In 2012 the Patriots traveled to Seattle to play the Seahawks in week 6 of the regular season.¬† Many of the faces have changed from that game (for example, the Patriots‚Äô starting skill position players were:¬† Gronkowski, Hernandez, Welker, Lloyd, and Ridley), and Seattle had not yet become Seattle, but the game might still be somewhat instructive for us as we head towards this Sunday‚Äôs Super Bowl matchup.
Seattle‚Äôs defense hadn‚Äôt had three years‚Äô worth of stats and reputation to back up the claim to being the best defense in football, but we need to remember that in 2012, they were¬†the best defense in the NFL.¬† In 2010, their defense in Pete Carroll‚Äôs first year was awful, finishing 25th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed.¬† But in 2011 they showed remarkable improvement, ranking #7 in points allowed and #9 in yards allowed.¬† In 2012, the rise to the top was complete, as they finished #1 in points allowed, and #4 in yards allowed.¬† In their first five games of the 2012 season, here‚Äôs what they had allowed:
- Ari:¬† 20 points, 253 yards
- Dal:¬† 7 points, 296 yards
- GB:¬† 12 points, 268 yards
- StL:¬† 19 points, 286 yards
- Car: ¬†12 points, 190 yards
On average, they had given up just 14.0 points and 258.6 yards per game.¬† That‚Äôs very, very impressive.¬† The Patriots, of course, had one of the most explosive offenses in football, but traveling to Seattle and playing in the loudest stadium in the league against the #1 defense in football would be a stiff test.
How did the Patriots‚Äô offense fare?
They may have lost, but Tom Brady likely learned a lot from their previous match-up against Seattle.
(USA TODAY Images)
First, the raw numbers:
- The Patriots put up 475 total yards of offense.¬† That‚Äôs 216 more than Seattle was yielding on average.
- The Patriots had 388 yards passing.¬† That‚Äôs by far the most Seattle allowed all season.
- The Patriots had 26 first downs.¬† That‚Äôs tied for the most Seattle would give up all season.
- The Patriots controlled the ball for 34 minutes.
In other words, New England simply did not have much difficulty moving the ball.¬† But they ‚Äúonly‚ÄĚ had 23 points against Seattle.¬† While that may not seem like a ton, consider that in their 8 home games that year (where Seattle had, and continues to have, a decided advantage), Seattle gave up the following number of points:¬† 7, 12, 23, 20, 7, 0, 13, 13, for an average of 11.9 per game.¬† If you remove the NE-Sea game, the Seahawks gave up, on average, just 10.3 points per game at home.¬† The Patriots, therefore, scored just under 13 points more than Seattle would allow at home on average for the rest of the season.
Moreover, on average, eliminating the Patriots‚Äô game, the Seahawks allowed, at home, an average of 262 yards per game.¬† The Patriots racked up 213 more yards than that.¬† Opponents averaged 16 first downs a game in Seattle, but the Patriots got ten more than that.
The long story short is that Seattle‚Äôs defense ‚Äď especially at home ‚Äď was beyond dominant.¬† It was historically great.¬† And yet New England came in and put up the biggest numbers against Seattle in their stadium that any team did all season long.¬† It truly was an impressive performance by the Patriots‚Äô offense.
How did they do it?¬† Let‚Äôs first look at the running game, which wasn‚Äôt dominant, but it wasn‚Äôt terrible either, putting up 87 yards on 26 carries (3.3 average).
- Left outside (LE, LT):¬† 8 rushes, 23 yards (2.9)
- Middle (LG, C, RG):¬† 9 rushes, 39 yards (4.3)
- Right outside (RT, RE):¬† 9 rushes, 25 yards (2.8)
Clearly, the most success was up the middle, from guard to guard.¬† This season, the Patriots ran the ball with greater effectiveness to either side.¬† Here‚Äôs a breakdown of their rushes in these three areas:
- Left outside:¬† 114 rushes, 550 yards (4.8)
- Middle:¬† 256 rushes, 889 yards (3.5)
- Right outside:¬† 94 rushes, 480 yards (5.1)
Clearly, most kneel downs or QB sneaks are going to be up the middle as well, so we know that the Patriots‚Äô real rushing average is better than 3.5 ypc up the middle.¬† But it appears that the Patriots‚Äô strength rushing is out wide, while in their matchup two years ago they had the most success running inside.
