Running away with the Lombardi Trophy
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
Would you be surprised if I told you the Super Bowl in the pass-happy year of 2015 will be won or lost by who runs the ball more effectively?
If you're the Seahawks, you aren't. Seattle relies on their rushing attack more than any team in the NFL. Then again, if your two best receivers were Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, you would too.
Patriots fans, however, get queasy at the thought of taking the ball away from Tom Brady's hands too much. But the Seahawks are not the Ravens, throwing 50 times while completely ignoring the run just won't work against Seattle's secondary, even if Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman enter the game with some aches and pains.
Seattle's run defense on the other hand has shown in the playoffs that it's fallible. In the Divisional Round against Carolina, Jonathan Stewart averaged over five yards a run and the bulk of his yards were from going up the middle. Eddie Lacy found the same success running between the tackles, rushing six times for 26 yards behind the left tackle and three times for 17 yards behind the right tackle, per Pro-Football-Reference.com
This is great news for LeGarrette Blount, who, for some reason, turns into Earl Campbell whenever he puts on a Patriots jersey. Blount, much like Lynch, is a strong, tough runner who is somehow able to pick up steam while having linebackers bounce off him.
Blount rushed for 148 yards and three scores against the Indianapolis Colts, and two of those touchdowns came from runs up the middle -- including his longest touchdown run on a 13-yard scamper.
The Patriots haven't needed to run the ball to set up the pass in any of their playoff games. Against Baltimore they abandoned the thought of running the ball at all and targeted a weak Ravens secondary all game. In the AFC Championship against Indy, New England ran the ball because it knew the Colts wouldn't be able to stifle it.
Against the Seahawks, the Patriots can't be one dimensional. Sherman, Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell will win their matchups against the New England offense enough times that the Patriots will need to rely on the run to keep the defense honest.
Seattle will need to run the ball against the Patriots for the same reason it needed to run the ball all postseason. Even with Russell Wilson's otherworldly ability to extend plays, the passing game can't shoulder the responsibility of winning the game by itself.
With Darrelle Revis likely covering Doug Baldwin, Seattle's only player that topped 600 receiving yards will be shadowed by one of the best corners in the game. My best guess is that Brandon Browner will take tight end Luke Willson, while slot corner Kyle Arrington will match up with Jermaine Kearse.
New England's secondary matches up with Seattle's receivers even more effectively than the inverse. If Lynch isn't his usual "Beast Mode" self and Seattle is forced to lean on the passing game more than what they're comfortable with, Wilson will look a lot more like Andrew Luck against the Pats than Joe Flacco.
That's an important distinction to make. The Ravens were able to get a ton of yards on the ground while the Colts had to abandon the run by the second half. In that second half, when New England knew Indianapolis absolutely had to pass to close the deficit, Andrew Luck went five-for-10 with two interceptions and the Colts didn't score a single point.
If Seattle and New England do one thing exceptionally well, it's protecting a lead. Trying to dig yourself out of a two-score hole is so difficult against these two teams in part because their pass defense is so good.
This will be an important thing to keep an eye on. A 17-point deficit in the third quarter may spell doom for either team because of how sound the opposing defenses are. This applies more to the Seahawks than the Patriots because the Patriots have more talent on offense than Seattle, but it would still be a monumental task for New England to come back from something like that.
The Super Bowl will be a lower scoring affair than what we're used to seeing in the NFL these days. The game will be decided by who can control the tempo, get takeaways on defense and make the timely big plays in the passing game.
When it's all said and done, don't be surprised to see the Super Bowl XLIX MVP go to a running back.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo