Super Bowl week is just beginning. In fact, the New England Patriots are scheduled to arrive Monday.
The national media and major newspapers are just getting warmed up, too.
But it’s Monday, and as we have all season, here is a look at what is being written about the Seahawks heading into the biggest game of their season. There’s already some great stuff out there, with more to come (and to be posted), later this week. Stay tuned.
First, here are some links to The Seattle Times’ great coverage on Monday. We have eight reporters and 17 staffers altogether in Arizona this week to give you the best coverage of Super Bowl XLIX and the Seahawks throughout the week.
In Russell Wilson’s three seasons as starting quarterback for Seattle—he has started all 55 regular-season and post-season games since being picked in the third round by the Seahawks in 2012—he and his teammates have played 10 games against quarterbacks who have won at least one Super Bowl. The Seahawks are 10-0 in those games. Of course, since the first one was the wacky 14-12 victory attributed to the awful touchdown ruling in the end zone by the replacement-ref crew in Week 3 2012, most people would look at that 10-0 record against Super Bowl quarterbacks as being asterisked.
But even if it were 9-1, that would still be a heck of a way to start one’s career.
Head to head, Wilson is 3-0 against Aaron Rodgers, 2-0 against Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Drew Brees, and 1-0 against Tom Brady.
Average scores in those 10 games: Seattle 29, Foes 15.
Wilson’s touchdown-to-interception differential in those 10 games: 16-8. (It was 15-4 prior to this year’s NFC Championship Game.)
I know, I know—give credit to the defense for being so dominant and for holding Peyton Manning to 14 points per game and Brees 11 and Rodgers 17. The defense has been terrific in the past three years, leading the league in scoring defense in all three seasons. But Wilson has not been just an innocent bystander here.
One more Wilson morsel that will drive the quarterback-wins-is-a-meaningless-stat crowd to drink: Wilson’s 42 victories in his first three NFL seasons, in regular- and post-season games, is six more than any quarterback in NFL history.
The Fine Fifteen (power rankings)
T-1. Seattle (14-4). Did you see the highway overpasses in Seattle on I-405, between Seattle’s complex in Renton and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with the fans and the banners so the team could feel the love as it bused to the airport Sunday for the flight to Phoenix? Those fans are insatiable.
T-1. New England (14-4). If New England wins the Super Bowl, I’m sure cornerback Brandon Browner will be a significant reason—and that’s going to be one of the best stories this week. While the world obsesses on the NFL football investigation, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is going to have to figure a way to move the ball through the air so as not to put all the Seattle offensive pressure on Marshawn Lynch. That means studying how to overcome the physicality of Brandon Browner at one corner and the clinging coverage of Darrelle Revis on the other corner. Browner, you’ll recall, was on a league suspension last season when his Seahawks crushed Denver in the Super Bowl, and then signed with New England in the off-sea
Whew. That was close.
The Seahawks are back at the Super Bowl.
Things could not have worked out better for the NFL.
The Seahawks are a fun, young team from the crunchy, techie Northwest already validated by last year’s Super win.
The Patriots are blue blood, original tea partiers, a dynastic compilation of talents forever sullied by accusations of cheating, again.
It’s REI vs. L.L. Bean; new-school owner Paul Allen vs. old-school monolith Robert Kraft; Microsoft vs. Mayonnaise.
It is delicious.
Considering the close margins in the NFC playoffs it could have been different; it could have been blah.
It also could have been a coronation of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as the greatest coach/quarterback combination of the modern era, the dynamic duo equipped to squelch the abrasive upstarts from the nerdy Northwest. But by mishandling both their footballs and their public relations, the Patriots managed to dull the Seahawks’ intimidating edge.
The Seahawks might be outlaw, dreadlocked, bearded and tastelessly irreverent . . . but the Patriots cheat.
Nobody likes a cheater.
Outlaws, however, have a certain appeal.
Suddenly, Richard Sherman, the taunting, raging madman of postgame interview infamy a year ago, is the well-spoken voice of reason . . . and he is something of a hero. For the past year he has endlessly tweaked clumsy commissioner Roger Goodell on topics ranging from player safety, to fines, to Goodell’s role as the owners’ puppet.
(Richard) Sherman said he was “indifferent” about it while watching the mess unfold 3,000 miles away.
“It wasn’t really like we cared either way, honestly,” he said. “A little annoyance about having to talk about the same thing over and over, but it’s nothing anybody isn’t used to.”
But, unsurprisingly, the Stanford-educated Sherman had the most prescient observation about the whole ordeal when asked if he expects the Patriots to be punished in any way.
