The 3 Questions: Will Seahawks still air it out vs Pats’ strong secondary?
The Seahawks came out with a bang against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 with a 38-25 victory that felt much more dominant than the score would indicate.
Week 2 brings a new challenge. If a high-flying offense was the story of their first matchup, it’s instead the Patriots’ deep secondary that brings the greatest test for Seattle.
Sunday also marks Seattle’s first primetime game of the season, which may be good news to fans: under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks boast the league’s best record in primetime contests.
Here are three questions for this week’s game.
Will the Seahawks’ passing attack continue vs. a better secondary?
The Seahawks faced a Falcons defense last Sunday that ranked 22nd against the pass in 2019, but Week 2 will bring an entirely new monster.
The Patriots had the league’s top-ranked defense in 2019, and even though they’re without a handful of key players from last season (including Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower), they seemed to pick up right where they left off in their 21-11 win over Miami last Sunday. Three separate defensive backs – safety Adrian Phillips, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and cornerback J.C. Jackson – intercepted Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the defense held Miami to 269 net yards, the fifth-lowest total of any team in Week 1.
Patriots.com reporter Paul Perillo said the secondary is “far and away” the strongest part of New England’s team.
“Their secondary is extremely impressive, it’s extremely deep,” Perillo said Wednesday during an interview on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Huddle. “I think you saw that a little bit on Sunday. I think they used 11 defensive backs and they had several plays – I would say somewhere between 15 and 20 plays – with seven defensive backs. So, they do it a little unconventionally. They go from the back to the front. The front seven is not all that formidable but I think they cover up for some of that with the way they play in the back end.”
Conversely, the Patriots’ defense is more susceptible to the run.
“It culminated with the Derrick Henry game in the playoffs,” Perillo said, referencng Henry’s 182-yard day in New England’s loss to the Titans in the wild-card round last January. “They weren’t very good against the run last year. It didn’t really hurt them until the second half of the season. The first half, they had some games where they weren’t very good against the run, but it didn’t matter (because they were getting interceptions).
“Sure enough, that was an Achilles heel for them down the stretch and in the playoffs. That has been a quiet concern with this year’s team… I think Seattle would have a chance to have a little bit more success offensively than Miami did.”
Seattle’s offense didn’t run nearly as much as it normally would in the win over Atlanta. Part of that may have been game planning as Atlanta’s secondary is one of the team’s weak spots, and there was no point in turning away from the pass because it was working – Russell Wilson completed 31 of 35 pass attempts (88.6%) and threw four touchdowns.
It’s easy to see why the Seahawks would opt to run more against New England. For starters, the run defense was an Achilles heel for the Patriots last season, as Perillo said, and Miami’s failure to gain much on the ground isn’t necessarily a strong measure of New England’s success there. And to be fair, Seattle’s run game is superior to the Dolphins’. In addition to that, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said himself he’d like to see more carries for running backs.
Still, abandoning an aggressive passing game hardly seems fun after last week’s performance.
Are we going to see the debut of another rookie?
The Seahawks came out of their win mostly healthy, but there’s still one name to watch this week. Defensive end Rasheem Green briefly exited Sunday’s game with what was described as a shoulder injury. Though he later returned to the game, Carroll said on Monday that Green came out with a bit of a “pinch” that the team would monitor, and on Wednesday followed that up by saying Green had tests done on his shoulder.
Green did not participate in practice Wednesday and was officially listed with a neck injury.
“It’s going to take all week for us to figure it out with him, see how he comes back,” Carroll said.
If Green can’t make it – something we could find out just 90 minutes before kickoff when inactives are listed – the team may instead let rookie pass rusher Alton Robinson suit up. Robinson, a fifth-round pick out of Syracuse, was one of two rookies who were healthy scratches in Week 1 (the other being running back DeeJay Dallas).
Carroll said Robinson and Dallas were “on the verge” of being active Sunday and could play this week depending on matchups. If Green is unable to go, it seems likely Robinson could be the first of the two to see his first snaps in the NFL.
Can the Seahawks’ defense win the day vs. Cam Newton?
When Newton was at his best during his nine years as quarterback for Carolina, this could have been a question for any team heading into a game against the Panthers. And after a series of injuries to end his tenure with his former team, Newton looked a bit more like himself against the Dolphins – which isn’t great news for opponents.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 13, 2020
In addition to completing 15 of his 19 pass attempts for 155 yards against Mimai, Newton had a team-high 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in his debut. That power was evident on one fourth quarter drive when Newton barreled forward to pick up four yards and successfully convert on fourth-and-1 in the red zone (watch the play here).
But if there’s an advantage for the Seahawks’ defense here, it’s a familiarity with Newton – one that the Pats’ AFC East foes lack. Granted, with a new team and no preseason, it remains to be seen how far that familiarity can take the Seahawks as they prepare this week, but it’s a tool, nonetheless.
“Cam is such a big guy that they run power with him,” Bobby Wagner told reporters Wednesday. “They run a lot of QB runs that other quarterbacks don’t run… it’s something that you definitely have to be ready for.”
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