Commentary

Perfect day for a run

Patriots' ground game will be tested again as Brady tries to keep Seattle guessing

Updated: October 18, 2012, 10:33 AM ET
By Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Every week during the season, Mike Reiss and Tedy Bruschi break down the New England Patriots' upcoming game. This week is Sunday's road game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field (CBS, 4:05 p.m. ET):

Mike: There is no shortage of things to talk about this week. Bill Belichick vs. Pete Carroll. High-powered offense vs. attacking, stingy defense. AFC vs. NFC. I'm really looking forward to this. The Patriots, as they usually do for games out West, will leave on Friday, two days early.

Tedy: There has been a lot of talk this week about the Patriots' up-tempo offense. It's been impressive to watch and has been taken to a different level. They were hurrying up to the line of scrimmage and pounding it at the Denver Broncos, which is a different beast when it comes to the hurry-up offense. There were times when the Patriots were taking 15-20 seconds of play clock between plays. Even less at times! That's frenetic. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense. But even with all the talk about the hurry-up offense, I think in this situation, it's going to be hard for them to implement as regularly as they did last week.

Mike: This is just the Patriots' second trip to Seattle since the 1993 season. Seattle is one of just two NFL cities in which quarterback Tom Brady has never played a game (San Francisco is the other). The last time the Patriots were there was 2008 (Brady was out that season with a torn ACL) and I remember how loud it was. It was a great football environment. You played in that game.

Tedy: It's the Pacific Northwest, and you wouldn't think they'd be as aggressive as maybe fans in New York, or Philadelphia, or Chicago -- places like that. I remember having confrontations with individual fans from the stands. They are right there on top of you. That day, they were directing insults at me and I usually don't lose it, but I turned around and yelled at one guy because he was a little out of line. They are very passionate out there. That "12th Man" is for real, it's an advantage for them.

Mike: The Seahawks, with Carroll and personnel chief John Schneider in their third year, have put together a roster that is the third youngest in the NFL. In your career as a player with the Patriots, you played under Carroll from 1997 to 1999, so what insight might you relay on his approach?

Tedy: Pete Carroll's overwhelming theme is to compete. He wants everyone to compete for their job, to compete during practice, to live your life that way. I thought it was a great concept, and when looking at him with the Seahawks, I was wondering how that would play out with the quarterback position. They signed Matt Flynn in free agency and gave him a big contract, and then they added rookie Russell Wilson. Pete was saying it would be a competition, and when he named Wilson the starter, that was the proof in how much he believes in his philosophies. That's the same thing he did in New England. I felt that if he was given another year here, I thought he started to turn it around and was becoming a better head coach. I always liked him as a head coach. I respected the way he did things. I just thought he came in here in a tough situation, following Bill Parcells, and not only that, doing so after a Super Bowl appearance. A lot of players, as young as they were, were like 'There is only one way it should be done.' Pete was obviously not doing it that way and they didn't buy in, and I think that was a big problem for him.

Mike: You mentioned Wilson, the third-round draft choice out of Wisconsin. At 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds, he's not the prototypical quarterback in terms of size. He said this week that he watched Drew Brees more than any other quarterback because he is similar in stature. The Seahawks have struggled to score points with Wilson.

Tedy: I like the kid. He makes good decisions. I've seen him throw the ball away multiple times. They really focus on the run game there; they'll run 10 to 15 play-action passes per game and I'd say Wilson will make one mistake per game -- he had the pick-six last week in Carolina. There are various quarterbacks that the Patriots will go up against where I'll say, 'He'll give you your chances.' With Wilson, he'll give you one chance. He's that smart of a decision-maker. So that one chance you have to take advantage of because he's been very good at playing it close to the vest.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson, Pete Carroll
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIPete Carroll's decision to start QB Russell Wilson (right) shows how much he believes in his philosophy about competing for a job in the NFL, says Tedy Bruschi.

Mike: Marshawn Lynch (5-11, 215) has had a career rebirth in Seattle. We remember him from his AFC East days with the Buffalo Bills, and if you look at his production over his past 14 games, he's the NFL's most productive rusher (1,449 yards). The Seahawks just had a streak of six games with at least 100 yards rushing snapped, so when you look at what Bill Belichick is going to want to take away, this decisively looks like the place to start.

