With Super Bowl XLIX drawing ever closer, Dan Ashmore takes a look at where the game will be won and lost, and who are the danger men to look out for.
On Sunday, over one hundred million Americans will tune in to watch the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
The prodigious Russell Wilson will be looking to win a second Super Bowl in what is only his third year in the league. He will attempt to lead the Seahawks to a second consecutive title, which would be the first time that has happened since 2004, when the Patriots themselves did the double.
For New England, quarterback Tom Brady will be suiting up for an incredible sixth Super Bowl, and will be bidding to become only the third quarterback to win four Super Bowl rings. Incidentally, Brady is of Irish ancestry, and has spoken in the past of how proud he is of his Gaelic roots. One more reason to watch!
Marshawn Lynch holds the key to this game. He is the heart and soul of the Seattle Seahawks. If the Patriots stop him, they stop the Seahawks. It’s as simple as that. When Lynch runs with the ball, it galvanises Seattle. Not only does he let his defence rest by chewing up the clock and moving the chains for first downs, but there is a discernable emotional energy that surges through the entire team, offensively and defensively. Immensely popular within the locker-room- if not amongst the media- this team plays hard for Lynch. Moreover, he seems to always find that extra gear in the fourth quarter, just when his team needs him the most. This was never more evident than last week against the Green Bay Packers, when he put the team on his back and saved the Seahawks’ season. He gained 95 yards in that quarter alone!
So, how do the Patriots stop him? In short, they can’t. But they can try to contain him. Their biggest asset is that, in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, they possess one of the best cornerback tandems in football. This will allow them to focus more on jamming the box and stopping the run, particularly given that Seattle have no big-time receiving threat. However, New England must keep an eye on Russell Wilson, who is as good as any other quarterback on the run. I think that we will see a good dose of the zone-read, where Wilson reads the defence and decides whether to hand it off to Lynch or keep it himself. It has only been used sparingly in recent games, but I think we will see a return to it on Sunday. I also feel there will be some designed runs for Wilson being called by the Seahawks, especially if it is close in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks need a score. For this matter the Patriots look likely to employ a spy on the dangerous quarterback and keep him in check, forcing him to pass.
At this stage, we know what Seahawks football is. They will run Marshawn Lynch down your throat. Wilson will burn you for a big gain if you give him space. Eventually they will try throw it deep to Doug Baldwin or Jermaine Kearse. But for the most part, they will chew up the clock with their run game and tire your defence out. And then they will let their stifling defence get to work. They like low-scoring games, and they like to be in control and have a lead throughout. But I think this is where the Patriots can expose them. If Brady leads New England to a lead early on, I worry for the Seahawks. They are simply not a team built to come from behind. I know they miraculously overcame a 16 point deficit last week, but that was a complete and utter meltdown by the Packers. This Patriots defence is simply too good to let that happen.
Offensively, the Patriots certainly face a massive challenge against this Seahawks defence. But they do have the best tight-end in football, Rob Gronkowski. The game also isn’t played in Seattle, and so the crowd noise won’t be a factor. The Legion of Boom have no real weaknesses, but they are undoubtedly helped immeasurably by their partisan home crowd. If this game is in Seattle, it would be a completely different story.
The battle between Gronkowski and the Seahawks “Legion of Boom” secondary is one I cannot wait for. It really will be a case of an Unstoppable Force vs an Immovable Object, and fascinating to watch. Seattle will probably assign Kam Chancellor the job of curtailing the big tight-end, and this match-up will go a long way to deciding who wins the match.
With all of this attention on the Gronk, I actually think Julian Edelman could be the Patriots’ biggest weapon. He is excellent after the catch, and the slot is the one position that the Legion of Boom could be exposed. I expect to see him targeted a lot by Tom Brady for a lot of short gains underneath. In special teams, Edelman also returns kicks and the Patriots have been benefiting from good field position all year due to his performances. Since Percy Harvin left, the Seahawks have had no real threat in this department. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big return from Julian Edelman at some stage in this game, despite the Seahawks having defended kicks well this season.
Ultimately, I think the Seahawks will edge this. I think it will be close all game, but I think a fourth quarter drive from the Seahawks featuring a few big runs from Russell Wilson will end in a Marshawn Lynch touchdown and the trophy heading back to the Pacific North-West for the second year in a row.
Prediction: New England 24-27 Seattle