“Probably not — not as long as Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes,” Sherman quipped. “I think he was just at Kraft’s house last week for the AFC Championship. Talk about conflict of interest. As long as that happens, it won’t affect them at all.”
Sherman was referring, of course, to the photos of Goodell and Kraft posted by the Patriots on their own Twitter feed last Saturday night. Kraft threw a big party at his house the night before the victory over the Colts, and he spent the night hobnobbing with the NFL commissioner. Kraft and Goodell are so close that in an upcoming GQ profile of Goodell, an NFL executive calls Kraft “assistant commissioner.”
Kraft can’t be too happy that the NFL allowed his team’s reputation to be obliterated last week, but if anyone can smooth it over, it’s Goodell and Kraft. In Forbes’ 2014 ranking of the most influential people in sports, Kraft (No. 3) was ranked ahead of Goodell (No. 5), the first time an owner has outmuscled the commissioner.
It has given the Seahawks some interesting theories on what’s going on behind the scenes.
“I think it’s all propaganda, man,” defensive end Michael Bennett said. “Just to get a chance to blow the game up, inflating the game right now, just to make it more worth than what it’s really about. And it’s really just about two great teams playing. I think a lot of people are shying away from that aspect of it. It’s too much about the balls and stuff. Hopefully it’s about the game again.”
The Patriots have enough stress to deal with this week — Deflategate, an impending blizzard that could affect Monday’s travel plans to Arizona, and, oh yeah, preparing for the Super Bowl coming up against the reigning champs.
The Seahawks though? They’re straight chillin’ for now. They know how Super Bowl week works, they don’t have any scandals to worry about, and they were greeted by a massive throng of fans in the desert. The 12th Man had a noticeable presence throughout Super Bowl village and at Sunday night’s Pro Bowl, while the Patriots fans haven’t had a chance to come out to the valley for the festivities.
1. The game’s a pick ‘em. Will we avoid last year’s blowout? If not, which team is more likely to get run out of Glendale, Ariz.?
Iyer: Traditionally, defensive powerhouses have laid more of a butt-whooping in the Super Bowl — last year’s Seahawks as case in point, a la the Bucs and Bears before them. So go with Seattle there. If New England wins, it would need to be a nailbiter.
Steele: It’s hard to believe in hindsight, considering the wreckage Tom Brady does to teams these days, but the Patriots have never blown anyone out in a Super Bowl. I can’t imagine the Seahawks and that defense being blown out, either. If ever they were to be blown out, it would have been last week by Green Bay, and they refused to let it happen. This will stay good and close throughout (not wishful thinking based on that debacle last year with Denver).
2. Who’s got the coaching edge between these sexegenarians, Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll?
Iyer: Carroll has the more inflated ego and better overall mojo going at the moment, but it’s hard to go against that slightly younger Machiavellian mastermind. The Hoodie trumps the track jacket by a nose.
Steele: Belichick has the coaching edge no matter who he plays, so this is no slight against Carroll. Still, Belichick can be beaten, but not because he’s unprepared, and not because he didn’t have a twist or two ready for their opponent. Ask the Ravens a few weeks ago.
3. What’s on the line for Tom Brady’s legacy?
Iyer: Brady grew up idolizing Joe Montana. The kid from the Bay is once again on the brink of matching Montana, and if that happens, it would be those two at the top, a big gap, and then everyone else.
Steele: Just like the last two trips, it’s his chance to be legitimately spoken of in the same breath as the Montanas and Bradshaws, with four Super Bowls. No more qualifiers about going to more Super Bowls than they did, and how it tips the scales in his favor. Win it, especially this late in his career and so long after the last one, and he has his case for the greatest quarterback ever.
4. How about Russell Wilson?
Iyer: To make it simple, if he wins two this early in his career, he would be on the same primrose path taken by Brady take all these years.
Steele: That “elite” debate is tiresome, because it still focuses on aesthetics and stats more than results. But how much can you knock two Super Bowl wins in his first three seasons, and beating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to do it? No quarterback wins by himself, so Wilson’s legacy should be measured the same way as the others: did you attain the ultimate prize? For him, yes, twice, at age 25.
son as an unrestricted free agent. A year ago, Wilson might have had a field day against this secondary. This year? I doubt it.
Just the third team in NFL history to lead the league in scoring defense for three straight seasons, the smothering Seahawks have allowed only 9.8 points per game over their last eight outings.
It starts with a nasty Richard Sherman-led secondary that gave up just 39 plays of 20-plus yards in the regular season, best in the league. The Patriots counter with their own talented crop of defensive backs — arguably the AFC’s best — but Edelman sees a distinction between the two units.