Tedy: In terms of being a tough running back to tackle, I'd put Lynch at No. 1 in the league. He's not the most elusive, but he's the best power runner. I say it from personal experience. I remember one play when he was with the Bills, an inside running play, and I made my way through the trash and the offensive linemen and I hit him with everything I had -- hip-level, wrapping him up -- and I'm thinking he's going to go down. But he kept pumping his legs and carried me for about 3 yards. I got up from that and said, 'Holy smokes, this guy is strong.' You still see it today. He's that type of runner.

Mike: With former Raiders head coach Tom Cable as Seattle's offensive line coach, how would you describe the Seahawks' running game?

Tedy: It's a nice mix of runs. They'll have a zone run, where you stretch it out and the offensive linemen have their own zone reads and they cut down the back side and it's one cut and downhill. They run the power, they run the leads, I've seen some toss cracks. So it's an interesting combination of runs. They'll do everything, using Lynch in a nice way, so the defense has to be ready for various concepts.

Mike: We'll have to keep an eye on some defensive personnel questions from the Patriots. Rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower (hamstring) didn't play last week and this is the type of game where they could use him because he's been powerful against the run. We've seen a lot of sub defense from the Patriots the past two weeks against the Bills and Broncos, and they've been in sub 66 percent of the snaps this season, but this projects to be a game where we will see a bigger lineup.

Tedy: Right, and linebacker Brandon Spikes (three forced fumbles in 2012), this is his type of game. Michael Robinson, the Seahawks' fullback, is a good lead-blocker, so you can expect to see some collisions between the two. Their tight end, Zach Miller, has had some production for them. And at receiver, one thing to watch is Sidney Rice. Once a game, it seems like they'll take a game-plan shot to him to really test the defense down the field, usually off play-action.

Mike: That's one area the Patriots have been vulnerable, so maybe they'll take a couple shots. Along those lines, it looks like starting Patriots safety Steve Gregory might be out for a second week in a row. From a Seahawks perspective, what stands out to you about their defense?

Tedy: I'd start with the secondary. It's big. They call themselves the Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas is the playmaker back there at free safety. He has great instincts and plays the ball very well. Kam Chancellor is a 6-3, 230-pound safety, so he's like having a linebacker out there. He's the strong safety and we'll see if he matches up against Rob Gronkowski. Cornerback Brandon Browner is 6-4, a former Canadian Football League player who is very aggressive. And Richard Sherman, another 6-3 corner. These guys are physical. They jam you, disrupt you at the line of scrimmage. The third corner is Marcus Trufant and that might be where you can find some matchup advantages. It's probably the biggest secondary the Patriots will see all year. Pete Carroll challenges this group to be aggressive, to get in the receivers' faces, to jam them at the line, and they respond. One of the big things for the Patriots this week will be working to get off the line.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks defense
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri"It's a group of tough, aggressive guys. Pete [Carroll] coaches them that way," says Bruschi about Seattle's pass-rushers.

Mike: These guys are good, but we know size doesn't always equal success. I remember then-Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha having his struggles with the smaller but quicker Wes Welker in 2008, so I wonder if the Patriots might be able to capitalize on that.

Tedy: Getting off the jam is going to be huge. Last week in the Seahawks' win over the Panthers, Richard Sherman was hemming up Steve Smith, to the point that Smith got so frustrated that he slammed him to the ground. They can get in your mind like that. The Patriots' offense has been keeping defenses off balance with their different approaches each week. Starting the year with establishing the running game, utilizing their multiple tight ends. Then going to the three-wide receiver packages and using short, quick passes. Now implementing this Oregon Ducks type hurry-up. This probably continues to keep the Seahawks' defense off balance. If you think about it, what's the one thing the Patriots haven't majored in all year? Shots down the field. It's time the Patriots went deep and this may be the week to do it.

