Seahawks, Patriots have run their way to Super Bowl XLIX
In a pass-first league, Super Bowl XLIX could very well be won on the ground.
The Seattle Seahawks, in advancing to their second straight Super Bowl with a win over the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s NFC championship game, are the team with the lowest-ranked passing game (27th) to ever advance to the NFL’s biggest stage. The record they broke was all of one year old, as their 26th-ranked aerial attack a year ago had been the lowest.
The Seahawks are also on the verge of another historical achievement. With a win over the New England Patriots on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz., Seattle can become the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to win a Super Bowl after leading the league in rushing during the regular season.
So don’t try to tell them this isn’t a running league anymore.
And don’t tell the Patriots, either. Sure, they have Tom Brady, who has thrown for 593 yards in two postseason games this year and eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in the regular season for the seventh time in his career. But this Patriots team has shown it can run the ball when needed, and given the way the Seahawks’ pass defense has played over the past two seasons two Sundays from now will be one of those days.
The Packers went into Seattle with a gimpy Aaron Rodgers. They knew their need to run the ball was magnified, and the Seahawks surely knew it as well. Nonetheless, Green Bay ran for 135 yards, thanks in part to Eddie Lacy’s physical style. That came after the Carolina Panthers got 132 yards on 30 carries in a loss to Seattle. Point being, the Patriots’ coaching staff will surely be seeing some chances to run against that Seahawks front as they go over recent tape.
And the Pats will feel good about their chances of moving the ball on the ground because of the way their offensive line made room for LeGarrette Blount against the Indianapolis Colts, with Blount using his own physical style to finish off some runs. Blount had 148 yards on 30 carries, tying him for third-most rushing attempts in a playoff game over the last decade.
This is not how the Super Bowl is supposed to be setting up. It’s been a high-scoring, passing game for much of the past few decades. This year’s matchup will mark only the second time in the last nine years neither opponent ranked in the top five in passing yards during the regular season.
So it’s not a stretch to say this game will be won on the ground. The Patriots can’t possibly think they’ll be able to win this game the way they beat the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round, when the Pats ran for only 14 yards. That’s not going to work against Dan Quinn’s defense. Same for the Seahawks, whose passing game works best when Marshawn Lynch is bulldozing defenders and Russell Wilson is keeping the ball on the option look.
Frankly, there are no top-flight receivers in this game. Sorry if that upsets Doug Baldwin, but that’s the case. Julian Edelman is a nice player who catches balls in bunches, but by no means is he a No. 1 receiver a defense must track. The biggest threat to either pass defense is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how Seattle matches up with him. But he’s not a traditional wideout who posts 100-yard games on a regular basis.
Plus, on one defense, there’s Richard Sherman. On the other, there’s Darrelle Revis. Sources told FOX Sports on Sunday that Sherman is dealing with a potential ulnar nerve issue, in addition to the strained ligaments in his elbow, so his situation bears watching. But he and the team both expect him to play in the Super Bowl, and Sherman showed Sunday he’s better with one arm than most cornerbacks are with both.
So back to the ground we go for Super Bowl XLIX. It’ll be a physical matchup, a test of wills, a battle in the trenches and any other cliches one can drum up to pass the time over the next 13 days.
It’ll be a throwback game. And it should be a fun one.