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."

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

FOXBORO – John Harbaugh explained on Thursday the difference between the rules loophole his Ravens exploited recently and the one the Patriots exploited in the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff Game that caused him to cry, “Foul.”

What it boiled down to? Everyone knew about the loophole the Ravens took advantage of when they committed an en masse holding penalty at the end of the game against the Bengals. 

Nobody had seen what the Patriots successfully pulled off when they made eligible receivers ineligible and vice versa and went on a touchdown drive that changed the tenor of the game.

“You’re right. I don’t want to get into all that,” Harbaugh said when I asked what the difference was. “That’s all been hashed out. I believe what I believe and I think it’s all been proven to be right.

“The point about [the punt hold] is, it’s been talked about, it’s been looked at, it’s been something that’s been used for 20 years so it’s nothing new,” he explained. “It’s nothing that hadn’t been addressed before by officials or the competition committee.”

Harbaugh said that, in Super Bowl 47, his Ravens used the tactic and his brother Jim, coach of the Niners, took it up with the Competition Committee. John Harbaugh supported the change, he said. The league declined.  

“Everybody knew about that so it didn’t create an unfair advantage for anybody,” said Harbaugh.

LISTEN: New Quick Slants podcast w/ more stories of Ravens antics

After the Patriots beat Baltimore in a tremendous game, Harbaugh was in a snit in his postgame press conference alleging the “nobody’s ever seen that [eligible-ineligible trickery] before.” He said the play was “illegal” and “deceptive.”

I mentioned that Alabama had run the play in a nationally televised game against LSU and that the Titans had done the same thing on a game-ending play against the Jets a few weeks earlier.

Aside from whether or not the information was accurately communicated by the officials, the tone of Harbaugh’s comments left little room for interpretation. He indicated the Patriots were underhanded and that his comments seemed to discredit New England.

“That was not the intent and if you go back and read my comments at the time and the tone of it anybody that takes it that way is taking it the wrong way,” said Harbaugh. “That was not the point of it at all. You had an eligible receiver that wasn’t identified and an ineligible receiver that wasn’t identified as such. The official had no way to identify that for the defense so there was no signal or any other way that they could do that. That was something that was addressed the very next week. If somebody wants to look at it some certain way, that’s not my concern.”

When I offered that referee Bill Vinovich not only identified Shane Vereen as being ineligible but added, “Don’t cover 34…” over the stadium mic, Harbaugh wasn’t having it.  

“That’s not something that had ever been gone over,” he insisted. “Players were never taught don’t cover that player. When you’re on the field, you can’t hear that microphone. That’s not something you can even hear or are listening for. The next week there was a tweak.”

Indeed there was. And not just with the officials then being on the hook to make more detailed announcements. The further tweak, perhaps spurred by the formation chicanery and Tom Brady’s recommendation that Baltimore “study the rules” came when the Ravens passed on intel to the Colts for the AFC Championship Game. One of the recommendations from Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg was to watch that the Patriots’ sideline staff didn’t monkey with the kicking balls. That was included in a letter to NFL Operations man Mike Kensil along with an allegation that it was “well known around the league” that the Patriots deflate footballs before the game and that the league needed to keep an eye on that.

Harbaugh hasn’t hidden from the fact he found Brady’s comment offensive.

"I was pissed off," he said this past summer. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed...So yeah, that should never have been said."

He has, however, disavowed any talk by his staff about the Patriots allegedly deflating footballs. "Any conversation that was had with the Colts had nothing to do with deflated footballs, which is what we've been saying since the very start," Harbaugh said in 2015. "I know that we've answered the questions from the beginning to the end very simply. Our yes is yes. Our no is no. We've answered questions directly and honestly and straightforward from the start."

Whether the Patriots’ formation plays and the Ravens response to it led to a $30M investigation that hijacked the NFL’s attention for 20 months and resulted in a four-game suspension for Brady is still not definitively known. Could Rosburg and the Colts equipment man have possibly discussed kicking ball chicanery without sharing notes on the belief the Patriots deflated footballs? Rosburg and former Patriots defensive coordinator and current Ravens coach Dean Pees were both spoken to by investigator Ted Wells. What did they offer

Just like everything else between Ravens and Patriots, it’s complicated.  
 
 

Should the Patriots rest the injured Martellus Bennett for a game or two?

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Should the Patriots rest the injured Martellus Bennett for a game or two?

Episode 80 of Quick Slants the podcast with Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry looks ahead to the New England Patriots final four games of the regular season against the team that has been in the crosshairs during the Bill Belichick era, the Baltimore Ravens.

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Will Tom Brady and company look for revenge against the team that started the Deflategate saga? The game on Monday will be a critical outcome to the seedings in the AFC. Tom Curran talks about a not-so-friendly run-in he had with John Harbaugh.

Also, with Rob Gronkowski gone for the year and Martellus Bennett less than 100%, would it be in the teams' best interest to sit Bennett for a game or two to get ready for the postseason?

Plus, a couple of Tom Brady topics - the extremely popular "What's  your number?" segment, and which of his 201 wins was the best one. 

"Quick Slants" the podcast is presented by Papa Gino's.