The Patriots travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks Sunday, and the environment at CenturyLink Field is one of the most difficult to navigate in the NFL.
But the Patriots will be more worried about the Seahawks’ defense.
A young, fast, and extremely physical crew ranks first in the league in yards allowed (258.6) and second in points (14.0).
The Patriots rank first in both categories offensively (439.4 and 33.0).
Expect the Seahawks, who have shut down talented quarterbacks Tony Romo (7 points), Aaron Rodgers (12), and Cam Newton (12) so far this season, to be using Tom Brady & Co. as the ultimate measuring stick.
We’ll also get a much better feel for how good the Patriots are, especially in the running game; both the Bills and Broncos are lacking on defense.
The Seahawks are not. The 70 points they have allowed through five games are tied for second-lowest in team history — and 16 weren’t given up by the defense.
Seattle is good in all three levels of its defense, so this should be an excellent matchup. A look at the Seahawks, who lead the league with 44 penalties:
Coordinated by West Coast offense disciple Darrell Bevell, a former Packers and Vikings assistant, the Seahawks are running the ball 56 percent of the time, relying on physical halfback Marshawn Lynch (4.5-yard average on 113 attempts) and the escapability of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson (92 yards on 27 attempts). Lynch (5 feet 11 inches, 215 pounds) is a bull and must be gang-tackled because he will not give up. Rookie Robert Turbin can pick up a blitz, and former Jet Leon Washington could get a few scatback plays. The Seahawks will use fullback Michael Robinson, and multiple tight ends (Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy, and Evan Moore). Wilson is just 5-11 but he has every other attribute you want in a quarterback and does not make many mistakes. He completed 76 percent of his passes last week against the porous Panthers, and he has hit on 63.2 percent for the season. The Seahawks use a lot of deep drops to help Wilson see the field. The receivers have average speed, with Sidney Rice (6-4) dangerous in the air. Doug Baldwin (5-10) is a solid receiver who should be watched. Golden Tate is inconsistent. Former Jet Braylon Edwards and Ben Obomanu round out that group. The offensive line is a big, tough group with left tackle Russell Okung (6-5, 310) and center Max Unger (6-5, 305) the top players. Malden native Breno Giacomini competes hard at right tackle but can struggle at times.
Coordinator Gus Bradley lets this rough-and-tumble group play mostly press man coverage with two deep safeties. It starts with a stout defensive line with weak-side end Chris Clemons (team-leading 5½ sacks and nine hits), strong-side end Red Bryant (the Patriots’ top free agent target before he re-signed with Seattle), outstanding nose tackle Brandon Mebane, and three-technique Alan Branch. It’s almost embarrassing that former Titans standout Jason Jones and first-round end Bruce Irvin (4½ sacks) are only sub rushers. They are very good. The linebackers are led by rookie Bobby Wagner in the middle and second-year strong-side man K.J. Wright. At 6-4 and 246 pounds, Wright carries tight ends well down the seam. Weak-side linebacker Leroy Hill is hit-and-miss. The secondary is outstanding, with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor possibly the top duo in the league. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman (6-2½) and Brandon Browner (6-3½) are not household names, but they use their elite size to be extremely physical at the line. Veteran Marcus Trufant is the nickel, and expect to see safety Jeron Johnson used as a sub linebacker.
Needham native and Middlebury graduate Steven Hauschka has made 90 percent of his field goal attempts, with a long of 47 this season. Punter Jon Ryan (48.9-yard average) has a huge leg. Washington is averaging 34.3 yards on kickoff returns. He returned three for scores in 2010. Coordinator Brian Schneider has all his units playing well.