How did Seattle handle the run game this year?
- Left outside:¬† 100 rushes, 466 yards (4.7)
- Middle:¬† 217 rushes, 765 yards (3.5)
- Right outside:¬† 101 rushes, 301 yards (3.0)
It would seem that Seattle is most vulnerable in the running game to their right (offense‚Äôs left).¬† That coincides nicely with New England‚Äôs 4.8 average running to the left.¬† So we may see a lot of middle and left power runs by the Patriots.¬† With Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount, and a healthy Brian Stork back at C, the Patriots have the hammers to pound Seattle inside, and Solder does a nice job run-blocking to the left.¬† At least, enough to keep Seattle honest.¬† That could open up play-action for seam patterns and quick-hitters to the receivers and tight ends.
Which brings us to the passing game.¬† How did New England attack Seattle‚Äôs secondary last time they played?
The Patriots had a tremendous amount of success throwing the ball short on Seattle‚Äôs secondary.¬† The three short zones combined for 32-47 (68.1%), 271 yards.¬† The deeper middle and deeper right patterns were highly unsuccessful (1-6, 23 yards), but the deeper left area was perfect (3-3, 101 yards).¬† If you break it down to left, middle, and right, here‚Äôs how the Patriots attacked them:
- Deep left:¬† 3-3 (100.0%), 101 yards
- Deep middle:¬† 0-1 (0.0%), 0 yards
- Deep right:¬† 1-5 (20.0%), 23 yards
- Short left:¬† 16-21 (76.2%), 109 yards
- Short middle:¬† 7-12 (58.3%), 79 yards
- Short right:¬† 9-14 (64.3%), 83 yards
Totals, by direction:
- Left:¬† 19-24 (79.2%), 210 yards
- Middle:¬† 7-13 (53.8%), 79 yards
- Right:¬† 10-19 (52.6%), 106 yards
Now, why is this instructive?¬† Because the Seattle secondary is almost identical now to what it was in 2012.¬† Sherman patrolling the defense‚Äôs left side (the offense‚Äôs right), Thomas and Chancellor as the last level, and then a good, but lesser, cornerback on the other side.¬† Sherman stays on one side, so it is wise to go away from him.¬† As we see from the numbers, attacking the side opposite Sherman paid huge dividends for New England.¬† Ironically, the CB on that side that day was Brandon Browner, who now starts at CB for the Patriots.¬† Now, it‚Äôs Byron Maxwell, who is a solid defender, but not remotely in the class of Richard Sherman.
This season, opponents had much more success on the left side vs. Maxwell than on the right vs. Sherman.¬† This should be obvious, I suppose.¬† Here are the numbers by zone:
- Deep left:¬† 13-46 (28.3%), 367 yards, 8.0 yards per attempt
- Deep middle:¬† 6-12 (50.0%), 163 yards, 13.6 yards per attempt
- Deep right:¬† 11-42 (26.2%), 346 yards, 8.2 yards per attempt
- Short left:¬† 134-183 (73.2%), 1071 yards, 5.9 yards per attempt
- Short middle:¬† 91-130 (70.0%), 839 yards, 6.5 yards per attempt
- Short right:¬† 100-157 (63.7%), 837 yards, 5.3 yards per attempt
Attacking Seattle with short passes appears to be the way to go.¬† Deep balls are not a recipe for success, but the Patriots should try at least once or twice, just to open things up.¬† Either Edelman or LaFell could give Maxwell problems in coverage.
The wild cards are the injuries to Sherman and Thomas.¬† It remains to be seen how effective either will be with their arm and shoulder injuries.¬† Can Thomas hit like he normally can?¬† Can Sherman cover as well (and be as big of a threat to intercept passes) with one arm at far less than 100%?
Now, with all these yards and first downs, how did the Patriots only manage to score 23 points in the 2012 matchup?
