Over the season I saw a lot of people using total yards statistics to compare teams. I don’t get this and want to explain something here. Using total yardage to compare teams makes NO sense mathematically. You have to eliminate the time of possession and the number of attempts per game. You can only compare two teams on their efficiency on a single down. Some examples:
The Eagles give up the 5th most total yards per game. So people think the Eagles have one of the worst defenses in the league. In fact, they only give up 5.4 yards per play, that’s the 17th best number in the league. They also have the 5th best run defense (3.7 YPC). So why do they give up tons of yards ? Because their defense is on the field for an average of 33 minutes and 19 seconds, that’s the most time of all teams. Opponents run an average of 69.6 plays per game against the Eagles. That’s due to their no-huddle offense that is not on the field for a long time. Run another type of offense and they will concede way less yards and points because they are solid on a single down. They also average the 4th most total yards on offense. But would you call a Mark Sanchez-led offense the 4th best in the league ? No, because they only have the 11th best offense in a single down. The Texans have the 16th best defense in terms of total yards, but the 6th best in yards per play. If you don’t have a good QB, you defense will concede more yardage. Conclusion: Don’t let total yards numbers fool you!
Now let’s talk some Super Bowl football. I don’t care about the deflategate story or the “you mad, bro?”-stuff. I also don’t care about last week’s outcomes. Overreaction is a cruel mistress in sports betting. I also don’t care about the fact that Seattle won the SB last year when the “public” was on Denver like this time on NE or that Russel Wilson is 10-0 against Super Bowl winning QBs. I just want to cap the matchup on the field.
NE rushing offense vs. SEA rushing defense
NE are not a run-first team, though they have been averaging just 3.9 YPC (#24), while Seattle is the 3rd best rushing defense, allowing just 3.6 YPC. This matchup clearly goes to the Hawks. But there is one outstanding thing: NE don’t need to run to set up the passing game. They need to pass to set up the run game. Vereen and Gray ran for 3.9 YPC against the Jets in the first matchup, Vereen/Bolden ran for 6.3 YPC against the Jets in the second one, Blount/Vereen ran for 4.5 YPC against Detroit. They are pretty much able to run for solid numbers against good run defenses, but they need their flow. Hawks win this matchup and will likely shut down the run early in the game, but I can see the Pats run a few 5-10 yarders when Seahawks try to defend the pass. Brandon Mebane was brilliant at stuffing the run. He is a big loss, but Seattle should still do well. Edge: Seattle
NE passing offense vs. SEA passing defense
This is the key matchup to win this game for any team. NE is one of those teams where you don’t need to look at yards per pass attempt. They ran an offense that is set up to execute. Short routes, screen passes and medium-ranged passes make this offense so variable. This offense only struggled when they face big time pressure from the opposite d-line like against KC, NYJ or BUF (2nd game). But even against other strong d-lines they had an easy game like Detroit, Denver, Baltimore. Pass defense starts at the d-line. How about the Seattle d-line ? That’s their only weakness. They can’t generate a decent pass rush and can’t pressure QBs. On top of that the injuries of Mebane and Hill are hurting them. Their d-line is obviously lacking some depth, that could be a key factor in the 2nd quarter. Even the Raiders rallied to score 21 points in the 2nd half. Raiders have a very good o-line, same as the Patriots. Patriots give up just 4.4 sacks per 100 plays, that’s good for 2nd in the league. The best team in that category ? The Denver Broncos who were able to start a comeback late in week 2 at Seattle. Some other good o-lines Seattle faced ? Dallas, NYG & GB. NYG scored 17 points but should really have 24 points (tipped INT in the end zone by OBJ). Seattle gave up an average of 22.6 points when they faced a good o-line. Carolina are not on top of good o-lines over the season but their o-line has been one of the best lately and they as well almost dropped 24 points on the Hawks. Tom Brady will have a field day. They will add a short route to most passing plays to take away the Seattle blitzes. Even the Legion of Boom will look like an average defense because of these variable passing plays. San Diego hat an equal gameplan like NE has everytime: Short routes and don’t let the LOB come too close. Rivers burned them heavily and Gates went for 7 catches, 96 yards and 3 TDs. Wait to see what Gronk will do. Edge: New England
SEA rushing offense vs. NE rushing defense
The best rushing offense in the league (5.2 YPC) against the 11th best rushing defense (4.1 YPC). IMO the NE stats are a little bit blending and they are worse than that. NE were up in many games and opponents tried to pass heavily instead of running the ball. When NE faced good running teams in games they couldn’t control from start to finish: 5.0 YPC @MIA, 5.4 @KC, 5.1 vs. NYJ, 4.9 vs. BAL. I would rank the NE rushing defense between 15 and 20 rather than at #11. My expectation: Seattle will run all over New England. NE can’t stop the run against Seattle. Beastmode and Russel will be too much for them. A lot of designed plays for Russel and the read option should cause some major damage for the Pats. The 100-yard-line should be broken early in the third quarter, if not before halftime. Edge: Seattle
SEA passing offense vs. NE passing defense
Now it gets very interesting. With Richardson out, there is a deep threat missing. Richardson wasn’t an important guy numbers wise, but he is able to stretch the field and create some space between the LBs and secondary. Seahawks have been averaging 7.3 yards per pass attempt. This line is awesome when you consider the weak receiving core Russel Wilson has been dealing with. His o-line isn’t great as well with an adjusted sack rate of 8.7% (#24). NE have the 12th ranked pass defense (6.5 YPPA) and a shutdown corner in Darrelle Revis. Opposite like NE, Seattle have to be successful on the ground to set up the passing game. The NE d-line is simply average, so Russel will likely have some time in play action situations. But I can’t see the Hawks go deep against these playmakers on the NE secondary so they are likely to search medium ranged passes like comebacks between 10-15 yards and a few short passes to Marshawn Lynch. Luke Willson could see some targets as well. They should look to get yardage after catches. With a good running game, I can see the Hawks being successful at times when they play a conservative passing game but the receivers of Seattle won’t beat the NE secondary. This could be a factor when NE is up in the fourth quarter and the play calls get a little bit riskier for Wilson. Edge: Slightly New England.
Special teams: Seriously, I never cap special teams. It is the biggest random variable in the NFL.
Situational angle: I think both teams have enough motivation to play for, lol. The Deflategate stuff should put the Patriots team more together than before and the awesome fourth quarter comeback last week should push the other side as well.
Some other aspects:
- Seahawks are the most penalized team in the NFL (0.07 penalties per play)
- Ne have the 5th best red zone TD scoring offense (62.34%) against Seattle’s 20th best scoring defense (56.82%). The other way around it’s the 20th scoring offense (51.52%) against NE’s 11th best scoring defense (51.92%)
- Both teams are almost equal in third down situations on both sides of the ball
- New England has the clear advantage in fourth down situations on both sides of the ball
Summary: IMO it is an even game with a slight advantage for the New England Patriots. What I can definitely see: many points. 10-7 first quarter, 17-17 first half and the over is just a matter of time. Both QBs will make a statement in this game and I can see Tom Brady getting the last red zone touch. It should be a fun game to watch.