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The Mass Media

Some on-field story lines to consider heading into Super Bowl XLIX

Russell+Wilson+and+Pete+Carroll+make+for+a+formidable+duo
Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll make for a formidable duo

Because the super-awesome national media spent all of last week talking about some players’ personal ball preferences, there is only a short time left to actually break down the on-field story lines of what should be a fantastic Super Bowl. The Patriots are bringing in one of the most balanced teams they’ve had in the Belichick era while Seattle is riding high off of a miraculous NFC Championship comeback and boast one of the best defenses in NFL history. Here are a few things to keep an eye on Sunday night.
1. Brandon Browner will be tested
Browner spent his entire career prior to this season as a Seahawk, and he was Russell Wilson’s teammate the past two years. Wilson is smart enough to know how to exploit the big man’s weaknesses, so look for Browner to be picked on early and often. The Patriots should be well aware of this and will give him plenty of safety help over the top, but Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin will have their opportunities on intermediate crossing routes and rub plays. Browner’s ability to play those shorter patterns in man-to-man coverage will be important if the Patriots want to be able to get off the field on third down and protect the red zone.
2. Don’t be afraid to take risks on offense
Seattle’s defense is scary good — they had a run this season in which they gave up 39 points in six weeks — but that was against world beaters like Austin Davis, Ryan Lindley, and Shaun Hill. Tom Brady is known for taking care of the ball in big spots, and you can bet your butt this won’t look like last year’s Super Bowl, when Peyton Manning was about as careless with the ball as can be. It’ll be tough to work the outside against Richard Sherman (assuming he’s healthy) and Byron Maxwell, but there will be room over the middle if Brady can fit the ball into tight windows. Amendola and Vereen should be factors there, and the Seahawks have shown they’re susceptible to play action, which could open up a big play to Gronk or Brandon Lafell.
3. Don’t expect to see the new “ineligible” formations from the Ravens and Colts games
Now that the Patriots have put those ploys on tape, they’ll be far less effective this time around, especially against an extremely competent Seattle coaching staff. Look for more offensive plays from base packages, especially the offset-I with James Develin leading the way for Legarrette Blount. There may be some trick plays, but they’d be in the gadget category (Edelman’s option pass, the trick pass to Matthew Slater, a flea-flicker).
4. The Patriots have the personnel to contain Russell wilson
Jamie Collins has come on very strong over the second half of the year and Donta Hightower has great athleticism. Look for one of them to be assigned as a “spy” on Wilson, meaning it’ll be their responsibility to keep the elusive scramble in the pocket. Wilson throws a great deep ball but can struggle with accuracy (as was shown in his god-awful first half of the NFC Championship Game). Containing Wilson is the best way to force the Seahawks off the field. If they can’t convert on third down there will be no chance for Marshawn Lynch to get his fair share of carries. Lynch is the one player on the Seahawks offense New England has no answer for, so keeping his hands off the ball (and his crotch) will be key.