Friday, October 12, 2012
Can Seahawks D contain Patriots O?
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
RENTON, Wash. -- It doesn't get much farther from Foxborough in the Pacific Northwest, where the Seattle Seahawks train at a sparkling waterfront facility off Lake Washington.
About 2,500 miles separate the New England Patriots' home field from this stunning location, but no matter. What the Patriots did at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, when they unveiled an up-tempo, no-huddle offense that blitzed the Denver Broncos into submission, was ignite a football-shaped bomb inside the walls of this 200,000-square-foot gem.
The dominating performance decisively shaped the way the Seahawks have prepared for this Sunday's home game against the Patriots, with an intense focus on matching that speed of play.
"Any time you have a tempo like that, you have to prepare for it and you have to game plan for it," second-year cornerback Richard Sherman said. "The only thing you can do is get your offense to simulate it to the best of their abilities and hope you're prepared enough on Sunday to play. Coaches did everything they could. They tried to fatigue us."
This is what the Patriots have created, not just here, but around the NFL. Call them professional trend-setters. Any team that faces them now has to prepare for such an attack, whether the Patriots plan to use it or not.
This week, it's the Seahawks' problem to contend with, and coach Pete Carroll said Friday that his club has done all it could at this point.
"The week has been great," he said. "You can't get it exactly as it is, but we've practiced faster than they could practice at times, and to try to help our guys understand that sense of urgency. The hard part is that you don't do the tackling, and getting on the ground and getting off the ground, in the same fashion. You chase the football and go back. So that part of it we'll have to experience for the first time [Sunday].
"The rest of it, we have a very clear plan, and I'm hoping our guys can carry it out and have fun playing ball."
Ah, the plan. This is the intriguing "game within the game," assuming the Patriots adopt the up-tempo attack at some point Sunday.
Carroll wasn't about to give it away, but here is the dilemma for the Seahawks: They are a defense that likes to substitute. Perhaps at no spot is this more important than along the defensive line, where 6-foot-4, 323-pound Red Bryant is relied upon on early downs to help shut down the run, before often coming off for lightning-fast edge rusher Bruce Irvin (6-3, 248) in passing situations.
"They're a fantastic group, with great history," Pete Carroll says of the Patriots. "They've proven it over a long period of time."
The up-tempo, no-huddle could negate their ability to substitute, which is the problem the Broncos ran into last week when star defender Von Miller was kept on the sideline for 29 plays, far too many for such an impactful player.
So for the Seahawks, it's a case of pick your poison. If they leave Bryant out on the field and concede some rush on passing downs, he might run out of gas quickly. They'd also have to live without having Irvin, their first-round pick, playing a difference-making role on passing plays. Then again, if they lean more heavily on Irvin, they might get run over without Bryant.
So how do they strike the right balance? It's going to be fun to find out, with Bryant/Irvin and at other spots, as this highlights the pressure the Patriots can put on the opposition with the up-tempo approach.
"We have a plan for how we're going to attack it. I'll be ready," Bryant said. "The tempo stands out. They're able to speed up the game and make it really difficult."
Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley have stressed alertness, alignment and pacing.
The alertness comes on the sidelines and in making sure that any opportunities that are presented to substitute -- such as an incomplete pass -- are seized because there might not be another. "It's a little different," Carroll acknowledged.
The alignment is tied to the thinking that many of the explosive plays the Patriots produced Sunday were a result of catching the Broncos out of position, as they weren't aligned by the time the ball was snapped (some plays came as quickly as 12 seconds apart).
The pacing relates to the suddenness in which things can change during the course of the action.
"It's going to be like a fight in that there are flurries in there, and there are delays, and there are downtimes kind of," said Carroll, whom The Seattle Times dubbed the "Comeback Kid" in a Friday story that detailed how he revived his career after being fired as Patriots coach in 2000. "So we have to play with those rhythms and get used to it."
Along those lines, Carroll framed Sunday's game as one that pits a longtime champion against an up-and-coming challenger.
"They're a fantastic group, with great history. They've proven it over a long period of time. We're kind of just getting going," he said. "We'll see how it matches up. We're going to try to do our thing and match the tempo."
"I feel like we did the best we could," added Bryant, the fifth-year defensive lineman whom the Patriots pursued in free agency this offseason. "Every team that has played the Patriots has struggled with that tempo. I can't say enough how difficult a task it's going to be for us. But we're playing at home, we have the crowd on our side and I'd take my guys against anybody."
Yes, as Bryant points out, the Seahawks' defense shouldn't be overlooked. As potent as the Patriots looked in the up-tempo attack last week, the Seattle D has been equally disruptive at times. No team in the NFL has surrendered fewer yards, and only one has allowed fewer points.
The Seahawks' big, bad, physical defensive backfield is dubbed the "Legion of Boom," and it's a group that is starting to generate more attention.
So it could be the Patriots' up-tempo offensive bomb versus the Seahawks' potent defensive boom.
This could be explosive.