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Clayton’s Observations: Seahawks face interesting test against new-look Patriots

The Seahawks face a very different looking Patriots team in Seattle on Sunday. (Getty)

Even though Tom Brady opted out of being a New England Patriot, the Seahawks’ Sunday night game against the Patriots is still interesting.

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Brady versus Russell Wilson has always been an interesting battle. Remember when a young Seahawks team upset the Patriots in Seattle and Richard Sherman came over to Brady after the game and said, “You mad, Bro?’’

How about the Seahawks’ Super Bowl loss to New England in which Russell Wilson drove the Seahawks to the 1-yard line and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a pass play that was intercepted instead of letting Marshawn Lynch take it into the endzone for a one-yard touchdown?

Sunday night’s matchup is more of a mystery than any of the previous Seattle-New England games. Even though the Patriots easily handled the Miami Dolphins 21-11 last week, it’s hard to say how good the Patriots’ defense is this year. Last year they were one of the league’s best. They only gave up 14.1 points per game.

Part of that is how many young quarterbacks the Patriots face. Head coach Bill Belichick is always going to win against young quarterbacks. He has such an advantage of facing Josh Allen and Sam Darnold each twice a year. He is usually going to do well against Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Dolphins.

But the Pats have lost so much on defense. They don’t have four of their top five linebackers. Two of their top three safeties are gone. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton went to the Detroit Lions. This year, the Patriots and all the teams in the AFC East face the toughest schedules in the league based on last year’s records.

What Belichick has is great coverage cornerbacks. The Pats are considered to have the best man-to-man cornerback trio in football. The unit is led by Stephon Gilmore, who was the Defensive Player of the Year last season.

One of the keys to the game is how Belichick uses his cornerbacks and safeties to see if they can take away Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

The other big mystery in this game is whether the Seahawks will let Russell Wilson cook like they did in last week’s game against Atlanta. Wilson dropped back to pass on 38 plays and the Seahawks had only 20 running plays. He ended up having one of the greatest passing days in NFL history, completing 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns. He was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

I expect more two-tight end sets. The tight end room is loaded with Greg Olsen, Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister and Luke Willson. Two tight-end sets are unpredictable. In a three-receiver set, defenders set up more for the pass. With two tight ends, it’s harder to figure it’s going to be a run or a pass because there is one bigger potential blocker than you would have with three receivers on the field.

The two-tight end set could also take a defense out of the nickel. Last year, the Seahawks were in two-tight end sets 11% of the time. Against the Falcons, they were in two-tight end sets 18 of 58 plays, 31% of the time. They were in three-receiver sets for 36 plays.

The key of the game for the Seahawks is mounting an early lead. Because the Patriots are now primarily a running team – they had 42 runs and 21 dropbacks to pass last week – it’s hard for such a team to come back if it falls behind by 10 to 14 points. Cam Newton had 15 rushes for 75 yards and two rushing touchdowns, but he’s still a good quarterback.

The Seahawks have been 6-2 against Newton in the regular season through the years, but the Seahawks knew what they were going against when they faced him when he was in Carolina. Now, it’s a mystery to see where the Patriots are at as a team, but this will be a great test.

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