Super Bowl XLIX Preview: Secondary
By: Oliver Banton
Sunday’s Super Bowl will feature a showdown of two of the best secondaries in all of football. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor makeup Seattle’s secondary, which has earned the nickname the “Legion of Boom.” The Patriot’s defensive backfield is comprised of star players Darelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Devin McCourty. This article will explore both secondaries in depth, and subsequently determine which unit will have the advantage in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawk’s secondary once again led a defense that ranked first in the NFL in most major defensive categories. They were the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to allow the fewest points and fewest yards two seasons in a row. They’re run defense was stout throughout the season, but it was the Legion of Boom that truly shined. They allowed the fewest pass yards and the fewest passing touchdowns. Seattle ranked in the bottom half of the league in team interceptions, but this stat serves as a testament to how unwilling opposing quarterbacks were to test the Seahawks secondary.
We saw Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys do something few quarterbacks do when the two teams met in October. He went after Richard Sherman. Romo didn’t buy into the hype, as tried to exploit Sherman on the edge. He was successful throughout the game and proved to the league that Sherman was human after all. But after that game, which resulted in a Seahawks loss, Seattle won nine out of their final eleven games and only gave up twelve points/game during that span.
Aaron Rodgers attempted to adopt a similar approach as Tony Romo during the NFC Championship game. On the Packers first drive of the game, Rodgers tried to find Davante Adams in the back of the end zone, but was intercepted by Sherman. Rodgers stayed away from Sherman after his interception and tried to exploit Byron Maxwell, who plays opposite to Sherman, throughout the rest of the game. He wasn’t very successful targeting anyone in the Seahawk’s secondary. He finished with only 178 yards, 2 interceptions, and a 51.0 QBR.
Richard Sherman is one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the NFL, but the Legion of Boom’s nickname is derived from the Seahawk’s safety play. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are both hard-hitting ball hawks. They cover the field extremely well and are both notorious for laying down hard hits on opposing players.
The New England Patriots have experienced tremendous success during Tom Brady and Bill Bilichick’s time in New England, but one area of struggle, especially in recent years, has been their secondary. The Patriots haven’t had good defensive backs since the days of Ty Law and Rodney Harrison, but 2014 was different. It started with the signing of one of the most coveted corner backs in all of football, Darelle Revis. They were also able to acquire former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner. Together, Revis and Browner were able to change the landscape and attitude of the Patriot’s defense. New England was able to neutralize star quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, and Phillip Rivers, throughout the season. The Patriots’ coaching staff has instilled lots trust into the secondary, as they have played more man coverage and are inserted into far more one on one situations. Converted safety Devin McCourty has arguably the best ball skills in the league, and serves as an excellent safety net behind Revis and Browner.
The Patriots have been comfortable in man coverage, but their comfort level will truly be tested on Sunday. Seattle doesn’t have any exceptionally athletic receivers, but it’s Russell Wilson that the Patriots will have to worry about. His escapability is second to none in the NFL, and his ability to extend plays will mean the Patriots cornerbacks and safeties will have to cover opposing receivers for longer periods of time. The Patriots pass rush has been rather stagnant as of late, as Chandler Jones hasn’t yet returned to pre-injury form. If they can’t get pressure on Wilson, the Patriots’ secondary will have an extremely busy night covering guys like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.
S Kam Chancellor vs. TE Rob Gronkowski
When Rob Gronkowski catches passes, the Patriots win football games. This statement, almost tautological in nature, has held true for the New England Patriots since Gronkowski entered the league in 2010. If he doesn’t play a big role in the pass game, the Patriots’ offense struggles. Kam Chancellor will likely play press coverage on Gronkowski and will be physical with him off the line. Seahawk’s cornerback Jeremy Lane went as far to say that Gronkowski is virtually ineffective when defenders put their hands on him. This is an immense overstatement, as Gronkowski is one of the most physical offensive players in football, but it does hold true in some game situations. The Seahawks will try and take Gronkowski out of plays early on by bumping him off the line of scrimmage. If any safety in the NFL is up for the task, it’s Kam Chancellor. Gronkowski’s success against Chancellor and the rest of the Seahawk’s defense will likely dictate how well the Patriots move the ball on Sunday.
I have to go with Seattle here. Their astounding numbers are too hard to ignore. They have proved they are the league’s best secondary for two years in a row now, and will present an immensely difficult matchup for Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offensive come Sunday.
If Kam Chancellor can be even moderately effective in coverage, especially on Gronkowski, the Patriots’ offense will likely struggle at times. Richard Sherman is known for playing on the outside and shutting down big play threats, but he is also known for his flexibility at the cornerback position. The Patriots don’t throw the ball deep very often, but they excel in their short passing game with Julian Edelman operating out of the slot. We will likely see Sherman lineup inside and try slow down Edelman.
The Seahawks secondary is far more athletic than the Patriot’s receivers. If they can stay in coverage and give their defensive lineman a chance to get to Tom Brady, the Seahawks will likely win the game. One consistent characteristic of teams that have beaten Tom Brady and the Patriots in recent years is the ability to get to the quarterback. The Seahawk’s don’t have an elite pass rushing unit, but their ability to hit Tom Brady will often be contingent on the play of their secondary.