Tom Brady could be regarded as the greatest quarterback in NFL history & his Patriots are 2-point favorites on NFL odds against Seattle. How might Brady attack that excellent Seattle defense?
Best Defense Brady Has Faced
This is Brady's sixth Super Bowl appearance, the most ever for a quarterback, and I think it's fair to say that this Seattle defense is the best he will have faced. Brady won his first ring when the Patriots edged heavily favored St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI 20-17, and that Rams team was known as an offensive powerhouse not a great defensive team. Two years later the Patriots beat a solid Carolina Panthers defense 32-29. New England repeated as champion in SB XXXIX by a 24-21 count against an Eagles team that was pretty good defensively but more known for offense with Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens.
Of course the Patriots have dropped their past two Super Bowls, both as favorites and both to the New York Giants. That 2007 New England team set nearly every NFL offensive record, with Brady and receiver Randy Moss also setting some big individual marks, in entering the Super Bowl at 18-0. That Giants team was No. 7 overall defensively in the regular season, and New York upset New England 17-14 as a 12.5-point underdog on NFL odds. Brady as 29-for-48 for 266 yards with a touchdown in the loss.
Four years later, the Giants were 2.5-point underdog against the Pats and won 21-17. Brady was 27-for-41 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. That New York defense was just No. 25 overall in the regular season.
These Seahawks led the NFL in overall and passing defense and were No. 3 against the rush. Seattle also led the NFL in scoring defense for the second year in a row. The last team to lead the league in yards and points allowed in back-to-back seasons was the 1985-86 Chicago Bears. That '85 team is considered maybe the best ever and crushed New England in Super Bowl XX. The '86 team didn't make it back to the Super Bowl.
Patriots Adapt to Opponent
Few teams are as unpredictable offensively from a scheme perspective than the Patriots. For example, they totally abandoned the running game in the 35-31 divisional round win over Baltimore. New England had just 13 carries for 14 yards and didn't bother handing off to a running back in the second half. Brady threw it 50 times, completing 33 for 367 yards, three TDs and a pick. Yet in the AFC Championship Game rout of the Colts, New England rushed the ball 40 times for 177 yards and threw it 35 times, with Brady completing 23 for 226 yards, three TDs and a pick.
During the regular season, Brady thrived on short throws. For example, on throws behind the line of scrimmage he was 67-for-81, a completion percentage of 82.7, with no interceptions. On passes thrown from 1-10 yards, Brady was 212-for-306 (69.3 percent) for 18 touchdowns and just two picks. From 11-20 yards, Brady was 74-for-130 (56.9 percent) for 11 TDs and six picks. From throws 21 yards or longer, Brady's completion percentage dropped off a cliff (just 12.5 from 31-40, for example). Of the 20 quarterbacks who started 14 or more games, Brady had the fifth lowest percentage of throws at least 21 yards downfield.
Seattle thrived defending passes thrown less than 15 yards during the season, ranking fourth in the NFL against. The Seahawks tackle well and can play bump-and-run with their excellent cornerbacks to take away the short passes. Thus there's a catch-22 when it comes to Brady throwing to star tight end Rob Gronkowski. Obviously Gronk is generally going to be getting throws at 20 yards or less. Seattle's defense allowed 11 touchdown passes to tight ends in the regular season, tied for third-most in the NFL. Six of those TD passes came in Seattle's four losses. San Diego's Antonio Gates had three himself in the Chargers' early-season upset of the Seahawks. Gronk, it should be noted for those making NFL picks, has a TD catch in his past five games.
So while it seems that throwing screen passes won't work, the Patriots need to try and run the ball a little. Seattle allowed an average of 139 yards on 33 carries in their four losses and 73 yards on 22 carries in their 14 wins. The Cowboys' DeMarco Murray and Chiefs' Jamaal Charles both had big games on the ground in their teams' respective wins over the Seahawks.