Patriots Run Defense Ranks Dead Last Versus Power Runs
You may have heard that Marshawn Lynch has a tendency to run with a little power. Patriots fans may have reason to be as concerned about Lynch as Seahawks fans are about Tom Brady. The New England defensive line ranks dead last against power runs, according to FootballOutsiders.com. They define a power run as, “percentage of runs on 3rd or 4th down, with 2 yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.” Seattle, on the other hand, ranked second in the NFL in converting those situations. Those two inequalities may be the deciding factor in this Super Bowl.
Seahawks rarely stuffed
Football Outsiders also tracks a stat called “Stuffed” that is the percentage of runs where a running back is tackled at, or behind the line of scrimmage. Getting stuffed is not good. Stuffing opponents is great.
New England ranks 28th in the NFL in stuffing opposing running backs while the Seahawks offense ranks 6th in fewest stuffed runs
That means a lot of positive yardage for the Seahawks run game and a far greater chance to see 3rd and short than 3rd and long. We just learned that 3rd and short is not a great down for the Patriots run defense. That brings us to our next big disparity.
The Seahawks rank #1 in the NFL in converting 3rd and 2 or less. The Patriots rank 30th in the NFL in stopping opponents in those situations.
This starts to paint a pretty clear picture of what the Seahawks game plan needs to be. Run. Run. And then run some more. We already know that 30 rush attempts was a magic number for Rex Ryan. The Patriots are 8-7 since 2012 when allowing 30+ rush attempts and 28-5 in games where they do not.
Seattle likes to run the ball between the tackles behind Max Unger, James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy. They ranked 5th in the NFL in production running up the middle, per FootballOutsiders.com. The Patriots defensive line was 22nd in defending those interior runs.
That was a little surprising given the presence of Vince Wilfork, and other big bodies like former Seahawks Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga. But Wilford has not played nose tackle with any regularity since 2009. He plays as right defensive end, which explains why the Patriots are so good at defending runs off the offenses left end (6th in the NFL).
Nose tackle is left to Siliga, and there is some evidence that he has been a difference maker. Siliga started getting regular snaps there in Week 14 against the Chargers. New England has solidified their run defense in that time, including holding the Jets to 116 yards rushing and 3.6 YPC after giving up 218 yards and 5.1 YPC in the first matchup without Siliga in the lineup.
But it has been far from a cure-all. The Ravens rushed for 136 yards and 4.9 YPC and the Colts managed 4.4 YPC.
Another element of the running game for the Seahawks is the presence of Russell Wilson, both in designed runs and scrambles. Take a look at the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have faced this year:
Ryan Tannehill (2)
Geno Smith (2)
Not exactly an intimidating runner in the group. They have not faced many running quarterbacks in the past three years, and when they have, they have lost.
New England in 0-3 versus quarterbacks who can run since 2012
They played Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson in 2012 and lost both of those games. Neither player killed New England with their legs, but both were highly productive in the passing game. They combined for 7 touchdowns and 1 interception. It is hard to say if that was due to the defensive tactics Bill Belichick deployed to limit their run options or just good pass offense from the 49ers and Seahawks.
Cam Newton played the Patriots last year and had more luck running. He totalled 62 yards on the ground and also did well through the air with 3 TDs and 0 INT. That brings the total of these three running quarterbacks to 10 TDs and 1 INT. That at least raises the question about whether the choices Belichik has made in the past to slow down these types of players has backfired in the passing game. Having Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner may embolden him to try the same approach and hope for better results.