Superbowl XLIX: Where it will be won and lost
Tonight sees the Seahawks take on the Patriots in Superbowl XLIX (that's 49 to you and me) and we take an in-depth look at the first mahoooosive sporting occasion of 2015.
by Dave O'Regan - @DavesAdvocate
Pete Carroll - Seahawks Head Coach vs Bill Belichick - Patriots Head Coach
Two of the best coaches in the game, the man-management and tactical innovation of these men is what got their teams to the big show. Neither coach is afraid of pulling a surprise or two out of the bag and the chess battle between them is hotly anticipated. If Carroll can pull off back-to-back Superbowls while disposing of Manning, Brady and Belichick there will be no argument against his ability. Belichick watched the Seahawks humiliate Peyton Manning this time last year and will relish a chance to show that he has what it takes to pull off a win for the Patriots.
Tom Brady - Patriots Quarterback
They don't call him Tom Terrific for nothing. A sure-fire Hall Of Famer, Brady has three Superbowl rings, two Superbowl MVP awards, six AFC Championship titles, two NFL MVP awards... the list goes on... and on. He's obviously coming to the tail end of his career but that hasn't dimmed his desire to win. While this is his sixth Superbowl appearance it has to be noted that he has been on the losing side on his two most recent attempts and his last ring came in 2005. If he wins this weekend he will be a strong candidate to be considered the best quarterback to ever throw a football. If he loses his legacy will remain strong but a 3-3 record in the biggest game of all won't be a true reflection of his standing in the game.
The 37-year old is not going to win you any medals for sprinting but his reading of the game and ability to make every throw married to his understanding with Belichick will be an enormous hurdle for the Seahawks to overcome. If he is given time with the ball in his hands the game is lost already, Seattle will have to get after him all game long.
Russell Wilson - Seahawks Quarterback
It would be difficult to find anyone who thought that the undersized Wilson was going to be a success in the NFL when he was drafted, let alone being in with a chance to win his second Superbowl ring in just his third season but he has proven all the doubters wrong to become a bona fide star. A lot has been said about the Seattle defense and Marshawn Lynch (and rightly so) but Wilson is equally as important to this Seahawks team. He threw 4 interceptions two weeks ago against the Packers but until then he committed just 7 turnovers all season. His running and mastery of the read-option offense gives Seattle an additional X-factor to complement his underrated passing and the running of Lynch and Turbin. Wilson led his team to a victory over Peyton Manning this time last year and if he can do the same to Tom Brady on Sunday he will have beaten two Hall Of Fame quarterbacks in back-to-back Superbowls and the stories would be written about the "changing of the guard" from the older greats to the younger blood.
Marshawn Lynch #BEASTMODE - Seahawks Running Back
Everyone has heard of the term "Beast Mode" by now and Lynch was the man to bring it to prominence. He started the 2014 season in the same form as last year by running over the Green Bay Packers for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. With over 1,600 total yards and 17 combined touchdowns in the regular season he has shown no signs of being affected by being the centerpiece of the Seahawks offense.
Lynch lost just 2 fumbles all year so ball security will not be an issue and his big-game temperament means he won't be affected by the pressure of performing in the Superbowl. #24 made one of the highlight-reel plays of the year in the NFC Championship Game with an astounding 24-yard rushing TD to give Seattle the lead over the Packers. He will carry the ball early and often to soften up the Pats' front seven to earn a little extra time for Russell Wilson and his receivers.
Vince Wilfork - Patriots Defensive Tackle vs Max Unger - Seahawks Center
The trenches are not the most glamourous of positions but many a game has been won and lost by the big lads on the line.
For the Patriots, Wilfork is simply monstrous. As defensive tackles go he is an absolute mountain of a man and at 325 lbs his sheer presence demands a double-team at the line of scrimmage. He's not what you would call nimble so his pass rushing naturally leaves a lot to be desired but there are few others as good at stuffing the run and he has been a mainstay of the Patriots defense for almost a decade. Look to him to occupy the Seattle linemen to allow the Patriot linebackers an extra half-yard of space to get after Russell Wilson.
Max Unger, the 6th year center for the Seahawks will have his hands full all day dealing with Wilfork and if he has an off day it could be a very long day indeed for Seattle. His run-blocking is superb and if he can hold his ground in passing situations he should have the upper hand in this particular contest.
Rob Ninkovich - Patriots Defensive End
Another defensive stalwart for the Patriots, defensive end Ninkovich rolled back the years in the AFC Championship Game and spent the majority of the day in Andrew Luck's face. New England won that game 45-7 and Ninkovich was one of the main reasons the Colts offense never got going. It's a well-worn cliché to say that older players are better at "reading the game" but in this case it's absolutely true. Expect to see him coming off the edge to contain Wilson, if he can get anywhere near the level he played at two weeks ago the Patriots will be in a great position to negate Russell Wilson's runs.
Pass Interference Penalties
The NFL has become a pass-happy league. Passing records are getting broken every season and every time a rule change is implemented it always seems to benefit attacking players. Executing a tackle or defending a pass is like walking a tightrope lately with the increased scrutiny on defensive pass interference. New England cornerback Brandon Browner (who won a Superbowl ring with Seattle last season) is a serial offender when it comes to committing pass interference penalties and will more than likely find himself lining up in the slot against the speedy (and fiery) Ricardo Lockette. On the other side of the ball the 'Hawks "Legion Of Boom" have a well-deserved reputation for skirting the borders of accepted defending and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few big pass interference calls having a major effect on this game.