Mike: This past offseason, when free agency began, Bill Belichick put on a hard recruiting push with defensive lineman Red Bryant. He's a big, physical player. But Bryant ended up returning to the Seahawks and he's one of many players in the front seven that has contributed to Seattle entering this game ranked second in the NFL in terms of fewest points allowed (14.0 per game).

Tedy: Chris Clemons at defensive end is a solid player. They have Brandon Mebane, and you go right down the line -- it's a group of tough, aggressive guys. Pete coaches them that way. He wants them getting up the field. He wants them playing fast, physical and aggressive. And we haven't even mentioned Bruce Irvin, their first-round draft choice out of West Virginia. This kid is unique. When you're running 4.4s at the combine in the 40, as a defensive end, that's speed that you usually don't see. They loop him under on pass-rush games, he gets off. They utilize that "12th Man" in Seattle -- the crowd -- and it shows in how this pass rush is different at home than it is on the road. Just ask Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked eight times in the first half. The get-off that you get when you have that noise behind you, and the offensive line doesn't know the snap count, it may only be a half-second but it still gives you the edge on the offensive blocker to where you can get around him and affect a throw or get a sack.

Mike: No question, Tedy, this is a major test for the offensive line. The status of left guard Logan Mankins (hip/calf) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) bears watching, as they didn't finish last Sunday's win. They are arguably the Patriots' two best linemen. The Seattle crowd takes pride in helping produce false-start penalties. I remember being there in 2008 and they kept a tally of them on the scoreboard, which really fired up the crowd.

Tedy: This is the exact reason the Patriots have brought back the running game. You lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl last year. You lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl in 2007, and everyone says, 'There is no threat of a running game.' The front four can just tee off on the offensive line, because they know you're going to throw it. They're going to get after Tom Brady because you're one-dimensional. All that has changed now. They're running the ball now and this is why. This type of matchup is why. The New York Giants' pass rush is why you go back to this. The Seattle Seahawks' defense is exactly why you go back to this. The Seahawks are at home, the crowd is going to be noisy, and right now in those meeting rooms the Seahawks' defensive front is licking its chops that they get to rush Tom Brady. By running the ball, the Patriots can slow down that pass rush and control the pace and tempo. You've got Stevan Ridley, you've got Brandon Bolden, you've got Danny Woodhead -- you can counteract their strength. This is what you've been working toward, and now let's see if it works against a strong front four that can get off the ball.

Mike: Let's touch on special teams. I think this could be a game where the Patriots need kicker Stephen Gostkowski to come through for them. And in speaking with players this week, there is a lot of respect for Leon Washington as a returner. We remember him from this AFC East days with the New York Jets and he can be a difference-maker for the Seahawks. Before we get to predictions, the last point I want to make is how a trip to Seattle, and leaving a little early, can lead to some interesting experiences for players. What do you remember about your 2008 trip?

Tedy: Seattle was the last stadium and game I ever played in and it was one of the most memorable for me. I was in a place in my career where I knew it was coming to an end and I felt complete by getting to play in that stadium. I say that because players always take note of all the venues they've played in. And playing in Seattle completed my "world tour," if you will. It was the last stadium I ever played in and I realized that I had played in every stadium in the NFL after that game. We had spent an entire week on the West Coast that year and had some extra time in Seattle so I walked around the fish market and went to the top of the Space Needle. It was a great trip. It was too bad that I hurt my knee in that game and that was my last play, but hey it's all gotta end sometime and let's end this breakdown with our predictions.

Mike: I think this is going to be a tough game for the Patriots. The Seahawks are a different team at home, and that defense can really get after it. It's one of the best defenses in the NFL, but I'm just not sure they'll be able to score enough to keep pace with the Patriots, who have found their groove offensively. If I'm the Patriots, staying alert for shots down the field and trick plays is big this week. This one could go either way. Patriots 23, Seahawks 20.

Tedy: The Seahawks will trust their defense and special teams early in attempting to keep it close. They want to win it in the fourth quarter but it's just not going to happen. It will be close to start, as the Patriots struggle early in that environment, but they will make the necessary adjustments and I think they run away with this one in the second half. It's time to attack the deep part of the field and Brandon Lloyd will have a huge day off play-action. Patriots 30 Seahawks 13.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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