Tue, 20 Oct 2020

2020 Week 2 Key Matchups: Seahawks vs. Patriots

Seahawks
19 Sep 2020, 20:50 GMT+10

Taking a look at three matchups that could make the difference in Seattle’s home opener against the Patriots. John Boyle

The Seahawks (1-0) host the Patriots (1-0) at CenturyLink Field Sunday night, and unfortunately they'll do so without fans in the building. But while the Seahawks will miss having their fans there to cheer them on, they'll look to once again generate their own energy like they did in last week's win at Atlanta, and they'll need everything they can muster against a tough opponent.

The Patriots made a lot of change this offseason, most notably at quarterback, but Bill Belichick is still there, which means they're still a formidable, not to mention unpredictable, foe.

"They've shifted their focus on how they ran their offense in the first game," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They can do anything in the second game. I leave it wide open to Coach Belichick... We've 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."

In addition to handling the unexpected, here are three key matchups in Sunday's game against the Patriots:

1. DK Metcalf and Seahawks passing game vs. cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Russell Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks passing game had a lot of success last week, with Wilson completing 31 of 35 attempts for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Matching anything close to that level of production this week will be a tough challenge, however, as the Seahawks face a team that last year ranked No. 1 in total defense and scoring defense, No. 2 in pass defense, and No. 1 in interceptions, touchdown passes allowed and opponent passer rating.

There has been some pretty significant turnover for the Patriots on that side of the ball, but Belichick is still the mastermind behind it all, and New England does still have 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, who tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions last year, and who had one of New England's three picks last week. Gilmore tends to usually move around to match up with top receivers, and while Tyler Lockett is Seattle's most prolific pass catcher in recent years, Gilmore's size and physical style makes him a more likely matchup for DK Metcalf, who is coming off a four-catch, 95-yard game that included a 38-yard touchdown.

"This guy on film is just unbelievable, so many plays," Wilson said of Gilmore... "He's really just all over the field. He's hip to hip with each guy, he's smart as can be, he understands concepts, he's coached extremely well. He's a playmaker, he's a baller. He does it the right way."

If the Patriots do decide to put Gilmore on Metcalf, that won't necessarily mean Wilson can't thrown to Metcalf, but it will certainly require using caution when doing so. And if that matchup materializes, there could be opportunities for Tyler Lockett, who last week had a team-high eight catches for 92 yards.

2. Cam Newton and the Patriots running game vs. Seattle's run defense.

The Seahawks gave up a big run to Todd Gurley early in last week's game, then played solid run defense after that, though they weren't tested too often in that area because their big lead led to the Falcons being very pass-heavy.

If last week was any indication, however, the Seahawks run defense will be tested in a big way against Cam Newton and Patriots. In their Week 1 win over the Dolphins, the Patriots attempted just 19 passes while they ran the ball 42 times, including a team-leading 75 yards on 15 carries by Newton.

"We do have a real good background with Cam, but we don't know what they're going to do with him," Carroll said. "It's only one game. We don't even have the benefit of the preseason games to try to kind of figure it out. And they have been notorious for changing from one week to the next in how they approach their opponents and all. So we have to go into this game with a wide open-look, it's almost like a first game."

Of course, as Carroll mentioned, the Patriots can be unpredictable, so just because Newton ran like crazy last week, that doesn't mean New England will follow that script again. And if the Patriots were to rely more on the passing game this time around, keep an eye out for linebacker Bruce Irvin, who has had a ton of success rushing against Newton in the past. In six career-games against Newton, postseason included, Irvin has piled up eight sacks, seven of those coming in a Seahawks uniform.

3. The turnover battle.

Yes, it's a little cliche to say turnover differential is the most important stat, but it's also pretty accurate, and in the case of these two teams, that element of the game has been such a big part of their success over the years.

Both Seattle and New England were plus-two in turnover differential in their Week 1 wins, and over the years those teams are consistently among the league leaders in that all-important category. Since 2012, the year Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner arrived and the year Seattle's defense really hit its stride, the Seahawks are plus-88 in turnover differential, trailing only New England's mark of plus-104. The Seahawks and Patriots are well out ahead of the rest of the league in that category over that span, with Kansas City a distant third at plus-54.

And that one stolen possession could make all the difference in what's sure to be a close game. In three meetings since Carroll got to Seattle, the games have been decided by a combined 12 points.

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