Rob Gronkowski - Patriots Tight End
Gronk Smash. All this man does is score. At 6'6 and 265 lbs, Gronkowski is the premier tight end in the game and every defense has to take special measures to account for him. With over 1,200 yards in the regular season to go with his 12 touchdowns the man is seemingly matchup-proof. How the Seattle defense deal with him will go a long way to deciding this game and you can expect Kam Chancellor to pick him up in most passing situations and it should prove to be one of the more intriguing on-pitch battles. It's never a dull game with #81 on the field.
Tim Wright - Patriots Tight End vs Bruce Irvin - Seahawks Linebacker
Bill Belichick traded six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers for Tim Wright back in August and he has gone on to make 26 catches in 18 games (with 6 TD's). If there's one tactic the Patriots have used effectively over the last few seasons it's been using the dual tight end package (most notably with Gronkowski and the now-incarcerated Aaron Hernandez) to create mismatches and rack up touchdowns. Belichick is a master at pulling tricks out of his sleeve at the right time and with Gronkowski most likely demanding double coverage in redzone situations Tim Wright could be the man to benefit from the extra breathing space. The speedy Bruce Irvin has realised his first-round draft potential with a solid season and could be tasked with covering Wright on passing plays.
Jon Ryan - Seahawks Punter
As Chris Kluwe says "Punters are people too". An oft-overlooked position, an elite punter can give serious help to their teams defense. Jon Ryan is just that, he had an amazing game in the Superbowl last year pinning Peyton Manning and the high-powered Broncos offense back to their goal-line on several occasions. If he can do the same this year and lengthen the field for Tom Brady repeatedly it could go a long way to deciding who wins this game.
The Effect of the Percy Harvin Trade - Pedestrians With Attitude
The Seahawks started the season in sluggish form and many were starting doubt their Superbowl credentials as they started to fall behind in the NFC West. Percy Harvin was their star receiver and rumours started that he was creating divisions in the locker room. He was shipped out to the New York Jets and the Seattle roster started to gel again. Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin (both came into the league undrafted) became the go-to guys at wide receiver and the Seahawks haven't looked back. Baldwin led the team in catches and yards in the regular season and ranked 42nd in both categories in the league. The 'Hawks were never going to be a pass-happy team but when the receivers are called upon they are more than capable of getting it done. Baldwin had 6 catches for 106 yards in the NFL Championship Game against the Packers while Kearse caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Pedestrians With Attitude indeed.
Darrelle Revis - Patriots Cornerback vs Richard Sherman - Seahawks Cornerback
"Revis Island" is where wide receivers go to die - figuratively of course. Ballhawk Richard Sherman is the vocal leader of the "Legion Of Boom". It would be nigh-on impossible to find two better cornerbacks in the league than these two and while they won't take the field at the same time their respective influences will surely go a long way to deciding where the Lombardi trophy ends up this year.
They bear the mantle "shutdown corner" with pride and may not see many targets between them as the quarterbacks look to avoid their sides of the field. If you see the ball headed their way, sit up and take notice because you could be about to see a turning point. Brady and Wilson are not likely to lose the ball but it's interesting to note that teams that have a pick-6 (return an interception for a touchdown) are 16-0 in Superbowl history.
Jamie Collins - Patriots Linebacker
Jerod Mayo, the influential middle linebacker, went down injured after 6 games and was ruled out for the season. While Akeem Ayers has proved himself an adequate deputy it's been the inspirational play of second-year pro Jamie Collins which has energised the New England linebacking corps. His pace and motor will be key to disrupting the ground play of Russell Wilson and he could be used as a spy on the quarterback to safeguard against the Patriots getting burnt on the ground, his pass-rushing skills are exceptional, don't be surprised to see him get a sack in a high-pressure situation.
Luke Willson - Seahawks Tight End
Much has been said about the tight end play of New England and Willson has slipped under the radar for the most part. A speedster at the position, the Patriots defense has been weak defending against opposing tight ends and Pete Carroll will be well aware of this. If New England have Collins or Hightower focusing on the quarterback then Luke Willson could get an opportunity or two to make hay.
The Patriots Running Backs
Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray, Steven Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, any one of these lads could be a big difference maker for Belichick's boys. Trying to predict Bill's favoured running back going into a game is like trying to predict the Irish weather. The Patriots are well-known for springing a running back into a game and having him tear defenses apart. Personally I think Shane Vereen could be used to make some catches on short-yardage looks but again, he might not even see the field.
Bryan Stork - Patriots Center vs Kevin Williams - Seahawks Defensive Tackle
The rookie offensive lineman missed the last game through injury but can make a huge difference to New England's game if he starts this Sunday. He's not necessarily the best lineman on the team but he's a considerable upgrade on Kline and Devey. Strong against the pass rush, Tom Brady will be pleased to line up behind the Florida State product when taking on the Seattle defense.
A long-time Minnesota Viking, Kevin formed part of the famous "Williams Wall" back in 2009 along with Pat Williams during the Vikes' march to the NFC Championship game behind Brett Favre. A run-stuffer of the highest calibre, the aforementioned Bryan Stork will have his work cut out for him if the Patriots are to have any luck establishing the run.