Patriots

Stopping Seattle's Lynch is key to Patriots defense

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Stopping Seattle's Lynch is key to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- Give Vince Wilfork credit. At least he was diplomatic.

On Thursday, when given the opportunity, he spoke glowingly about the talents of Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the play-making ability of Seattle's receivers. All along, though, Wilfork knew that they were of peripheral importance to the real key for the Patriots defense on Sunday.

"It's going to be one of those games," Wilfork said, "where it's going to come down to can we stop Marshawn Lynch and this running attack."

Lynch is currently third in the NFL in rushing with 508 yards. How he accumulates those yards is what's concerning to New England.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has often said that the ability to get yards after contact makes a good running back, and by that logic, Lynch is great. At 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, he is one of the strongest runners in the NFL, and, according to ESPN, he leads the league in yards after contact with 229.

"The number of yards that he gets after contact is very impressive, whether he runs through a tackle or just uses his quickness to make the guy who really should make the tackle miss it," Belichick said Wednesday. "But, yeah, Lynch is outstanding. He's got great feet, good balance, he's a powerful guy and there are times that he does get tackled, but a lot of times it's with three or four extra yards because of his good pad level and ability to maintain his leg drive through contact. And by the time the defender gets him on the ground, it's an extra two, three yards that Lynch has created on his own. Absolutely, he's one of the best."

Although the Patriots haven't played Seattle in four years, they are familiar with Lynch's style. At the beginning of his career, he spent three seasons and part of a fourth with the Buffalo Bills. The last time Lynch played New England he was in September of 2010 when he ran for 79 yards on 13 attempts -- a 6.08 yards-per-carry average.

"We have a lot of history with that guy when he was in Buffalo," Jerod Mayo said. "He's a tough runner. It'll take 11 guys to get him down."

Watching the film this week, Wilfork was reminded just how tough it was to bring Lynch down at times.

"He breaks a lot, a lot of tackles. A lot of tackles," Wilfork said. "He's been running hard ever since facing him in Buffalo. He's just a tough, tough back. He's strong. He's a physical runner. He's quick, shifty. He's well put together. You talk about backs, an elite back, I don't think he gets enough credit. He's probably one of the tougher backs in the league because he can go anywhere. Sometimes he don't even need blocks. He can go out there and take on the defense himself."

Against a runner like Lynch, Wilfork said, it's important that no one on the defensive side of the ball gives up on plays early when it looks like Lynch is about to go down. Odds are, he's not.

"Everybody's gotta go to the ball," Wilfork said. "Just because you're backside . . . the play is not over with a guy like this."

Seattle is seventh in the league in rushing and possesses two other talented backs: Leon Washington and rookie Robert Turbin. Washington is a shiftier back (and a focal point on special teams for the Seahawks), while Turbin is built similarly to Lynch.

"They have different styles," Belichick said. "But when Turbin is in there, he makes a lot of yards too on contact and avoiding guys too. If you're not really studying the backs, you're just kind of watching them, I don't want to say you can't tell them apart, but both guys run hard, both guys make yards after contact, both guys are very good runners, and so is Washington, so it doesn't really matter who is in there. All those guys, that's a very good group."

But Lynch is their horse, and the Patriots know that stopping him will be key to keeping Seattle's offensive production down.

"We've faced some good runners, but this guy is probably -- he's at the top," Wilfork said. "We have our work cut out."

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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