“They’re a little different because they’re all big,” Edelman said Sunday. “They’re all big, strong, ferocious players. They play in their scheme. They’re well coached. They play hard. We certainly have some guys that are big, but this a completely different group and like you said, I’ve never played against them. (We’ve) got to take these next few days (to) prepare (and) get ready for them and try to bring out the A game.”
6. How should the Patriots attack Seattle’s defense? The only way to beat the Seahawks this year has been with an effective running game. In all four of the Seahawks’ losses this season, the opponents (San Diego, Dallas, Kansas City and St. Louis) had at least 27 carries and more than 100 yards rushing. The Packers pushed the Seahawks to the brink Sunday with 135 yards on 30 carries.
The Patriots’ run game has been inconsistent, although Belichick and Brady will take what the defense gives them, which changes week to week. They beat the Ravens in the divisional round with only 14 rushing yards. But then they punished the Colts on the ground for 177 yards. LeGarrette Blount had 148 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. New England didn’t have the bruising Blount until the Pittsburgh Steelers cut him after he left the field early during a Week 11 game. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry in five regular-season games for New England and could end up being a key figure in the Super Bowl.
7. How will Brady do against the Seahawks’ defense? Brady might have some difficulties if he doesn’t get Bryan Stork back at center. Stork missed the Colts game with a knee injury, but the off week could give him a chance to get better. The Patriots had trouble protecting Brady in the pocket early in the season before Stork took over at center.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Seahawks were the second best in the NFL in limiting passing plays when quarterbacks threw from the pocket. Rodgers’ left calf injury kept him in the pocket for all but three passes Sunday. From the pocket, Rodgers was 18 for 31 for 165 yards and three interceptions. Brady is a master of working from the pocket. He completed 64.8 percent of his passes from the pocket for 3,949 yards and 30 touchdowns. The Seahawks will have to pressure him to win.
With the sports world talking about Deflategate, the Patriots themselves would rather talk about dealing with Seattle in the Super Bowl. And for New England’s defense, that means the first order of business is stopping the read option and Marshawn Lynch, who the Patriots call the best back in football.
“Lynch is probably the best running back in the league, and Russell Wilson is a dual threat,” Pats linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “He runs when he needs to. He’s not always looking to pull it down and run, but if it’s there, he’ll take it, so defending that is definitely going to be a big part of what we’re going to do on game day.”
Lynch gashed Green Bay for a season-high 157 yards in the NFC Championship game, and he leads all rushers in the playoffs.
“He’s a load. We’ve got to bring our big boy pads. Everybody at the point of contact to get that guy on the ground,’’ cornerback Kyle Arrington said.
“In my position I’ve got to take care of Lynch first. Everybody’s got to do their job and my job is when he’s around me I’ve got to grab him and hold on, make sure I take him to the ground,’’ said defensive tackle Sealver Saliga, signed off Seattle’s practice squad in 2013. “I’m experienced with their offensive line. I went against them, I understand how they block, so that’s a big thing.”
A month after letting go of (Pete) Carroll, the Patriots did some wrangling with the New York Jets to hire Bill Belichick as their coach.
So began Kraft’s process of restoring the order he desired to his franchise.
But, at the same time, Carroll went through his own self-evaluation. “It was a crucial year for me,” Carroll said.
Even though he was only 48 at the time, he considered what retirement might look like after nearly 30 years of coaching, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
The restlessness would’ve bothered him entirely too much.
“I realized I couldn’t retire and I don’t understand retirement,” he said.
Carroll spent a year away from football figuring out what was next.
“It gave me an opportunity to really collect my thoughts about moving forward and to get pointed in the direction that, really, we have maintained since,” he said. “I had a tremendous opportunity to reflect on the time that I had had. It’s such a whirlwind when you’re coaching and you’re flying so fast that sometimes . . . we don’t figure out that we need to step back and revisit all of the stuff that’s important to us.”
Eventually, he rediscovered what was at the core of his ideals as a coach.
He took the head job at the University of Southern California in December 2000 and while Belichick was building a dynasty in New England, which would win three Super Bowls in a four-year span, Carroll recreated himself as the cool coach in SoCal who turned the Trojans into one of the more successful and glamorous college football programs in the country.
“Out of that came every word of our approach and every philosophy that we stand by now that applies to all the different stuff — really came out of a reflection of that time,” Carroll said. “Of course we have grown since that as well, but that was a big, big time and it happened when I realized that the next football season was coming up and I didn’t have a job and I needed to get ready and compete, so I started competing and in that, things took a much different course and different shape.
