These Patriots are not an easy bunch to figure out. One week they’ll try to ram the ball down an opponent’s throat with the run, the next they’ll spread it out and attack through the air, and they’ll follow that with an ultra hurry-up approach to rattle a defense and open up holes. What’ll it be this Sunday against Seattle? Our three Patriots reporters try to get into the mind of Bill Belichick and guess the game plan for Sunday.
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Mike Reiss: Big lineup on D, tight ends key on offense
Let's start on defense because that seems pretty straightforward. The Patriots figure to call upon a bigger lineup, with stopping the run and keeping quarterback Russell Wilson in the pocket the key.
The game plan might have to feature a few personnel tweaks if linebackers Dont'a Hightower (hamstring) and Tracy White (foot) aren't available. One area to watch is Rob Ninkovich returning to more of a traditional linebacker-type role if Hightower and White aren't available. There aren't many other options and Ninkovich is a strong edge-setter, which is going to be crucial.
On offense, the plan figures to be dictated by how well the offensive front holds up. Does it need help? Regardless, I think the tight ends are going to be key, either by extending the line of scrimmage in a blocking role or as pass-catchers. How do the Seahawks match them?
The Patriots won't run for 200-plus yards like they did the past two weeks, but establishing enough of a ground game naturally will be important. They can't be one-dimensional in this environment.
Mike Rodak: Expect a lot of Brady-to-Welker early to set the tone
It's hard to sit back and try to find glaring weaknesses to exploit in the Seahawks' defense, because statistically, there aren't many, at least through five games.
Looking at the Seahawks' "back seven" -- their linebackers and secondary -- six of the seven starters entered the league in 2010 or later. That means these players were probably sitting in college, or even high school, when Tom Brady and the Patriots were putting up massive offensive numbers in 2007. When they were winning Super Bowls early last decade, these Seahawks starters were in grade school.
This is the first time these players will face Brady. This is the first time fans in Seattle will have a chance to try to disrupt his game. The atmosphere will be charged, and the players will be excited. But they also will be susceptible to veterans like Brady and receivers Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker making plays on them early.
The key, then, is rely on the chemistry between Brady and Welker, built over six years, as well as their collective football IQ to set the pace of the game in the first quarter. Make cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner get nervous. Make safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor get jittery. Remind them whom they are playing. Have them get overwhelmed by the moment, not seize it.
Field Yates: Continued commitment to run will open up passing game
A week after dictating the tempo against the Denver Broncos by wearing down their defense with the run, the Patriots will attempt to do the same to the Seahawks, regardless of the fact that their run defense ranks among the best in the league.
A commitment to the run will open up the play-action passing game, where the Patriots may have an advantage in the middle of the field with Rob Gronkowski and potentially Aaron Hernandez testing the Seahawks' linebackers in pass coverage.
Seattle loves to bring an extra safety down into the box, and if Brady can effectively work his play fakes and ball-handling skills -- as he normally does -- he’ll have a chance to draw the defense in and open up space down the field.
The Patriots understand the challenge in facing Seattle’s talented -- and huge -- cornerbacks, but will not shy away from that, either. It’s important for an offense to not allow them to dictate how the receivers will run their routes and where, so expect the Patriots to usher a passing display similar to what we’ve seen in recent weeks, with Welker terrorizing from the slot, and others contributing on the perimeter.