The buildup to this contest isn’t necessarily as substantial as a Brady versus Manning duel, but the Patriots nonetheless face a large task in traveling to Seattle in Week 6 to take on the Seahawks, who possess an identical 3-2 record.
The Seahawks are 2-0 this season playing in front of their CenturyLink Field home crowd, a widely discussed point of conversation throughout the week. The crowd is one of the loudest in football, and the “12th Man” provides the Seahawks with something of an advantage each Sunday afternoon in Seattle.
The Patriots enter the game with momentum on their side, having won consecutive games and hitting their stride on offense in recent weeks, racking up nearly 500 yards rushing in the past two games and decimating defenses with an up-tempo attack. How much that pace will be deterred by the crowd noise remains to be seen, although the Patriots have also shown the ability to win on offense with a more methodical approach.
As Week 6 draws closer, here are the five things we’ll be watching for between the Seahawks and Patriots.
1. Controlling the crowd. Home-field advantage can be overstated in football, but perhaps not so in Seattle, where the Seahawks’ crowd can alter the tide of a game. Specifically, it can drown an opposing offense’s ability to make calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and the Patriots will have a difficult task this weekend. In speaking to players and coaches this week, they believe the best remedy for dealing with the crowd is simply executing on offense; the closer the game, the noisier the crowd. If the Patriots can work effectively on offense early and gain a lead, they’ll have a chance to zap the life out of the crowd and neutralize its effects.
2. Will Hernandez play? Not to be lost in the Patriots’ recent offensive outburst is that star tight end Aaron Hernandez has been forced to watch it from the sideline. Hernandez returned to practice last week on a limited basis and continues to progress. He’s been on the practice field each day this week and could be on track to play Sunday. Should he make his return from a right ankle injury suffered in Week 2, the questions become how much he is used and in what capacity. The Patriots were thin at tight end a week ago with just two healthy bodies on the game-day roster and could use a major boost from Hernandez if he is able to take the field.
3. Ball security. Two teams have forced nine fumbles, tops in the NFL, this season: the Patriots and Seahawks. In fact, the Seahawks’ defense is predicated upon big plays, including turnovers caused, sacks and quarterback pressures. For the Patriots’ offense, which has just four turnovers this season, the task will be to keep up the steady and secure play and prevent Seattle’s offense from taking over on a short field. That starts with solid protection of Brady from his offensive line and high-and-tight carries from the backs. Running back Stevan Ridley, despite great production, needs to get back on track after fumbling in consecutive games.
4. Wrap up Lynch. New Orleans Saints fans are still queasy over the thought of Marshawn Lynch breaking what felt like a dozen tackles on his big scamper in the Seahawks’ 2010 playoff victory over the then-defending champions. Breaking tackles is one of Lynch’s many strong suits, and the Patriots emphasized the fundamentals this week in practice, according to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Lynch is the type of player you can never assume is down. The Patriots must drive and wrap up as tacklers and play all the way to the whistle when facing Lynch.
5. Handling pressure. Another week, another stiff test for the Patriots’ offensive line in handling an opposing pass rush. This week it features not just a pair of dynamic rushers but an entire front that can attack an offense in a number of ways. Certain players of note include veteran Chris Clemons, who already has 5.5 sacks this season, and top draft choice Bruce Irvin, whose 4.5 sacks pace all rookies. The Seahawks, according to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, don’t need to bring additional rushers to create pressure and can be a nightmare to contain off the edges. That means another big week will be needed out of Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer (assuming he’s healthy enough to start).