I have this vague sense of feeling pretty at ease before last year’s Super Bowl. The overwhelming majority of people had Denver winning the game pretty handily, everyone was sleeping on our defense, and quite frankly, everyone totally dismissed our offense’s ability to get the job done. In that game, I just had this feeling that it would be less about our defense against their offense and more about our offense against their defense.
As it turned out, I was off-base, because our defense controlled that game from the coin toss, but I will argue that if Denver ever figured out how to score on us, our offense STILL would’ve made it a comfortable victory. Either way, with how their defense was banged up, I know I was EXCITED for the game to finally start, and yeah in that excitement there’s some nervous energy because you’ve got a million What Ifs running around your head, but last year was a cake walk of a two weeks compared to this year.
This year, I haven’t been sleeping well, I’m fucking stressed out at work, and while I know what it’s going to take to BEAT this team, a pretty big part of me questions how we’re going to achieve it.
There are a couple big things in play that are giving me pause. For starters, our defense just flat out isn’t as good as it was a year ago. In that, I’m looking squarely at our pass rush. It’s better than it was in 2012, but it can’t hold a flame to 2013. What does that mean? Well, for starters, we’ve never really locked down that LEO rush spot. We’ve yet to really replace Chris Clemons and it’s biting us in the ass. On passing downs, when they flip Avril to the other side and push Michael Bennett to defensive tackle (which worked so amazingly in 2013), we’ve got either Bruce Irvin or O’Brien Schofield coming from that LEO side, and for whatever reason it’s just not cutting it. This is where, you know, maybe a Cassius Marsh going down for the year hurts you. Not that it’s all that reasonable to expect total greatness out of a rookie mid-round pick, but he was spry with a high motor and very well could’ve developed right before our eyes if he stayed healthy. Likewise, with our interior rush next to Bennett. I’m not gonna lie to you, Bennett can’t do everything. But, when Jordan Hill came on strong at the end of the season, we were a completely different team. In those last six games, we dominated the line of scrimmage from our nickel sets, and I would be WAY more confident in our pass rush right now if he was still with us.
This is the thing: when the Patriots finally fixed their offensive line woes, they had some of the best interior pass protection in the league. How do you rattle a quarterback like Tom Brady – who isn’t all that mobile – and prevent him from doing what he wants to do? You pressure him up the middle. While Brady isn’t going to run your pants off, quarterbacks like him who’ve been around for as long as he has, playing at as high a level as he has, are adept at one thing: stepping up into the pocket. Too often of late – since Hill went down and we’ve been unable to replace him – our defensive ends have been pushed out wide, while our tackles get nothing done up front, allowing quarterbacks to step up and make their throws with perfect timing and arm strength. If you chop off their ability to step up, they’re not going to get as much on their throws and – since they’re not going to scramble for too many first downs – you don’t have to worry about them running toward the sideline for big gains. Tom Brady will run a little if there’s a clear hole up the middle where he can get a cheap 7-10 yards before sliding down safely. He’s less inclined to run if he’s got to try to beat a guy to the edge; with the speed on our defense, that’s a fool’s errand anyway. And, besides all of that, with an interior pass rush, if the tackles try to block our ends out wide, that allows our ends to get a swat at the ball or otherwise hit Brady, when he would have stepped up and avoided it if the interior rush doesn’t get home.
This is what’s keeping me up at night. Tom Brady, standing in a relatively clean pocket for most of the game, carving us up. Yeah, our secondary is good, but they’re not robots. If we give Brady 4-8 seconds to throw, he’s GOING to find a man open at some point.
The other thing that’s keeping me up is simple: how do we score?
Against Denver, I was pretty solid in my belief that we weren’t going to run for a ton. Marshawn Lynch wasn’t going to bust out for 150 yards and multiple touchdowns. But, I figured our receivers were more talented than people gave them credit for, and we’d maybe bust Wilson loose on some runs off the edge with their linebackers and defensive ends injured.
This year, where’s it coming from? Where are we steadily going to get our offense from? When you think of Bill Belichick as a game-planner, what do you think of first? Obviously, egomaniacal cheater. But, what’s the SECOND thing you think of? Every game plan is different. Unlike the Seahawks – who put out their best 11 against your 11, with the same concepts game-in and game-out, and just dare you to beat us – the Patriots tailor a game plan specifically for their opponent that week. Or, in this case, for the last two weeks. They’ve had TWO WEEKS to tailor a game plan to stop the one thing we do the best. What’s that one thing? Running the ball. Specifically, running the ball with Marshawn Lynch, but I don’t necessarily think they’re entirely focused on just that one aspect. I’m pretty sure they’re giving close to equal time to game-planning for Wilson’s scrambling ability and his ability to run off of the zone read.
If the Patriots put the bulk of their efforts in limiting our rushing ability, where are we going to get our yards? Granted, it’s pretty unlikely that they stop us from running ENTIRELY, but if they hold us to a poor average and stick us with a bunch of 3rd & Longs, I think we’re fucked.
Doug Baldwin on Revis Island. I don’t think Baldwin will be held without a catch, but honestly, it wouldn’t TOTALLY shock me. If Baldwin catches five balls in this game, I’ll be beyond impressed. That puts Kearse, where? With Browner covering/manhandling him?
This is what I don’t like. I hate going into a game not knowing where we’re going to get our production. Usually, I’ve got a pretty good idea. But, usually, we’re not going up against one of the three or five best cornerbacks in football. I mean, probably our BEST matchup on offense is Luke Willson against whoever. First, who wants to pin their hopes on Luke Willson not dropping three balls in this game? Second, what if they stick Browner on him and neutralize him entirely? Then, I’ve got to pin my hopes on Moeaki? Helfet? What kind of offense is that?
I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve felt worse going into a football game.
I feel like this is the type of game where their offense plays our defense to a draw, but it’s also the type of game where their defense completely out-plays us and we’re stuck scratching and clawing, trying to pull another miracle out of our asses late in the game. No WAY lightning strikes twice in back to back weeks!
Either that, or our offense defies expectations, but because we can’t manage any sort of a pass rush, this game weirdly turns into a shootout with one team having the ball with two minutes left, down a score, and it going against us because fuck me I hate my life.
Last year, I wanted to savor every minute of the build-up to the game, so convinced was I that we’d get our first championship. This year? God, I almost just want it to be over. I can’t savor a God damn thing!
One thing I’ve got going for me: whatever is going on right now certainly beats being the Team of Destiny, going into the game knowing you’re going to win, and then getting knocked on your ass in a heartbreaking defeat of epic proportions. A Seahawks victory in this game is going to be appreciated fifty times over compared to last year’s gingerly walk in the park. The only thing is: will my heart have enough juice to survive it all?
I’ve got more on the matchup coming up tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll have some better things to say about the Seahawks’ chances.