Super Bowl XLIX: A Unit-by-Unit Analysis


It all comes down to this game- all of the hard work, the sweat, the blood, the hard-fought wins and difficult losses. Two final teams- the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks- set to battle it out for the chance to be crowned NFL Champions.

The Seahawks, last season’s Super Bowl Champions, will seek to defend their title, while the Patriots, and quarterback Tom Brady, are seeking their first Super Bowl win since 2004 and the franchise’s fourth overall.

The two teams finished the regular season with identical 12-4 records, each clinching the #1 overall seed and a first-round bye week in the playoffs. New England proceeded to knock off the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, while Seattle marched over the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers, en route to the Super Bowl.

Now, in Glendale, AZ, two weeks removed from their Conference Championship round victories, the teams finalize their preparations for the final test, the be-all and end-all of the 2014-15 NFL season.

Let’s take a look at how they measure up:

Super Bowl Analysis

A Position-by-Position Breakdown:

patshawkschartQuarterback:

NE: Tom Brady- 64.1% comp, 4,109 yards, 33 TDs/9 INTs; 36 carries, 57 yards (11 First Downs)
SEA: Russell Wilson- 63.1% comp, 3,475 yards, 20 TDs/7 INTs; 118 carries, 849 yards, 6 TDs (45 First Downs)

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson are two different styles of quarterback. The veteran Brady prefers to throw, not as adept at scrambling as Wilson, who can attack a team both through the air and on the ground.

Brady, who overcame early criticism this season that his ability was waning, led the Patriots in righting the ship, turning a 2-2 start, into a 12-4, #1 overall seed in the AFC, finish to their season. “Tom Terrific” displayed his accuracy as the season wore on, lighting up tight end Rob Gronkowski with 12 touchdown passes this season. His composure under pressure in the pocket, and ability to get rid of the ball when there are no other options, are why Brady has had so much success in the NFL for so long.

Wilson, coming off a Super Bowl winning 2013 campaign, rushed for over 70 yards in six games in the 2014 season. His 849 yards rushing, more than many starting running backs had on the season, placed him 16th in the NFL in that category. Without limited weapons at wide receiver, Wilson made due with what he had, throwing 20 touchdown passes, and adding six touchdowns on the ground. His running ability, and willingness to scramble away from pressure are major assets, however, they can be detrimental, as evidenced by his being sacked 42 times on the season.

Though Wilson does have Super Bowl experience and scrambling ability, Tom Brady’s extensive playoff resume, including five previous trips to the Super Bowl, and his better passing ability give him the nod in this comparison.

Running Backs:

NE: Shane Vereen- 96 carries, 391 yards, 2 TDs; 52 receptions, 447 yards,3 TDs
NE: LeGarrette Blount- 60 carries, 281 yards, 3 TDs

SEA: Marshawn Lynch- 280 carries, 1,306 yards, 13 TDs; 37 receptions, 367 yards, 4 TDs
SEA: Robert Turbin- 74 carries, 310 yards

Russell Wilson’s running ability certainly played a major part in the Seahawks having the #1 ranked rushing offense in the NFL, but it was the man behind Wilson in formation, running back Marshawn Lynch, who carries the majority of the load.

Lynch, whose ability to shed tacklers can only be matched by a snake in the shedding of its skin, unleashed ‘Beast Mode’ on opponents, rumbling for the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL season with 1,306 yards. He pushed 13 rushing touchdowns across the goal line, tying him for the most in the NFL with DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys. In addition to Wilson, backup running back Robert Turbin provided a change-of-pace out of the backfield for the Seahawks.

The Patriots lost their starting running back Stevan Ridley for the season in Week 6 and relied upon a revolving cast of characters to fill the void. Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, and Jonas Gray all played a part in the rushing offense, with Gray leading the team with 419 yards rushing on the season. Vereen, who had 96 carries for 391 yards and two touchdowns, worked more as a pass-catching back, reeling in 52 receptions on the season. Blount rejoined the Patriots in Week 12 after starting the season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and gave the Patriots 281 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the regular season.

Considering their rank atop the league in rushing offense, the Seattle Seahawks take this round.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

NE: Julian Edelman- 92 receptions, 972 yards, 4 TDs
NE: Brandon LaFell- 74 receptions, 953 yards, 7 TDs
NE: Rob Gronkowski- 82 receptions, 1,124 yards, 12 TDs

SEA: Doug Baldwin- 66 receptions, 825 yards, 3 TDs
SEA: Jermaine Kearse- 38 receptions, 537 yards, 1 TD
SEA: Luke Willson- 22 receptions, 362 yards, 3 TDs

Going hand in hand with their quarterback’s preference for passing, the New England Patriots have a stronger receiving corps than the Seattle Seahawks.

Julian Edelman led all Patriots receivers with 92 receptions on the season, 8th most in the NFL, while Rob Gronkowski, arguably the best tight end in the league, caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards, and 12 touchdowns, tying him for 4th most in that category with five other players. Complementing Edelman and Gronkowski were players like Brandon LaFell, who caught seven touchdowns this season, and tight end Tim Wright, who reeled in six touchdowns.

