Due to last week’s debacle against the 2008 version of the Steel Curtain, the New England Patriots will probably have to win out and get a few presents from Ole Kris Kringle in order to make the playoffs. That goal is still not out of the realm of possibility; although it would be nice for the Patriots to control their own destiny.
If you think of it, those close losses against the Colts and the Jets are like the tortured Ghosts of a Playoff Berth Lost while the remaining three games (at Oakland, versus Arizona, and at Buffalo) are like the ethereal Ghosts of Possible 11-5 season. That leaves this game against Seattle as the very real Ghost of the Trap Game.
For those who may not know, a trap game is one where an obviously superior team overlooks a really bad team. Although the Pats looked frustratingly flawed and confused against Pittsburgh, there’s not much of an argument that the Pats should beat the Seattle Seahawks.
This Seahawk franchise is almost like a microcosm of the US economy. They were living high on the hog with a 5-year streak of playoff appearances (2003-07), a four year streak of NFC West division championships (2004-07) with a Super Bowl appearance in 2005. But now, they have fallen on hard times with a 2-10 record and now are led by a Lame Duck (HC Mike Holmgren) and HC Select (Jim Mora, Jr.). On Sunday, it is up to the Patriots coaches and players to avoid acting like a stimulus package to the recessional-looking ‘Hawks.
A perusal of the stats reflects a Seahawk team that can’t do much on offense and can’t stop anyone on defense. Seattle ranks near the bottom on most offensive categories like Scoring per Game (25th – 18.0), Total yards per game (30th – 257.3), Passing Yards per Game (31st – 148.8), Passing Plays over 20 yards (31st – 20) and QB Passer Rating (29th – 65.0). In all honesty, there have been on-going injuries to the WR corps (Deion Branch especially) and starting QB Matt Hasselbeck, but as the old cliché goes, “Injuries are part of the game.”
Not surprisingly, the Seahawks have turned to the running game, which they have done relatively well (21st – 108.5 yds per game) in comparison. One rather surprising stat is that the “Hawks are tied (with Oakland, no less) for 8th in the league with running plays over 20 yards (11). The Seahawks employ a three-pronged running attack with Dallas transplant Julius Jones, change of pace back Maurice Morris and former Michigan State Spartan/well-traveled NFL veteran/Goal-line runner T.J. Duckett. Those three have combined for a decent 10-game stretch for a regular RB (259 attempts, 1,099 yards and 8 TDs) but the running game is usually more effective when there is a definite lead back and Jones is not that back anymore.
Defensively, Seattle is actually worse. They are giving up 25.9 points a game (26th in the NFL), allowing 386.7 yards per game (30th) and finish dead last in both passing yards allowed per game (265.2) and passing plays of 20+ yards allowed (44). Lastly, only the woeful Detroit Lions are worse than the Seahawks in QB Passer Rating (99.3). Only the common cold is as successful as the Seahawks opposing QBs.
The one phase that Seattle excels is at Special Teams. They are 2nd in the NFL with 1,457 KO return yards and are 3rd in the league with a 25.1 average (with the 6th most KO returns). They are tied for 4th with 37 KO returns of over 20 yards and tops in the NFL with 7 KO returns of over 40 yards. All of these numbers come with only one fumble.
Kick returns isn’t the only part of Special Teams that Seattle performs well. The Seahawks are 9th in the league with 307 punt return yards for a 10.6 average (12th in the NFL).
On the coverage side, the Seahawks are 8th in the league with a 65.6 kick-off average and is third in the NFL with 31.5% of their kick-off ending up with touchbacks.
So, how do the Pats avoid the teeth of the Trap Game and leave the city of Starbucks with a win? Easy peasey.
On offense, the Pats need to keep their playbook wide-open and continue to attack the Seahawks with the pass intermingled with running both Morris and Faulk with the Law Firm getting some at the goal line. On defense, the Pats need to take away the run and force the Seattle QB to find his WRs. And they should definitely practice on generating a decent pass rush; maybe getting newly signed LB Roosevelt Colvin back in the mix in obvious passing downs.
But the real key to a Pats win is to possibly generate some game-changing plays in the Special Teams. That could be as simple as securing the ball on a kick-off, which the Pats haven’t well this year (tied for 2nd in the NFL with 3 fumbled Kick-offs). If anything has been shown by this season, the Pats can find ways to lose games. I would rather not see the Seahawks win on a return for a touchdown due to a fumbled kick-off.
Britt Schramm’s ‘Line Em Up’ appears weekly on Patriots Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.