To beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots know they’ll have to contain running back Marshawn Lynch. Yet here’s the problem: If they focus too much attention on Lynch, quarterback Russell Wilson may burn them.
Wilson led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing in 2014 with 849 yards. In fact, Wilson ranked 16th in the league in rushing. And when Wilson does take off, his plays can be painful for defenses. He averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, had eight runs of more than 20 yards and scored six touchdowns.
What New England will face on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1, is the Seahawks’ read-option scheme, which forces defenses to choose between focusing on Lynch or being cautious, in case Wilson pulls the ball out and sprints around the defenders crashing on Lynch.
Against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks’ read-option was very effective. On 17 read-option plays, Seattle’s Lynch or Wilson gained 121 yards and scored two touchdowns. Most of the time, Lynch got the ball. But late in the game, Wilson had two key carries on the read-option that resulted in 16 yards and a score.
“They execute the read-option at a very high level,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told the Boston Herald this week. “It’s extremely dangerous. They do it from a number of different looks. They obviously have tremendous skill players that can handle the ball and handle that type of offense.”
The read option, however, is not unfamiliar to the Patriots, who’ve faced it many times over the past two years. In fact, coach Bill Belichick brought Tim Tebow into camp last year largely to run the offense against his defenders.
One tactic is to emply a spy -- a defender whose responsibility it is to keep his eyes on Wilson and not let him break free if he decides to fake the handoff to Lynch. That spy might be delegated by how the Seahawks line up. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich has played the role well before, as has linebacker Jamie Collins.
Last season, Ninkovich played spy against Cam Newton of the Panthers.
But whoever it is, he’ll have to stay vigilant. Even one play where he’s tricked or loses concentration -- as happened to the Packers late in Seattle’s comeback win -- could be costly.
Ninkovich has said in the past that the read-option scheme is simply “a green light to hit the quarterback.”
But Wilson is an extremely skilled, smart and patient ball handler who can also exploit overly aggressive defenders.
“You just have to be under control and know what your assignment is every time,” said Ninkovich.