For the Seahawks, with their preference for running the ball and Russell Wilson being a scrambling quarterback, their passing game falls by the wayside quite often. Doug Baldwin led all Seahawks receivers with 825 yards this season, which placed him 42nd in the league. There were three Patriots ahead of Baldwin on that list. With Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse provided some receiving help, and Luke Willson worked well in the red zone for Wilson, catching three touchdown passes.

In the end though, the Seahawks simply do not pass nearly enough to stand up against the New England wideouts and tight ends.

Offensive Line

NE: Starting Five- Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer
SEA: Starting Five- Russell Okung, James Carpenter, Max Unger, J.R. Sweezy, Justin Britt

The New England Patriots offensive line began the season on a shaky foundation, as the team traded away Pro-Bowl guard Logan Mankins. The Seattle Seahawks offensive line just could not stop quarterback Russell Wilson from being sacked.

On simply a statistical ground, the Patriots offensive line far outperformed the Seahawks this season, allowing just 21 sacks of quarterback Tom Brady, compared to the 42 sacks allowed by Seattle. But beyond this, the Patriots received contributions not just from their starters, but also from players who filled in with strong play when needed, including Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline.

For overcoming the departure of a key member of their core, and developing into a blocking force over the course of the season, the offensive line edge in this game goes to the Patriots.

Defensive Line

NE: Defensive Ends- Rob Ninkovich/Chandler Jones: 105 tackles, 14 sacks, 1 INT, 2 Forced Fumbles
NE: Defensive Tackles- Vince Wilfork/Chris Jones/Sealver Siliga: 104 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT

SEA: Defensive Ends- Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril: 61 tackles, 12 sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles
SEA: Defensive Tackles- Tony McDaniel/Kevin Williams/Jordan Hill: 80 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 Fumble Recoveries

The defensive fronts for both the Patriots and Seahawks enjoyed strong performances this season- the Seahawks having the honor of being the 3rd ranked rushing defense in the league.

Beyond the rankings are the simple statistics, what each defensive line did for their team. The main two defensive ends for the Patriots, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, provided their team with 14 of the team’s 40 total sacks on the year. Even with Vince Wilfork not contributing a single sack this season, defensive tackles Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga picked up the slack turning in 5.5 sacks combined. The Patriots rush defense finished ranked 9th in the league.

On the Seattle side, of course being the 3rd ranked rush defense, and overall the NFL’s #1 defense in the league holds a lot of weight, but in honest analysis, these two defensive lines stack up pretty evenly. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril held their own on the wings for Seattle, recording 12 sacks and forcing two fumbles, while their interior line partners, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, and Jordan Hill had 8.5 sacks combined and three fumble recoveries.

Taking into consideration statistics and rankings, the defensive line matchup in this game is too close to give the advantage to one team or the other.

Linebackers

NE: Akeem Ayers/Dont’a Hightower/Jamie Collins/Jonathan Casillas: 253 tackles, 14 sacks, 3 INTs, 6 Forced Fumbles
SEA: Bruce Irvin/Bobby Wagner/K.J. Wright/Malcolm Smith: 275 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 Forced Fumbles

In another close battle, the linebacking corps for the Patriots and Seahawks compare very well to one another; however, one slight difference puts the Patriots group over the top.

In Week 6, in a victory over the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots lost linebacker Jerod Mayo for the season, for the second consecutive year. With Mayo being such an important part of the Patriots defense, he would be difficult to replace. But replace him they did, with Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas, two players acquired via trade, who stepped up big time in Mayo’s absence. The core four of the Patriots linebackers recorded 14 sacks as a group, led by Dont’a Hightower’s six sacks. Jamie Collins, in just his second year, provided major contributions stopping the run and in pass coverage, forcing four fumbles and hauling in two interceptions.

For the Seahawks, it was two third-year players who continued to prove their worth- Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin. Irvin, who recorded eight sacks in his rookie season of 2012, tallied up 6.5 sacks in 2014, while also returning two interceptions for touchdowns. Wagner pitched in 104 tackles and two sacks. K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith contributed strong play as well, combining for five forced fumbles, and helping to give the core-four linebackers for Seattle a total of 275 tackles on the season.

But, it is the perseverance shown by the Patriots, in losing Mayo, and being able to continue forward without missing a beat that gives them the edge over Seattle’s linebackers.

Secondary

NE: Cornerbacks- Darrelle Revis/Brandon Browner/Logan Ryan/Kyle Arrington: 153 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INTs, 4 Forced Fumbles
NE: Safeties- Patrick Chung/Devin McCourty/Duron Harmon/Tavon Wilson: 187 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 Forced Fumble

SEA: Cornerbacks- Richard Sherman/Byron Maxwell/Marcus Burley/Tharold Simon: 144 tackles, 1 sack, 8 INTs, 1 Forced Fumble
SEA: Safeties- Kam Chancellor/Earl Thomas/Jeron Johnson/DeShawn Shead: 208 tackles, 2 INTs, 4 Forced Fumbles

Richard Sherman. Darrelle Revis. They are two of the biggest names in the NFL, arguably the two best cornerbacks in the league.

