By Justin "Smoove"
With the NFL season now underway, there are going to be so many great matchups filled with intriguing storylines and overreactions to the outcome of Week 1's games. Add those to the juicy stories that the media will drag out right up until Week 2, and we have a lot of noise to sift through. In this "Matchup of the Week" column, what I will try and do each week is to give you one of the best matchups that the football world is looking forward to, and break it down in a way most people, and the media, won't talk about.
This week's matchup of the week led me to Sunday Night Football, with the New England Patriots visiting the Seattle Seahawks and the vaunted "12th man." Even though Tom Brady is now in Tampa Bay, this matchup is still filled with a bevy of storylines, as you have arguably the greatest coach in football in Bill Belichick up against one of the five best and most underrated quarterbacks in the league in Russell Wilson. Let's break it down.
"Breaking It Down - Belichick's Defense"
We know Belichick isn’t going to step on the field and make any tackles on defense himself, but when it comes to preparing a team, there’s no one better. The chess match will come down to how Belichick prepares his defense and how Wilson and his offense can take advantage. That is going be worth tuning in to alone. Belichick has a respected reputation around the league for making even the best quarterbacks in the game look mediocre by giving them confusing schemes and making halftime adjustments. He can also just simply play a coverage that his defense has never played before, simply because he knows the opposing quarterback struggles against a certain defensive formation. From Peyton Manning to Patrick Mahomes, and from Jared Goff to Matt Ryan, he’s confused them all and come out of battles against them unscathed with wins under his belt. This years Patriots defense, however, is unlike any other before it, as New England has had to replace nine key starters and defensive rotation players from a year ago, with multiple players having left through free agency or opting out of playing.
Belichick has replaced them with some young and talented players, sure, but due to the lack of practice time from COVID-19, how well will they be prepared in going up against one of the games best quarterbacks in Wilson, especially with the way head coach Pete Carroll and company "let Russ cook" in Week 1?
"Breaking It Down - Letting Russ Cook"
So we all know now that Belichick depends a lot on his schemes and different looks to confuse opposing quarterbacks. On the other side, however, we have Russell Wilson going into his ninth NFL season, and there aren’t too many looks you can throw at him that he won’t be able to dissect and take advantage of. In his career, Wilson has faced the Patriots twice in the regular season and is 2-0, completing 64% of his passes with a 128.5 QB rating. Wilson is also averaging 320.5 YPG with a 6:0 TD:INT ratio in those two games. As dominant as Belichick’s defense has been against top tier NFL QB's, he hasn’t been able to get the best of Wilson. (obviously excluding the infamous interception from the 1-yard line in the Super Bowl)
One area where Wilson’s offense will be able to take advantage of the Patriots defense is on early downs in the first half. According to Warren Sharp’s (Sharp Football Analysis), the Seahawks offensive coordinator made a much-needed shift in his offense by throwing more on early downs in the 1st half from 2018 to 2019. On first half early-down situations in 2018, Seattle ran the ball 60% of the time (most in the league), but in 2019 they passed 51% of the time in the same situations and their passing game became more efficient (YPA and success rate both went up in 2019). Wilson was also elite in passing on early downs last year, as the signal-caller ranked 2nd in success rate (62%), YPA (8.6), TD:INT ratio (25:3) and passer rating (116).
This also seems to have carried over into 2020, and continue to improve no less, as the Seahawks unleashed the passing game early and often against the Falcons in Week 1, with Wilson completing 31 of his 35 pass attempts for 322 yards with 4 TD's. Look for Wilson to throw the ball on early downs in the first half, especially out of the 12 personnel packages, against this young and inexperienced Pats defense.
"Breaking It Down - Primetime Wilson"
Another factor for this matchup is how well Wilson has performed throughout his career in primetime home games. There hasn’t been a better quarterback than Wilson since he’s entered the league in 2012 in primetime home games as his Seahawks are 18-4 (82%) SU and 15-6-1 ATS (71%) in these spots. Seattle is also 30-19 (61%) against teams with a winning record and 32-16-1 ATS (67%) since Wilson became the starter in 2012. Expect for him to put on another show under the bright lights and extend this streak.
While Belichick is arguably the best NFL coach of all time (his resume speaks for itself), Wilson is criminally underrated, and there’s no other quarterback more valuable to his team than he is to Seattle. In his eight previous NFL seasons, Wilson has finished top 10 or better in QB rating 7 times (!) with four top 5 finishes (including his rookie year). He’s also finished inside the top 10 or better for QBR five times and top 10 or better in touchdowns six times, while only finishing top 10 or higher in pass attempts three times in his career. Since entering the league in 2012, Wilson is tied for the most wins by a QB (Roethlisberger) with 90, tied for the most 4th quarter comeback wins (21) and tied for the most game-winning drives (27). Adding the playoffs and when the game is in the line, he has the highest 4th quarter passer rating (109.6) since 1991 among QB's with at least 500 attempts. Case in point: letting Russ cook is long overdue.
Last week's Sunday Night Football matchup was a little bit of a dud between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams, but this Sunday night should be much more exciting. I’m looking forward to how the chess match between Wilson's offense and Belichick’s defense plays out. I like the Seattle Seahawks -4 in this one.