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."