“I was on course to figure this out but I hadn’t taken the opportunity to really dig in. I’m really grateful for it and that’s why when I look back — I don’t regret anything that happened up until that time at all and I didn’t regret anything that happened at New England — it needed to happen for me to get to the point where I had to dig in and figure out what was right, so I’m proud of the way that process went because it really worked out.”
Shortly after arriving here Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks were thrust into the circus of media sessions of the type they had become familiar with on their way to a Super Bowl win last year. But Coach Pete Carroll and a group of players made it clear that they did not intend to add to the league’s various distractions as they prepared to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.
Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ quarterback, was all smiles while answering questions about deflated footballs. No longer the scrappy underdog of a year ago, he seemed comfortable in his pursuit of joining Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway and Tom Brady in the small club of quarterbacks to win consecutive Super Bowls.
“The experience of last year, I think, helps us, because we know what the format is going to be like,” Wilson said.
Wilson brushed aside the notion that the scandal surrounding the status of the footballs during New England’s A.F.C. championship game win would affect the Super Bowl.
“It has nothing to do with anything,” he said.
The topic has been so popular all week that “Saturday Night Live” dedicated the show’s opening sketch to the Patriots’ news conferences, and Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” appeared on “Good Morning America” to critique Coach Bill Belichick’s scientific theories on how the balls could have lost pressure.
But Wilson was not biting. Asked if he had preferences for the condition of the ball, he said: “All I care about is, ‘Does it have laces?’ If it has laces, I’m good to go.”
That 1-2 punch is nearly impossible to stop, especially when the Seahawks leverage the threat of both in the read-option package. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, the Seahawks ran the read-option a league-high 177 times for 983 yards this season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, even better than their league-best full-season mark. Against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks ran the read-option 17 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter as Seattle made its miraculous comeback.
Seattle’s read-option game is the best in the NFL not necessarily because of Wilson’s wheels — though he does have great speed — but because he appears to be better at the read part of the read-option than any other quarterback who runs it. It’s not uncommon to see Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton or Robert Griffin III make a hand-off when they should pull the ball out and take off, or vice versa. That doesn’t happen quite as often when Wilson is the one making the decision. If the defensive end crashes down on Lynch’s dive up the middle, Wilson pulls the ball out and runs around the edge. If the end freezes in place to contain Wilson, he hands it off and lets Lynch go to work. Make the wrong read, and the play gets blown up in the backfield. Wilson rarely does.
The best way for the Patriots to stop the read-option is by playing assignment football and winning the other 1-on-1 battles along the line of scrimmage. If the defensive end is assigned to tackle the dive (Lynch), then a linebacker or safety (most likely Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower or Patrick Chung) has to scrape over the outside to contain Wilson on the edge. If the end stays in contain to negate a Wilson run, then the defensive tackles, the end on the opposite side and the linebackers have to win their matchups to stop Lynch before he gets a full head of steam.
Read-option or not, this matchup seems like the type where the Patriots will stack the box with eight defenders fairly often. New England’s secondary — Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington are their primary pass defenders in the defensive backfield — matches up well with the Seahawks receiving crew, so they can afford to devote an extra defender to taking away the run.
Having an extra defender close to the line of scrimmage should help New England keep both Lynch and Wilson from breaking long gains. Indeed, the Patriots allowed the fewest 20-plus yard runs this season. Throughout the season, Chung lined up “in-the-box” more often than all but three other safeties in the NFL (one of whom is his Seahawks counterpart Kam Chancellor). He played 31 of 56 snaps against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game as the Pats were not threatened at all by the Indianapolis run game. The week before, though, he played 65 of 77 snaps as New England tried to contain Justin Forsett and the Baltimore rush offense.
5. Carroll on the Patriots’ defense: “Coach Belichick for years has been a guy that really varies his gameplans as he sees fit for the opponent; more so now than I recall them playing. They play a lot more man-to-man than they used to, and I’m sure that has come about because of his confidence in the corners. So that stands out as something that they have focused and Brandon [Browner] has really added to that.”
6. Was impressed to see such a large contingent of Seahawks fans outside of the team’s hotel upon arrival. Known as the “12th Man”, they traveled extremely well.
7. Another thing that was impressive: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson‘s command, composure and the thought he put into each answer in the media-access period. It’s easy to see how players would follow a leader like that.
“Yes, this is a big playbook,” (Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan) Quinn said of the Patriots. “When we go against them, it’s a long preparation that goes into it.”
The Patriots may use more formations in more ways than any other team in the NFL. And it’s a guess as to how they will use those formations.
Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Not all submissions can be published. Opinions expressed are those of authors, and The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.