On a short-yardage situation, the Patriots try to run play-action. New England’s starting right guard fails to pick up the defensive tackle, who is crashing toward Brady. The pressure forces Brady to heave up a prayer to Rob Gronkowski. Though Gronk was open, the pass rush caused Brady to lob the ball up high, giving the safety plenty of time to recover and nab the interception.
Tom Brady was pressured a total of 198 times on 703 dropbacks during the regular season, and saw his passer rating cut in half on those throws.
2. Lack of a dynamic running game
The Patriots had four running backs take at least 100 snaps with the team, and ranked 22nd out of 32 teams for yards per carry (3.9). That will be tough sledding against the Seahawks, who ranked second in yards allowed per attempt (3.4).
Not only is the Patriots’ running game anemic, it is also predictable. Almost a third of all their runs (30 percent) are behind center, nearly twice as much as any other lineman.
New England’s best receivers are Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. Edelman made 92 catches for 971 yards and four touchdowns while LaFell had 74 ctaches for 953 yards and seven touchdowns. However, neither is a threat to catch the ball downfield.
Brady wasn’t particularly accurate on these throws either, ranking 17 out of 25 quarterbacks for accuracy percentage (33.3 percent) on passing attempts targeted 20 yards or more downfield.
4. Coverage against opposing tight ends is weak
The Patriots were in the bottom three of Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average against tight ends this season, yielding eight catches and 65.6 yards per game to the position. That could open up the passing game for Seahawks tight end Luke Willson.
Willson averaged 1.54 yards per route run during the regular season and has seen that increase to 1.72 in the postseason. Plus, he is at his most dominate when catching passes down the middle of the field.
5. Defensive scheme favors Seattle
The Patriots primarily run a four-man pass rush which features linebacker blitzes. This creates two problems: it leaves a running lane open for the quarterback and/or leaves the Patriots defense vulnerable to huge running plays if there is a missed tackle.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who is as much a threat to run as he is to pass (849 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns during regular season), will likely be “spied” on by linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Hightower was credited with 26 run stops this season and was an efficient tackler, as was fellow inside linebacker Jamie Collins. However, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch led the league in missed tackles on the run (88) and yards per attempt after contact (2.96), so it takes just one misstep for Lynch to be off to the races in the secondary.
Plus, Wilson did a great job this season picking up the blitz, and had a higher passer rating in those situation than when he wasn’t blitzed (96.3 rating against the blitz, 92.2 all other times).