GameDay matchup: Patriots at Seahawks
Keys to Seahawks victory
1. Stay patient on defense.
That might sound silly given the way the Patriots push the pace with their no-huddle offense, but even though the Patriots run a hurry-up approach, they specialize in long drives. They've had exactly two three-and-out possessions this season, showing both an ability and desire for extended drives. Seattle's defense can't get frustrated if it doesn't get off the field quickly. It has to persevere and keep from becoming frustrated because it's when opponents get impatient, and starting making alignment errors, that New England gets its biggest gains.
2. Protect the ball.
This is always one of Pete Carroll's priorities, but Seattle has committed six over the past two games. Seattle won last week despite committing more turnovers (three) than it forced (two) at Carolina, but that's an aberration. The Seahawks are 2-13 under Carroll when they commit more turnovers than the opponent. The Patriots have 14 takeaways this season, which is tied for the second most in the league.
3. Improve the short game.
Seattle has had the ball inside the opponent's 20-yard line 14 times this season and come away with four touchdowns, the lowest percentage in the league. Improving that conversion rate is the single biggest point of emphasis for quarterback Russell Wilson this week. The rookie has demonstrated an ability to improve week to week, too. After he was 1-for-10 passing on third down in Weeks 3 and 4, that was emphasized a week ago and he was 9-for-10 passing on third down in Carolina.
Keys to Patriots victory
1. Keep Seattle from staking out a lead.
The Seahawks have scored first in all five of their games, and while they haven't held onto that lead, the fact Seattle held that early lead not only eased the pressure on the Seahawks' offense, but forced opponents to play catch-up against Seattle's defense. Keeping Seattle from jumping on top early would not only mute the crowd, but it would put the onus on Seattle's offense and its rookie quarterback to keep pace.
2. Don't give the Seahawks a short field.
Seattle has scored eight touchdowns this season, tied for fourth-fewest in the league. One of those touchdowns was the result of a blocked punt. Three others were scored on drives that began in the opponent's half of the field either because of either a turnover or a special-teams return. That shows how hard a time Seattle has reaching the end zone if it has to start on its own half of the field.
3. Don't give up on the ground game.
The Patriots have rushed for more than 200 yards each of their past two games, something the team last accomplished in 1978. For all the attention given to Seattle's success running the ball, the Patriots have actually been more productive on the ground, averaging 165.4 yards, which is No. 3 in the league. And while Seattle has been stout against the run, the Patriots' hurry-up offense could keep Seattle from rotating its defensive line as it normally does, alternating between its big-bodied base defense that includes Red Bryant and the pass-rush package that features rookie Bruce Irvin.
Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez vs. Seattle's defense.
The biggest mystery entering this game for Seattle is how it will match up with these two tight ends. Free safety Earl Thomas could be a consideration though he might also see time against Wes Welker. Linebacker K.J. Wright can go pound-for-pound with Gronkowski, but Hernandez is a pretty nifty receiver. The Seahawks are the only team in the league with two starting quarterbacks who wouldn't be instant mismatches against a tight end as Brandon Browner is 6 feet 4, Richard Sherman 6-3. But Seattle also hasn't been a team that junks its defensive principles to draw up something for a particular opponent. Could the Patriots be an exception?
Seattle and San Francisco are the only NFL cities where Tom Brady has never played since joining the Patriots. He was out with a knee injury the last , Matt Cassel starting at quarterback when the Patriots played at Seattle in 2008, New England winning 23-20. This is only the third meeting between the teams since 1993, when they played twice in what was the rookie year for both Rick Mirer and Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots have won the last two games in the series.