Second Half of the Season Begins with a SB Redux
The Patriots come off their bye week and face on the better teams in the NFL and certainly one of the better defenses in the Seattle Seahawks. The Sunday Night Football matchup on NBC boasts a Super Bowl rematch of just two years ago and promises to be an entertaining and intriguing game.
The Seahawks come in at 5-2-1 and are a bit banged up but starting to get healthy. Russell Wilson’s mobility looked better on Monday night and when he can make plays with his feet, the Seattle offense is much more dangerous. Kam Chancellor is expected back and the big, hard-hitting safety’s return gives them perhaps the best duo in the league.
For the Patriots, they’re hoping that the bye week will have helped Martellus Bennett heal up his bothersome ankle injury he sustained a month ago in Cleveland. Julian Edelman also has been slowed by a foot injury and the time off couldn’t have come at a better time. We’ll find out later today if the Patriots choose to activate Dion Lewis off PUP. Lewis was a sparkplug for the offense a year ago, before tearing his ACL.
Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:
QB Tom Brady: Brady missed the first quarter of the season but was red hot in the second completing 73 percent of his passes and tossing 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. One tidbit to watch tomorrow will be turnovers. In three career games against Seattle, Brady has thrown five interceptions and seven touchdowns.
Brady normally plays well under the bright lights of national television, especially on Sunday night. And he knows the team will be looking to him to get the offense on track at the start of the second half of 2016.
The last time the two teams met, Brady’s fourth quarter of the Super Bowl was the stuff of legend. Down by 10 points against one of the best defenses in the league, and a team that had blown a 4th quarter 10-point lead once in 50 games, he engineered one of the best comebacks in Super Bowl history.
Brady completed 13 of 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. His final pass of the game, a three-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman with 2:06 remaining, gave the Patriots the 28-24 win. That fact won’t be lost on either team tomorrow night.
RB James White: Speaking of the Super Bowl, one of the Patriots most important contributors that day was RB Shane Vereen out of the backfield. The Patriots used Vereen in the passing game (11 catches), and he made some significant plays. Of course, he’s now a member of the Giants, but his role will now be filled by James White.
White has had a very solid season thus far in the passing game catching 29 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns. With opponents having to deal with the two-tight end threat, it puts added stress on their linebackers and the Patriots frequently spread White outside to add to that.
Against Seattle, they may opt to keep him inside more to either help in pass protection or to slip out of the backfield on screen passes to offset the Seahawks pass rush. With Dion Lewis possibly returning this week, White will remain a key cog in the offense and this game may be his way of showing that his reps shouldn’t decrease.
LB Dont’a Hightower: The Patriots big man in the middle will be under the microscope this week. This will be our first look at the Patriots defense since the trade of Jamie Collins and expectations are high for Hightower to pick up much of the slack.
With no Beast Mode in the backfield, the primary focus of Hightower will remain to shut down the running game of Christine Michael, C.J. Prosise, and Russell Wilson. With his injuries now healing, the Seattle QB must be accounted for and Hightower could be held back in a spy role.
One area where Hightower could also have an impact is in the blitzing game. Seattle’s offensive line must account for the linebacker to come on an A-gap blitz, something that Hightower has excelled in.
TEs Rob Gronkowski/Martellus Bennett: Gronkowski remains the gold standard for tight ends in the game today. After beginning the season slowed by a hamstring injury he sustained during the preseason, he’s taken off in the last month. In the four games since Brady’s return, he’s produced no less than 93 yards receiving each week.
He and Bennett are the big mismatches this week as the Patriots will pressure the interior of the Seahawks defense. Even with the big and physical Chancellor back in the lineup, they two tight ends will provide matchup problems for the defense.
What the Patriots did in the past was use the short, quick passing game against the Seahawks zone defense. When they played man coverage, they took shots with Gronk downfield. Expect much of the same tomorrow night. If they are to be successful offensively, then the tight ends must produce.
Safety Devin McCourty: The Patriots captain and talented safety is flying somewhat under the radar in 2016. He’s having an outstanding season and this week it will be interesting to see how the Patriots plan to use him facing the Seahawks offense.
With the talented Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin as well as Tyler Lockett at WR, Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick may opt to keep McCourty in his usual deep safety role. Playing centerfield, he’d provide the over-the-top coverage to take away those deep chunks down the field. Or they may opt to use him in another role that he’s familiar with and that is covering tight ends.
With Jimmy Graham finding his comfort level as well as returning to health now with the Seahawks, he’ll be a big target, figuratively and literally for Wilson in the Seattle passing game. McCourty has done this before but it will be a very tough matchup and one to monitor.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady Trey Flowers