The Seattle Seahawks have the NFL’s number one defense. The New England Patriots have the NFL’s number one offense. The Seahawks are undefeated in two home games. The Patriots have won all but one of their three road games and the one loss was by a last second field goal that might not have gone through the uprights. The Patriots are rushing for 4.3 yards a carry. The Seahawks are allowing 3.2 yards per run play. The Seahawks are allowing 192 passing yards per game. The Patriots are throwing for 274 yards a game on average. The Seahawks defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the last two games. The Patriots’ offense has scored ten touchdowns over the same stretch. Basically what I’m trying to say is: the Seahawks’ defense is really, really good but the Patriots’ offense is also really, really good. This week will be a great test to see if this Seahawks defense, a defense that has been called the best Seattle has ever had, is for real. The Seahawks will need to limit Tom Brady and the Patriots’ high powered, high octane offense, in order to win. They’ll get some help from a raucous home stadium but in order to grab a win against one of the NFL’s best teams, the Seahawks are going to need major contributions from the other phases of the game.
Let us start out by talking about special teams. Special teams aren’t glamorous but they can really help a team win. It’s not just blocked kicks or special team’s touchdowns that make a difference. Yes those plays are flashy and can cause a shift in momentum, but sometimes it’s the more routine special teams’ plays that make the biggest difference. Long punts that pin the opponent’s offense inside the twenty can create opportunities for the defense to dominate. Seahawks punter Jon Ryan is near the top of the league in net yardage per punt and has pinned opponents inside the twenty 8 times on the season, helping the defense to play as well as it has. It also helps to have a field goal kicker who can be counted on to make every kick. The Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka has nearly done that, connecting on all of his field goal attempts other than one 50+ yarder. When your special teams simply do what they're supposed to, your team has a chance to win every game. When it excels that chance improves, and there is one part of special teams that the Seahawks truly excel at. They currently lead the NFL in average yardage per kickoff return.
You know the special teams are doing their job when you don’t notice them. If you don’t notice the offense then something is seriously wrong. Especially if you have a team with a ball control philosophy like the Seahawks. If the Seahawks are going to win games, their offense needs to hold onto the ball. The Seahawks are actually doing a pretty good job of this, holding the ball for an average of around 32 minutes per game. Much of that is due to a defense that forces opposing drives to end without a first down more than a quarter of the time, good for fourth in the league in that category. A better measuring stick for the Seahawks offense is third down conversions. The Seahawks are converting on only 32.8% of their third down attempts. That’s the eighth worst conversion rate in the league and it comes down to two things: maturity as an offensive unit and confidence from the coaching staff. These two factors lead two a lot of passes being thrown short of the first down marker on third down. It’s not going to happen very often that a short pass is going to convert a third down and that has led, in part, to the Seahawks offensive woes.
So what do the Seahawks need to do on Sunday in order to win? Continue to play good defense; if they can slow the Patriots down, they have a chance. Make the plays on special teams that they’re supposed to. Convert third downs. If the Seahawks do these things, they’ll have a real chance of overcoming the Patriots.