The 1-0 New England Patriots hit the road for their second game of season, facing the Seattle Seahawks, a team they've had some outstanding games against over the last decade. The Pats lost in Seattle in 2012 and at Gillette Stadium in 2016, but won the biggest matchup, Super Bowl 49. Each game was decided in the fourth quarter and this one should be no different.
The Seahawks are coming off a dominating Week 1 win over the Falcons that saw Russell Wilson complete 31-of-35 passes for 322 yards, four touchdowns and a gaudy 143.1 QB rating. Their attack, led by receivers D.K. Metcalf (95 receiving yards, one touchdown), Tyler Lockett (92 receiving yards) and running back Chris Carson (six carries, six catches, 66 all-purpose yards, two touchdowns) was nearly unstoppable in Atlanta.
Their defense however isn't quite the Legion of Boom that gave the Patriots plenty of issues in previous matchups. Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards against them, despite an outstanding effort from new safety Jamal Adams (12 tackles, two TFL, one sack, two QB hits). There will be plays to be made from an unproven Patriots passing offense.
What do the Patriots need to do to get their second win of the season and first on the road against one of the most solid teams in the NFL?
Here are the Keys to the Game presented by Carmax!
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch ahead of the Patriots Week 2 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, September 20, 2020.
Take the next step on offense
The Patriots offensive attack against the Dolphins was the model of efficiency. They used a healthy mix of well-designed runs to put Miami on their heels and then incorporated play action to help put the game away in the second half.
Seeing how Atlanta moved the ball through the air has to be tempting for Josh McDaniels to shift his attack, but can they execute a high-volume passing attack? They needed to complete just 15 passes against the Dolphins. Opening with some version of a spread passing offense might be as surprising this week as the heavy run-based approach was last week.
The simplest thing to do? Continue to use the run game and Cam Newton's mobility as the basis to take the next step on offense. There's little doubt they'll have to throw the ball more than they did against Miami, but it can still come off of play action. That will require getting the run going once again and that might be the biggest factor if the Patriots are to have success against Seattle.
The Patriots had a good gameplan against Russell Wilson in Super Bowl 49, keeping him the pocket and not letting him do the extensive damage he can while on the run, late in downs. Wilson completed just 12 passes in the big game but it still took an improbable goal-line interception for New England to get the win.
His talents on the move were once again on display against Atlanta. He's still very good from the pocket, but there's a less explosive element to the offense when Wilson is forced to just drop back and throw.
In the 2016 regular-season rematch, Wilson went off, throwing for 348 yards and three touchdowns against the eventual Super Bowl champs. And yet again it came down to the last play of the game as the Patriots couldn't convert a touchdown from the one-yard-line to get the win.
Those Patriots defenses featured experienced edge rushers but now it's largely a new and less experienced front. Discipline by the young front, especially Chase Winovich, will be critical. John Simon should play a key role with his athleticism and hard edge-setting abilities.
Controlled rushes that maintain the pocket and keep Wilson contained is one of the biggest points of emphasis.
Secondary must shine
The 2012 loss in Seattle came at a time when the Patriots couldn't quite figure out the back end of their defense. They were one of the worst defenses in the league defending the deep ball and Wilson made them pay with three touchdowns, including the game-winner, a 46-yarder with under two minutes left that gave Seattle the win. It was the kind of end-of-game long strike Patriots fans just aren't accustomed to seeing.
In 2020, the secondary is the unquestioned strength of the Patriots and they'll have to manage a heavy load on Sunday night. Metcalf, Lockett and tight end Greg Olson aren't exactly a murderer's row of weaponry and the Patriots should have the matchup pieces they need. Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones must lead the way.
Where they'll be challenged the most is late in downs if Wilson breaks the pocket. Then it's a scramble drill and blowing a coverage late is a good way to allow a quick, long score. Devin McCourty will play a key role in maintaining the team's back end discipline.
Dealing with the balanced Chris Carson, who will move all over the formation will be a big piece of the gameplan as well, with Adrian Phillips being a possible matchup choice.
It's hard to see the Patriots winning this game almost entirely on Cam Newton's sizable skillset. They're going to need someone to emerge as a threat in the receiving game at some point. We know what Julian Edelman brings but the team made a conscious effort to manage his snaps, as Damiere Byrd (0 targets) and N'Keal Harry (five catches, 39 yards, fumble lost) were the receivers who played the highest snap totals against Miami.
That kind of production is not going to get it done against Seattle, especially if the Patriots have to play from behind. Byrd and Harry must be more involved this week, and if tight ends Ryan Izzo or Devin Asiasi can find a way to contribute even better. Asiasi was eased in last week, but could bring value inside the red zone with his strong catching skills.
For all the answers we got last week about what the Patriots offense had planned, it feels like there are still a great deal of unknowns once again this week against Seattle.
The Patriots get things going on the ground once again but make an even stronger move to the passing game that unveils a far more balanced offense than anyone might've expected. Once again, it comes down to the very last goal-line play.
Patriots 28, Seahawks 27