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Super Bowl XLIX to be Decided in Red Zone

That's one possible approach for the Patriots, but the greatest probability is that they have to run the ball successfully at some point when deep in the Seahawks red zone. They have the personnel to do it, especially with a 250 lb running back in LeGarrette Blount, as well as rookie offensive tackle Cameron Flemming who has blocked well as an add-in tight end in power groupings.

Many times throughout this season, I've highlighted the Patriots' need to run the football to win, and they've proven me wrong by being one of the few outliers in the NFL who've been able to win with a dramatic lack of run-pass balance in big games. That said, they are also prone to dramatically changing their offensive approach from week-to-week. The Patriots may be able to move the ball against the Seahawks until they reach the red zone without resorting to their running game. But because of the unique way that Seattle is built, this is the one game where a pass-only red zone approach is a very big risk, an approach Seattle would likely welcome.

If the Patriots offense can run the ball in the red zone, or if the Seahawks can stop the opposing run game, that will go a long way towards telling you who wins this game. This particular factor may come down to just a handful of snaps over the course of the game, but they will be critical.

AP Image. LeGarrette Blount's physical running style will loom large today when the Patriots enter the red zone.

Green Bay conceded points too many times to the Seahawks in the red zone in their NFC Championship bout, settling for field goals instead of going for gold - a lesson both Super Bowl teams have undoubtedly had a chance to review extensively. Bigger bodies in the game's smallest spaces make for tough sledding, but winning a championship is all about making the difficult plays when you absolutely have to. Red zone proficiency will loom large for both these teams, as both squads are built to make plays and prevent them in this area of the field.

The Super Bowl is supposed to be a competition of the league's best, and it appears that's what we're about to get. Despite what you may have been misled to believe, this game (like all others) won't be decided by the #%&*ing air in the ball. And nobody's quote or history is going to score them any points today.

With the goal line breathing against the back of the defense's neck, and the prize within sight for the offense, the hitting intensifies as every inch of real estate counts that much more. No one will be "defenseless," and "safety" won't cross the mind of a single football-loving soul. The red zone is where football becomes most real. The NFL's two toughest teams will battle it out in the toughest part of the field to decide it all. That's football at its finest.

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The Seattle Seahawks have been a team reliant on big-play scoring in their two playoff wins this season. Only two of their eight touchdowns in these two games have come on plays that began inside their opponents' 20 yard line. They haven't punched it in with consistency inside the red zone (the 20 yard line and in), but they've scored on timely chunk plays against Carolina and Green Bay, including an interception return for a touchdown and a fake field goal score. Seattle is in the Super Bowl because they've made big plays at critical moments.

What makes this Super Bowl so compelling is few teams in the NFL adhere to defensive play-calling that is as big-play averse as the New England Patriots - those exact kinds of plays that Seattle has thrived on to get here. The Patriots send additional defensive rushers at one of the lower rates in the NFL, leaving themselves far less exposed in their defensive secondary for plays that go for big yards after only one missed tackle. New England also plays a ton of top-down coverage, a philosophy meant to force teams to go the long & hard way to get scores.

A Seahawks team that needs the big play against a Patriots one that goes out of their way to prevent it...something has to give. For this reason, the team that executes best in the red zone is likely to win this game.

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One of the things that makes the Seahawks defense difficult to score on once opponents reach the red zone is their length. This rare length makes for smaller passing windows in the passing game, and rushing lanes that can appear open, but close quickly. Strong safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Richard Sherman, strong-side linebacker KJ Wright, and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel are each near the top of their respective positions in the NFL for as far as height and length. When the Seahawks put their regular 4-3 defense on the field, 7 of their 11 players are over 6'3", and this doesn't include cornerback Byron Maxwell, who at 6'1" is long-limbed and plays bigger than his listed size. Seattle has bodies who can disrupt passing and running lanes at all three levels of the defense; defensive line, linebacker, and secondary.

On the other side, the Patriots have shown just about every possible offensive red zone approach this season, from spreading it out and throwing on all downs, to running it in from power run personnel groupings. The Seahawks present a particularly unique challenge in that when New England goes to their preferred spread looks, Seattle can still fill those spaces fairly well with their length and read-and-react ability, making for tiny throwing windows that requires a near-perfect ball. Tom Brady is as accurate as any thrower in football, so although the challenge is daunting, the Patriots are equipped to overcome it. But it won't be easy.

The last time the Patriots played the Seahawks was in 2012, and although there are a couple personnel differences from this year's group, the Pete Carroll tall-and-long lane clogging philosophy was still there. The following video clip shows a Tom Brady interception where pass-rushing pressure (the kind that dogged Peyton Manning in last year's Super Bowl) wasn't really the issue. This play shows Seattle sagging off in coverage with big bodies, sitting, waiting to pounce in the tight throwing avenues.

What the Patriots now have that they didn't have then is more bigger bodies of their own. New England now has 6'3" wide receiver Brandon Lafell to compliment their stud tight end Rob Gronkowski, as well as the lightly-used 6'4" Tim Wright at tight end, whose body-type is closer to big wide receiver than big tight end. The Patriots could conceivably try to go big-on-big with personnel groups like this that still have a strong passing game possibility (as opposed to "big" 2 or 3 tight end sets involving additional offensive linemen).

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That's one possible approach for the Patriots, but the greatest probability is that they have to run the ball successfully at some point when deep in the Seahawks red zone. They have the personnel to do it, especially with a 250 lb running back in LeGarrette Blount, as well as rookie offensive tackle Cameron Flemming who has blocked well as an add-in tight end in power groupings.

Many times throughout this season, I've highlighted the Patriots' need to run the football to win, and they've proven me wrong by being one of the few outliers in the NFL who've been able to win with a dramatic lack of run-pass balance in big games. That said, they are also prone to dramatically changing their offensive approach from week-to-week. The Patriots may be able to move the ball against the Seahawks until they reach the red zone without resorting to their running game. But because of the unique way that Seattle is built, this is the one game where a pass-only red zone approach is a very big risk, an approach Seattle would likely welcome.

If the Patriots offense can run the ball in the red zone, or if the Seahawks can stop the opposing run game, that will go a long way towards telling you who wins this game. This particular factor may come down to just a handful of snaps over the course of the game, but they will be critical.

AP Image. LeGarrette Blount's physical running style will loom large today when the Patriots enter the red zone.

Green Bay conceded points too many times to the Seahawks in the red zone in their NFC Championship bout, settling for field goals instead of going for gold - a lesson both Super Bowl teams have undoubtedly had a chance to review extensively. Bigger bodies in the game's smallest spaces make for tough sledding, but winning a championship is all about making the difficult plays when you absolutely have to. Red zone proficiency will loom large for both these teams, as both squads are built to make plays and prevent them in this area of the field.

The Super Bowl is supposed to be a competition of the league's best, and it appears that's what we're about to get. Despite what you may have been misled to believe, this game (like all others) won't be decided by the #%&*ing air in the ball. And nobody's quote or history is going to score them any points today.

With the goal line breathing against the back of the defense's neck, and the prize within sight for the offense, the hitting intensifies as every inch of real estate counts that much more. No one will be "defenseless," and "safety" won't cross the mind of a single football-loving soul. The red zone is where football becomes most real. The NFL's two toughest teams will battle it out in the toughest part of the field to decide it all. That's football at its finest.

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