Revis, in his first season with the New England Patriots, showed just why he is considered one of the best, providing the Patriots with shutdown defense on the opponent’s top passing targets. He turned in two interceptions and a forced fumble on the season, and helped the Patriots stay in the middle of the pack in terms of pass defense in the league. With Revis, former Seahawk Brandon Browner gave the Patriots size in the secondary in the 9 games he played this season. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty did yeoman’s work across the middle, providing strong safety coverage, combining for three interceptions.

The “Legion of Boom” secondary of the Seattle Seahawks stood up to their title in 2014, jarring balls loose from receivers and playing dominant pass defense, ranking them at the top of the league in that category. As a member of the best pass defense in the league, Richard Sherman recorded four interceptions and a forced fumble. The Legion certainly put the “boom” on, forcing five fumbles as a unit, with four of those forced by safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, and the eight major players in that unit combining for 352 tackles on the season. Stepping into the role formerly owned by Browner, Byron Maxwell provided the Seahawks with strong secondary play and helped lead them to their ranking as the best defense in the NFL.

Perhaps much of this choice relies on reputation, but considering the Seahawks owning the best pass defense in the NFL, it’s the Legion of Boom getting the edge over the Patriots secondary in this one.

Kicker/Punter

NE: Kicker- Stephen Gostkowski: 35/37 (94.6%) FGs,  51/51 XPs, FG Long of 53
NE: Punter- Ryan Allen: 66 punts, 46.4 avg (39.9 net), 25 inside 20-yd line, 6 touchbacks

SEA: Kicker- Steven Hauschka: 31/37 (83.8%) FGs, 41/41 XPs, FG Long of 58
SEA: Punter- Jon Ryan: 61 punts, 44.1 avg (38.3 net), 28 inside 20-yd line, 6 touchbacks

This one, much like the offensive line debate, comes down to simple statistics.

Stephen Gostkowski converted 35-of-37 field goal attempts on the season, including an impressive 13-of-14 from longer than 40 yards. He converted on every single one of his 51 extra-point attempts.
Ryan Allen provided the Patriots with strong punting performances this season, booting 66 punts an average of 46.4 yards. He landed 25 of his 66 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, with just six landing in the end zone for touchbacks.

Steven Hauschka put 31-of-37 field goal attempts between the uprights this season, with a long of 58 yards. The six field goals he did miss all came from 40+ yards out. He converted all 41 of his extra-point attempts.
Jon Ryan pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line with 28 of his 61 punts, only having six go for touchbacks. He averaged 44.1 yards per punt, with a net of 38.3 following returns.

The Patriots win this comparison, because Gostkowski has more reliability from 40+ yards away, and overall enjoyed a better season accuracy-wise. The two punters match up fairly evenly.

Special Teams/Returners

The New England Patriots averaged 10.5 yards per punt return on the season, that duty mostly belonging to Julian Edelman, who himself, on 25 returns, averaged 12.0 yards per return. He had a season long of 84 yards, which he returned for a touchdown, the fourth of his career. For kick returns, the job was Danny Amendola’s, and he averaged 24.1 yards per return on his 20 returns during the season. Amendola and Edelman combined, led to the Patriots starting drives at the 30.6 yard line.

Beyond their return game, the Patriots defensive special teams forced opponents to begin their drives at an average yardage spot of their own 25.5 yard line, tied for the best in the league.

For Seattle, Bryan Walters did the majority of the punt returning, averaging 7.7 yards per return on 27 attempts. He managed a long of just 21 yards on the season. On kick return duties, it was Paul Richardson, who on 16 returns, averaged 23.5 yards per return, stretching out a long of 47 yards. The Seahawks ranked third in average start to their drives, beginning at the 30.5 yard line.

On the defensive side of things, the Seahawks held opponents to their own 25.7 yard line to start their drives, trailing just the Patriots in that category.

Given the slightly better field position, slightly better defensive field position, and the overall better return averages, the Patriots narrowly take this comparison.

Head Coach

This category could honestly be a toss-up. Both Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have successful resumes, Belichick with three Super Bowl rings to Carroll’s one.

Carroll has led the Seahawks to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, and four of five seasons since taking over the head coaching job in 2010. This season marks a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl for Carroll and the Seahawks after their Super Bowl victory last season over the Denver Broncos.

Carroll does bring success into the game, but it’s Bill Belichick’s years-more of experience that carry him over Carroll. And it’s hard to argue anyone is better, considering the league has had to adapt new hand signals for their referees before the Super Bowl, due to offensive trickery Belichick and the Patriots have run in their past two games.

Belichick brings three Super Bowl rings, five Super Bowl appearances, 14 consecutive winning seasons, and six consecutive playoff appearances to the table. The Patriots have won at least 10 games in a season for twelve consecutive years under Belichick, and he has a career playoff head coaching record of 20-8 with the Patriots.

It is his proven, and continued, excellence and adaptability that gives Belichick the nod over Carroll.

And that wraps up our unit-by-unit breakdown. Last, but not least, my prediction for the game:

New England: 23
Seattle Seahawks: 18