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February 1, 2015 at 12:14 AM

What to watch: Super Bowl edition

Here are some thoughts on some of the key aspects of Sunday’s Super Bowl from Times beat reporters Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta.

First, Jenks:

1. How will the Seahawks tackle? I feel dumb writing that as a “thing to watch” because tackling is important every game. But the Seahawks pride themselves on their ability to tackle and not give up extra yards, and it has been one of their greatest strengths in their turnaround in the second half of the season. When they struggled as a defense earlier in the year, one of the issues was their tackling; too often patient running backs or receivers were able to methodically pick them apart or bounce off tackles and turn 4-yard gains into 8 or 9 yards. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s a huge one in determining how Seattle’s defense looks. I’m curious to see if the Seahawks swarm to the football — will three or four guys be in on every tackle or just one or two? The first guy may miss, and that’s going to happen. But the Seahawks have to be able to get multiple defenders to ball carriers, particularly when that ball carrier is New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.

2. Speaking of Rob Gronkowski…How will the Seahawks defend him? Bob and I have agreed on this all week, but one of the storylines this week has been the matchup of Gronkowski vs. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. It’s intriguing and fun to think about, but I also think it’s partly wrong. Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright typically draws the duty of covering other team’s best tight ends, and throughout his career he has done a good job of shutting them down. He had some slipups earlier this season — the San Diego game comes to mind right away — but has largely been solid down the stretch. But it won’t just be Wright vs. Gronk either. Chancellor, Wright and even corners Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell will all get a crack at Gronk. That’s how the Seahawks have defended Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham in the past, and I expect the same this time around.

3. The battle of wills — or patience. I think I wrote about this sometime this week (at this point it’s hard to remember what the heck any of us wrote), but the Seahawks have been so good in the second half of the season at forcing teams into methodical marches in order to score. They just haven’t given up big plays, and that’s means they haven’t given up quick scoring drives. If you’re going to score against the Seahawks, you’re going to have to earn it. But the Patriots are a disciplined, veteran team who has proven this team that they can do just that. I find that matchup maybe most fascinating of all: Who can force the other into mistakes? Who can outlast the other? The chess-match analogy gets used all the time, but that’s how I see this. Can you have the mental stamina to avoid a lapse that could turn the whole game?

And from Condotta:

1. Pressuring Tom Brady: One of the underrated keys to Seattle’s 43-8 win over Denver in the Super Bowl a year ago was its ability to get consistent pressure with just a four-man rush. That’ll be critical again Sunday against New England quarterback Tom Brady, who gets rid of the ball quickly and is hard to bring down — he was sacked just 21 times this season (by comparison, Russell Wilson was sacked 42 times). More than sacking Brady, the Seahawks need to find ways to make him move — he’s less effective throwing on the run. Ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are obvious key parts of getting a good pass rush. But Seattle also will need push up the middle and will need to be smart an efficient when it brings pressure.

2. Getting off Revis Island: For the first 56 minutes of the NFC title game, Wilson threw for just 85 yards. In the last four minutes of regulation and overtime he had 134. Wilson, to be sure, had one of his poorer days. But the Packers also made it difficult for Seattle’s receivers to get open, doing so largely with man coverage. Seattle is likely to face more of the same against the Patriots, who in Darrelle Revis and former Seahawk Brandon Browner — each new to the team this season — have one of the better cornerback tandems in the NFL. Seattle coach Pete Carroll says the Patriots play a lot more man coverage now than they did prior to acquiring Revis and Browner. And something to watch early is who Revis covers — does he stick largely with Doug Baldwin? Baldwin, Seattle’s leading receiver with 66 catches, seems to think he will, and that will put the onus on Baldwin to win some individual battles.

3. Which team will rise to the occasion?  Sounds stupid and obvious, maybe. But the Seahawks played one of the best games in their history in the Super Bowl last year, highlighting what has been a strung of playing well in big games under Carroll. And for all their apparent differences, that’s one trait Carroll and head coach counterpart Bill Belichick share — an ability to have their teams playing at their best in the post-season. Belichick is 21-9 in the post-season, a winning percentage of .700 that is fifth in NFL history for coaches with 10 or more playoff games. Carroll is 8-4, .667, seventh. Carroll had a similar big-game rep at USC, where he was 7-2 in bowl games. Belichick though, has lost his last two Super Bowls after winning his first three, each as a significant favorite. Carroll is 7-2 in the playoffs with Seattle, never losing a game in which the Seahawks were favored.



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