Sometimes a football game, even on the biggest stage, can come down to one matchup or a single play. Super Bowl XLIX sets up as a clash between two of the game’s best units: The New England Patriots offense against the Seattle Seahawks defense. Both groups are fronted by tremendous leaders, with veteran signal-caller Tom Brady heading up the Patriots offense and talented safety Earl Thomas leading the Seahawks defense. Super Bowl Preview Seahawks vs Patriots Quick Snap looks at how this game may come down to which of these “quarterbacks” wins their matchup.
While Richard Sherman – and more recently Kam Chancellor – grab the headlines in Seattle, Earl Thomas is the spine of the Seahawks defense. The safety handles the deep middle responsibility in Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme, as well as the free safety spot when they roll with Cover 1 coverage. Thomas excels in both schemes, simply eliminating inside seam routes and post routes at will. Consider this quote from his head coach Pete Carroll: “When you gain the notoriety and the respect, it’s demonstrated by the fact the ball doesn’t go your way. He doesn’t see much but that’s a big, big plus for us. That means that post routes and seam routes don’t happen. That’s huge because that’s how people score the most in the league with the throwing game.”
With seam and post routes – two routes the Patriots love to use with Rob Gronkowski – tightly covered by Seattle, offenses instead try to make plays along the sidelines. But Thomas is a factor there as well. The safety has great recognition and speed, which enables him to make plays on deep vertical routes along the boundary, like this play from the Divisional round.
Near the end of the second quarter, the Panthers are just outside the red zone, trailing by seven. Cam Newton is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field and the offense has all three wide receivers to the right in a trips formation, with Kelvin Benjamin matched up on the outside against Richard Sherman. Seattle’s nickel defense has the secondary in Cover 1. Thomas is playing free safety in this sequence:
Benjamin uses a vertical release – and a double-move – on his deep route along the sideline. Watch as Thomas reads Newton’s eyes and breaks on the football:
Thomas almost pulls down the interception, killing the Carolina drive and any momentum for the Panthers heading into halftime.
If the Patriots are to win their fourth Super Bowl title, they will need to find a way to make plays in the passing game against the Seattle defense and the Legion of Boom. Whether they can might just come down to a battle of eyes – and wits – between Brady and Thomas.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.