Enemy Confidential: Defensive-Minded Patriots Remain Formidable Foe for Seahawks
After two decades of dominating the NFL together and winning six Super Bowls, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady went their separate ways this offseason. With the latter bolting in free agency to join the Buccaneers, many expected a rebuilding season coming in Foxboro.
But even with Brady now in south Florida and a host of key defenders opting out due to COVID-19, it's status quo in New England. With the arrival of a rejuvenated, motivated Cam Newton, a bevy of capable runners behind an experienced offensive line, and a stingy-as-ever defense, the Patriots have their sights set on winning an 18th AFC East division title since 2000.
Starting off the post-Brady era in the win column, the Patriots received an efficient effort from Newton against the Dolphins, as he completed nearly 80 percent of his passes for 155 yards. Proving he's still a viable threat as a runner as well, he rushed for 75 yards and found the end zone twice.
On the other side of the ball, Belichick's defense flustered veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with suffocating coverage, picking him off three times and limiting him to 191 passing yards on 20 completions. With the exception of a short Jordan Howard touchdown run, Miami couldn't get on track on the ground either, rushing for 87 yards on 27 carries.
After grabbing the home victory to kick off the season, the Patriots will now face a far stiffer test in the Seahawks, who put up 38 points on the Falcons in Week 1 behind a scintillating performance by quarterback Russell Wilson. The MVP candidate threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns, posting one of the finest outings of his career.
Though Seattle allowed over 500 yards of total offense, four huge fourth down stops helped limit Atlanta to just 25 points. Newton and New England will now have to game plan for a talented defense led by Bobby Wagner and a familiar foe in Jamal Adams, who produced 12 tackles and a sack in his Seahawks debut.
Here’s a closer look at the Seahawks Week 2 opponent, including series history, additions/departures, key numbers, and coach Pete Carroll’s evaluation of the Patriots.
--18th regular season meeting. The all-time series is tied at 9 apiece, with the Seahawks holding a 9-8 edge in regular season games and the Patriots winning a head-to-head matchup in Super Bowl XLIX.
This will be the second time the Seahawks have hosted the Patriots since Carroll arrived and the third time they've hosted them at CenturyLink Field overall. The teams split those two prior matchups, with Seattle most recently edging New England 24-23 in 2012. The two teams last met in Foxboro at Gillette Stadium in 2016, with the Seahawks pulling out a thrilling 31-24 victory.
Departures: The defection of Brady to Tampa Bay easily drew the most headlines, but New England suffered numerous key losses in free agency, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, who started 15 games apiece last season and each previously won multiple Super Bowl rings with the franchise, left to sign with Miami and Detroit respectively. Former Washington Husky standout defensive tackle Danny Shelton signed with the Lions after starting 14 games last season as well.
The hits to New England's top-ranked defense only kept coming weeks before the slated start of training camp, as two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower, versatile safety Patrick Chung, and starting right tackle Marcus Cannon all opted out of the season due to COVID-19. Five other players also decided to sit out, including receiver Marqise Lee giving the Patriots a league-high eight players opting out.
Additions: For most of the offseason, the Patriots looked content with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham replacing Brady as the heir apparent. But while that still may be the long-term plan, Newton remained available as a free agent into late June and the organization decided to roll the dice on the former MVP, signing him to a one-year deal and naming him starter midway through camp. Adding to an already talented secondary, former Chargers safety Adrian Phillips was signed to a two-year contract and installed into the starting lineup.
In the draft, the Patriots traded out of the first round before eventually selecting Lenoir-Rhyne safety Kyle Dugger at No. 37 overall. They continued to prioritize defense with their next two picks, snagging Michigan linebacker Josh Uche and Alabama defensive end Anfernee Jennings. New England also added a pair of tight ends in the third round in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.
BY THE NUMBERS
79.7: Newton's QBR in Week 1, seventh-best among qualified quarterbacks.
217: Rushing yards by Patriots in win over Dolphins, the highest total last week.
136: Rushing yards before contact, also the highest total for a team last week.
42.9: Percentage of first downs runs by New England, second behind only Minnesota.
8: First downs produced by New England receivers, tied for league-worst.
3.2: Yards per carry given up by Patriots, fifth-best mark in the NFL.
26.5: Percentage of drop backs resulting in a quarterback pressure, eighth-best.
1: Sacks by Patriots defense, tied for second-lowest total in the league in last week.
3: Interceptions by Patriots defense, the highest total in the league.
59: Yards after the catch surrendered by New England, second-best behind Baltimore.
--When asked what to expect facing the Patriots, Carroll immediately cited their excellent coaching starting with Belichick and the ability to adjust to opponents schematically as well as any team in the NFL.
"They're a historic winning football team because they do stuff right," Carroll said. "They're really well-coached. They've got a really good scheme. They adapt to their opponents as well as anybody in the game."
At the top of his priorities for this week, Carroll knows the Seahawks must take care of the football against the league's most opportunistic defense. Last season, the Patriots led the NFL in turnovers generated and got off to a fast start last week with three interceptions in their win over the Dolphins.
--As far as preparing for New England's offense, Carroll indicated it's a "kind of a new era" and he doesn't know what to expect with a new quarterback in Newton under center and only one game of film to work off of. He's preparing for the unexpected and recognizes adjustments will be imperative.
"They can do anything in the second game. I leave it wide open to Coach Belichick.," Carroll remarked. "What you saw is a feature of the quarterback. Cam ran the ball 17 times in the game. We got to see what they do this time around. There's not enough games for us in their new thinking to know what to expect here. We'll have to adapt at game time."
If there's a silver lining, the Seahawks have great familiarity with Newton, having faced him six times in the past when he was starring for the Panthers. Carroll knows the Patriots will have plenty of new tricks to pull out of their hat with their dual-threat quarterback, but he still sees all of those prior games against him as an advantage.
"They got a lot of stuff. I know that they haven't shown, couldn't show it all in one game. We have to be ready for a very wide spectrum of offensive style. It's a difficult preparation in that regard. At least we know what he looks like, and we know what he is as a runner because of the years past."
--Carroll's specialty over the years has been grooming defensive backs, particularly at the cornerback position. During his time in Seattle, he's overseen the growth and development of Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Deshawn Shead, and most recently Shaquill Griffin. Having coached many great talents at the position over the years, he said it's "no secret" the Patriots have the best cornerback in the league in Stephon Gilmore.
"I think he's about as good as you get now," Carroll assessed. "He has enough size and stature to him that he can hold up on the line of scrimmage. He's got great speed. Then his feet are as good as you could hope for. Then the next level is instincts. He's just a really, really all around complete football player. They've committed to him being an on-the-line-of-scrimmage guy. He's terrific at it."
Over the past two seasons, Gilmore has blossomed as a press coverage corner in New England, recording 20 pass deflections both seasons and intercepting a league-best six passes in 2019. After taking two of the picks back for six points, he earned Defensive Player of the Year honors as the star of the NFL's best scoring defense and the Seahawks will have to be mindful of where the shutdown corner is at all times on Sunday.