from quarterback Russell Wilson and another dozen were from wide receiver David Moore. The running backs for Seattle had 16 rushes for just 43 yards against an Atlanta defense which is not known for stopping the run.
The Seahawks were just fine thanks to Russell Wilson and his explosive wide receiver group. DK Metcalf is chiseled from stone and is both big and fast and gets better and better seemingly each week. Metcalf was targeted eight times and had four catches for a team-leading 95 yards. The 23 year-old big play threat added a 38-yard touchdown.
On the other side is the smaller and speedy Tyler Lockett. Lockett can line up anywhere on the offense and has taken the mantle from Doug Baldwin as the top target for Wilson. Last year, Lockett had 82 catches for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns. Last week, Lockett had a team-high eight catches (on all eight targets) for 92 yards and four first downs.
Moore is in year four with the Seahawks and played about 50% of the snaps, kicking Lockett inside to the slot in three receiver sets. Moore and rookie Freddie Swain are getting playing time due to former Patriots and Colts receiver Phililp Dorsett being injured and missing week one.
The Patriots’ strength has been their secondary. While the Dolphins were hardly an elite offense, their wide receivers are hardly anything to sneeze at. The New England cornerbacks physically manhandled DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant and tight end Mike Gesicki with their aggressive press coverage style.
The Patriots are likely going to have the reigning defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore on D.K. Metcalf, but as they did against Miami, they switched coverage depending upon the down and distance. With this group of receivers, the Patriots may follow the same plan.
Jonathan Jones is the most underrated member of the secondary and should be called upon to try and shut down the shifty and speedy Lockett. Gilmore or J.C. Jackson has the size and strength to match-up with Metcalf.
Expect Seattle to try to keep the New England secondary off the field as much as possible. However, the Patriots have no problem bringing in Jason McCourty and letting one of the other cornerbacks take tight ends Dissly or Olsen. For Seattle, playing only two wide receivers and trying to get a power running game going may be too enticing when facing this deep secondary.
Gilmore has to have a strong game against Metcalf for the New England defense to keep the Seahawks from converting chunk plays downfield. Jonathan Jones is the x-factor for the Patriots. If he or J.C. Jackson can neutralize Lockett, especially on third down, it could be a long day for the Seattle offense.
The Seattle offensive line has been a sore spot for years. If not for Russell Wilson’s playmaking ability and natural athleticism, it could be a nightmare for a quarterback. In other words, as great as Wilson has been in his Hall of Fame career, imagine if he played behind an offensive line that did not have him running for his life on a regular basis.
Left tackle Duane Brown may be 35 years-old, but he is the best of the bunch in Seattle. The Jets did not want rIght tackle Brandon Shell. (Let that sink in for a second. He was not good enough for the Jets.) Rookie guard Damien Lewis is learning on the job while veteran Mike Iupati has been on the downslope for the past four seasons. Center Ethan Pocic has been a guard much of his career and was supposed to be a fringe roster player. Instead he’s the starter.
For Seattle, they may be getting a break this week after facing elite pass rushers Dante FOwler, Takkarist McKinley and Grady Jarrett in week one. The Patriots are leaning on veteran John Simon, Deatrich Wise Jr., and Chase Winovich to provide pressure in 2020. Coach Belichick cares about pressures more so than sacks.
Sacks are nice, but drawing holding and other penalties are drive killers as well. Any second or third and long situation allows the defense to unleash blitzers like Ja’Whaun Bentley or Shilique Calhoun. Pressure also will help the secondary and force off-target throws and incompletions and hopefully interceptions like the three they picked off last week against Ryan Fitzpatrick..
The Seahawks’ offensive line is 40% older veterans and 40% starters who would not start for any of the other 31 teams, plus a rookie. It is vital that New England generate pressure on the outside. For Simon, Wise and Winovich, those one-on-one battles against Brown and Shell are match-ups that can turn into game-changing big plays for the New England defense.
The game plan on defense is to take away the running game early and have the pass rush get in the backfield against the weak offensive line and force Russell Wilson not to get outside the pocket and make big plays downfield. If New England’s defense remains strong against the run and break-up some passes on third down they can slow Seattle down. It is just so very vital, though, that the pass rush keeps Wilson from extending plays and making big plays to extend drives.
With the New England passing offense untested, the defense will have to step up and keep them in the game until things click.This can be a statement game for Cam Newton and Bill Belichick if they can slow down Russell Wilson on Sunday night.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS ALLOWED: 20
Expected Final Score: New England 24 – Seattle 20
The New England Patriots offense was primarily a running offense on opening weekend. Expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to open the playbook and build off of some of what was shown in week one. Even more play-action may be called for after their success in week one. The Seahawks defense is far from the unit that bullied the NFL in 2013 and 2014, but it is still a strong unit that cannot be overlooked.
Seattle looked like the best passing offense in the NFL last week and for good reason. Russell Wilson never seems to be the discussion as the most dangerous quarterback in the league, but he simply does EVERYTHING at a high level. The running game is going to try to get back on track and this offense is just seconds away from a big play on every snap.
The Patriots should do enough on offense and clamp down on defense to make this a competitive road game. Expect a low-scoring first half like last week for both teams. Normally, it would be automatic to pencil in a win for Seattle at home regardless of the opponent. However, this is 2020 and between poor air quality and no fans, it negates much of the home field advantage that the Seahawks have had over the past decade.
It will be a dog-fight. A good old-fashioned brawl. Normally, I’d go with Russell Wilson, but I cannot shake Super Bowl 49 from my thoughts and I’m seeing Jonathan Jones making a big play at the end of the game to secure a Patriots win on the road Sunday night.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01 and @FPC_Patriots for live tweeting and instant analysis during the Patriots games.