The Patriots had 12 possessions.¬† Of those 12 possessions, they scored on five of them (2 TD, 3 FG), had two turnovers, and one drive where time ran out at the end of the half (more on this in a moment).¬† They were in the red zone six times and came away with one touchdown and three field goals (just 16 points).¬† From an expected points perspective, those trips to the red zone should have yielded at least 30 points.¬† Coming away with just 16 was obviously a wildly unsuccessful performance from an otherwise stellar offense.¬† Here are their red zone trips broken down.
Red Zone Trip #1
The Patriots marched down the field starting at the end of the 1st quarter, beginning from their own 20.¬† They faced two big third downs and converted both before having another one from Seattle‚Äôs 1-yard line.¬† Brady hit Hernandez for a touchdown.¬† Expected points:¬† 7.¬† Actual points:¬† 7
Red Zone Trip #2
Midway through the 2nd quarter the Patriots forced a fumble by Wilson and got the ball at the Seattle 47.¬† A Brady-to-Welker conversion on 3rd and 10 kept the drive going.¬† Eventually they had a 1st and 10 from the 15, at which point their expected points were 4.58.¬† On 3rd and 10 from the 15, Brady hit Welker but he could only get 9 yards, and they were forced to kick a field goal.¬† Expected points:¬† 4.58.¬† Actual points:¬† 3
Red Zone Trip #3
Late in the 2nd quarter Jon Ryan, Seattle‚Äôs punter, turned the ball over and New England got the ball at the Seattle 24 with just 40 seconds left in the half.¬† Brady quickly hit Welker for 15 yards and then Danny Woodhead for 6 to make it 2nd and 3 from Seattle‚Äôs 3 with just 12 seconds left and no timeouts.¬† At that point the expected points for NE was 5.53.¬† On the next play, Brady faced a fairly stiff rush and threw the ball out of the back of the end zone.¬† The refs called Brady for intentional grounding and the ten second runoff ended the half.¬† Expected points:¬† 5.53.¬† Actual points:¬† 0
Red Zone Trip #4
Early in the 3rd quarter with New England up 17-10, Brady hit Daniel Fells for a 35-yard gain, and the Patriots ultimately faced a 2nd and 4 from the Seattle 13.¬† At that point the expected points were 4.72.¬† Ridley was stuffed for a loss and the Patriots were forced to kick a short field goal.¬† Expected points:¬† 4.72.¬† Actual points:¬† 3
Red Zone Trip #5
With the score 20-10 late in the 3rd quarter, New England moved the ball down the field again, converting two key third down plays.¬† A personal foul penalty on Seattle put New England into the red zone, and they ultimately got to a 3rd and 1 from the 6-yard line.¬† Brady hit Welker in the hands but Welker couldn‚Äôt squeeze it and the tipped pass went right to Earl Thomas for the interception.¬† Expected points:¬† 4.9.¬† Actual points:¬† 0
Red Zone Trip #6
The Patriots forced another Seattle turnover following the Brady interception, and they moved down into the red zone again.¬† The big play on the drive was a Brady-to-Woodhead completion for 22 yards.¬† Facing a 3rd and 2 from the 17, Ridley was stuffed for no gain and the Patriots were forced to kick another field goal.¬† Expected points:¬† 3.85.¬† Actual points:¬† 3
Total Expected Points:¬† 30.58
Total Actual Points:¬† 16
In other words, the Patriots came away with just over half the total number of points they should have had with all those trips to the red zone.¬† It was not unlike the playoff game they would play later that season against Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game, where so many trips to the red zone yielded so few points.
The long story made shorter is this:¬† The Patriots should have blown out the Seahawks in this game.¬† They outgained them 475-368.¬† They controlled the ball for eight more minutes.¬† They converted 8-18 on third downs, compared to 4-12 for Seattle.¬† They ran with modest effectiveness, but destroyed Seattle through the air.¬† With just a couple of exceptions, they had no trouble moving the ball at all.¬† But when they got into the red zone, the wheels came off and the Seattle defense came up big.
Can the Patriots reproduce the kind of yardage and possession output from two years ago?¬† If they can, they are unlikely to lose the game, because they typically do not struggle in the red zone like they did in this game.¬† Seattle seems to match up well against the Patriots‚Äô offense (as well as you can, anyway), but if this game from 2012 teaches us anything, it‚Äôs that New England has the ability, if they are on their game, to move the ball against anyone.¬† Seattle included.