Super Bowl to come down to battles in the trenches
By LIAM BEVANS
College Contributor Network
In recent years the spread formation has taken center stage on the football landscape. The spread has been used to perfection at all levels of the game, from Southlake Carroll and its prolific attack under the Friday night lights in Texas, to Eugene, Oregon where the Ducks have transformed themselves into a college powerhouse, and the NFL where its seems every season sees a new record-setting passing performance. The spread is hip, the spread is exhilarating for fans and players alike, but the spread will not be in Glendale for Super Bowl Sunday. Instead, the Patriots and Seahawks will put on a display of smash-mouth football that will have Vince Lombardi drooling from the grave. There will be fullbacks, blocking tight ends, and bruising runners galore. Football fans will be fed a steady diet of Marshawn Lynch and LaGarrette Blount to go along with their wings, nachos, and beer on February 1.
For New England, their ability to adapt to different looks, fronts, and situations is what set them apart form the competition in the AFC. The Patriots were able to go an entire half against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the playoffs without a single hand-off, winning the game by utilizing a totally one-dimensional attack. They attacked the perimeter of the Baltimore defense, using short, sideline passes instead of hand-offs to stay ahead of the chains and keep the offense on schedule.
Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels identified the Baltimore secondary as their greatest weakness, and exploited it to perfection. In the very next round however, they returned to their roots and pounded the rock down Indianapolis' throat. Handing the ball off to Blount thirty times, before pulling him for the last couple of series, the Patriots dominated the Colts between the tackles and utilized the tendency of Indy's linebackers to over-pursue with cutbacks by Blount.
With the strength of Seattle's secondary, I would expect the Patriots to once again depend heavily on the ground game in Super Bowl XLIX to provide a balanced look. The Patriots have utilized an extra offensive lineman more than anyone else this postseason, a trend which will continue against Seattle as they try to set up the play-action pass through a steady dose of Blount.
One tendency which I did notice in recent weeks was that the Patriots appear to have completely abandoned the run from the shotgun, electing to use Shane Vereen almost exclusively as a pass catcher. In past years, the Patriots used an inside-zone handoff from the shotgun with regular success and a direct snap to the back from the shotgun, with Brady pretending to miss the snap over his head, in short-yardage situations. I would think the Patriots will probably work this back into their repertoire for the Super Bowl.
As for Seattle, it all comes down to beast mode. He is the heartbeat of this Seahawks' offense, making his mark on every game they play through his yards after contact. Even in the two-minute drill the Seahawks defer to their stout back, as evidenced by both his carries on the lead-changing drive with less than two minutes to go in the NFC Championship game. The added dimension of Russell Wilson's ability to throw on the run makes this a difficult offense to game plan for, despite lacking the game-changing talents of the dynamic former Seahawk Percy Harvin. The ball control style of Seattle, which was lacking due to four interceptions versus Green Bay, as well as their ability to rush the passer makes it extremely difficult for teams to mount a comeback against the Seahawks.
Seattle would be wise to run right at Chandler Jones, the Patriots' pass-rushing specialist, who was constantly out of position against the zone-running scheme of Baltimore. Ravens' left tackle Eugene Monroe continually used Jones' own explosiveness off the ball against him, pushing him up the field leaving no one to set the edge against the stretch run. Although production for New England's defense has not dropped off since the injury to Jerod Mayo, the Patriots' ability to play three linebackers has essentially disappeared. With just Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower playing the majority of the snaps from the linebacker corps, expect Seattle to run fast and run often.
As a fan of old-school football, I for one can not be more excited to watch this match-up. Don't get me wrong, watching these modern-day masters wing the football all over the field is spectacular. But I can't wait to watch the battle in the trenches, to see who can set the line scrimmage, get leverage, and drive their man into the turf. The NFL might be turning into an air show that would make Don Coryell cry tears of joy, but for now the path to Disney world will be paved on the ground.
Liam Bevans is a graduate student at Boston College. He has spent the last six years working for the BC football team both as a student and as an intern. Follow him on twitter: @liham_andcheese