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Seahawks’ look hasn’t changed dramatically since Super Bowl XLIX

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is moving around better on a bad knee that he has played through, and he’s regaining his mobility. Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Bill Belichick made sure to go back over his notes from Super Bowl XLIX this week to help prepare for Sunday night’s showdown against the Seahawks.

Of course there have been plenty of changes to both the Patriots and Seahawks since that last matchup, but the Seahawks are still basically the same team.

They still have Russell Wilson at quarterback, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner and Richard Sherman leading the defense, really tall defensive backs and similar schemes on both sides of the ball. And, of course, Pete Carroll is still getting his players pumped and jacked on the sideline.

“There’s a lot of carryover, especially on their defense, from many of the players that we played against, but there is also carryover on offense,” Belichick said this week. “Their scheme, what they do, hasn’t changed dramatically. Ours probably hasn’t changed dramatically, either.”


To get a good read on the 2016 version of the Seahawks, we watched and re-watched their 31-25 win over the Bills on Monday night. But we also re-watched the NFL Films documentary “Do Your Job,” in which the Patriots’ coaches explained their game plan and decision-making in the Super Bowl win.

So let’s take a look at what to expect from the Seahawks, and how we can expect the Patriots to attack and defend them this time.

Seahawks offense

Coordinator: Darrell Bevell

Key skill position players: QB Russell Wilson, RB Christine Michael, WR Doug Baldwin, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Tyler Lockett, TE Jimmy Graham.

Personnel notes: Wilson is moving around better on a knee injury that he has played through and is regaining his mobility. TE Luke Willson is questionable to play following minor knee surgery. RB Thomas Rawls won’t play due to a shin injury. LT Bradley Sowell has missed the last three games with a sprained MCL and his status is in doubt.


What to expect: This is pretty much the same offense we saw in the Super Bowl, with three notable exceptions: The running game without Marshawn Lynch is worse, Wilson is better and more comfortable as a pocket passer, and the Seahawks’ big-bodied receiving threat moves from the outside (Chris Matthews, 109 yards and a TD) to the middle of the field (Graham, 545 yards, three touchdowns).

In the Super Bowl, the Seahawks rushed 29 times for 162 yards (5.6 average) and a touchdown. Lynch had 24 rushes for 102 yards, while Wilson broke off three scrambles for 39 yards.

The running game isn’t nearly as effective this year, however — 30th in rushing, (75.4 yards per game) and in rushing average (3.2 yards per carry). Some of that is on Michael, who has been decent but not great with 447 yards (4.0 average) and six touchdowns. But most of it is on Wilson, whose mobility was sapped with his knee injury, and a porous offensive line that is starting undrafted rookie George Fant, who only played one year of college football (at tight end), at left tackle. The Seahawks only rushed 12 times for 33 yards against a stout Bills defense, and overall they’re 23rd in the league in scoring (20.3 points per game).

The Seahawks utilize a zone blocking scheme and the stretch run play, and the Patriots will have to be disciplined in their run lanes (expect a heavy dose of linebacker Elandon Roberts, who should replace Jamie Collins). And Wilson is still a threat to run down by the goal line, as he proved Monday night.


The Seahawks also run a ton of playaction passes off this run action, and the plays often have a common design. They will roll Wilson outside of the pocket, cut the field in half for him, and give him three reads right in front of him – touchdown (deep), first down (medium) and checkdown (short).

The Seahawks rely on a lot of deception because the offensive line has been porous. Only one player from the Super Bowl team still remains — right tackle Justin Britt, who was the center two years ago. However, while Wilson is often under duress, he has only been sacked 16 times this year, for a pace of 32. Last year he was sacked 45 times.

Wilson isn’t a great pocket passer, but he throws a nice back-shoulder fade, and one of the best deep balls in the NFL. In the Super Bowl, we all remember Kearse’s circus catch, but Wilson hit five passes of 30-plus yards in that game, plus another one of 25 yards. Against Buffalo, Wilson hit Baldwin for 50 yards, connected on two deep seam passes to Graham for touchdowns, plus drew two pass interference penalties for 24 yards each. Wilson only has seven touchdown passes in eight games, but he has protected the ball well, throwing just two interceptions.

The Seahawks have tremendous speed at wide receiver with Baldwin and Lockett (also a dangerous kick returner), who are often used in reverses, screens and other gadget plays. The Seahawks also use a lot of pre-snap motion, and keep an eye on that player — he often becomes the primary receiver on a deception-based passing play, or the key blocker in the run game.


And as we all remember, the Seahawks will create separation by stacking their receivers at the line of scrimmage and running “rub” routes.

Against the Bills, Graham got an easy release at the line of scrimmage and beat the cornerback to the end zone for a touchdown.

And Baldwin will use legal picks and screens to create separation all day, often criss-crossing with a teammate on a quick out route for a catch-and-run. Michael is also a receiving threat out of the backfield, with eight catches for 116 yards.

In “Do Your Job,” Belichick said the key was keeping Wilson contained in the pocket and not letting him improvise with his feet.

“Making him throw from the ‘well,’ with guys around him,” Belichick said.

Expect another game of the Patriots rarely blitzing, with the goal of dropping seven and eight into coverage and keeping Wilson bottled up in the middle of the field.

“Making sure we’re not past the quarterback,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia added. “You have to rush, but you have to be able to rush controlled with the understanding that at some point this play turns into a run.”

Also expect the Patriots to use Malcolm Butler on the feisty Baldwin, and either 6-foot-1-inch Eric Rowe or Logan Ryan to try to contain Graham. The Patriots will need to be physical with Graham at the line of scrimmage to get him out of his timing. And this will be an important game for Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon to play deep and force Wilson to piece together long, methodical drives.


Seahawks defense

Coordinator: Kris Richard

Key players: DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, LB Bobby Wagner, LB K.J. Wright, CB Richard Sherman, SS Kam Chancellor, FS Earl Thomas.

Personnel notes: Chancellor should return to action after missing four games with a groin injury. Bennett, the brother of Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, is likely out following arthroscopic knee surgery, but Carroll hasn’t ruled him out for Sunday. Frank Clark has taken his place and filled in with 6½ sacks.

What to expect: You know this defense. They don’t do much to confuse you, but still use their exceptional athleticism and talent to overwhelm and shut down the opposing offense. The Seahawks dropped from first to third in points allowed (16.8) following Monday night’s game, but seven of the Bills’ 25 points came off a punt block early in the game.

Up front, they play a basic four-man front, and they can create a lot of havoc. The Seahawks are allowing just 3.5 yards per carry, fifth-best in the NFL, and their 27 sacks this year are third-most. Avril is having a fantastic season with nine sacks, while Bennett and Clark have combined for nine. However, the Seahawks struggled with the Bills’ power run game on Monday night, as the Bills rushed for 162 yards on 4.3 yards per carry. However, the Patriots don’t have a mobile quarterback like Tyrod Taylor or a shifty runner like LeSean McCoy, and they’ve utilized more of a zone blocking running game the past several weeks. LeGarrette Blount might be in line for a heavy workload, but this is a game that will probably be put in Tom Brady’s hands.

The Seahawks’ linebackers are active and will blitz frequently. Wagner has 88 tackles, 1½ sacks, and an interception this year, while K.J. Wright (a rangy, 6-4 linebacker) has 69 tackles and three sacks.

On the back end, the Seahawks still play the same coverage — either press man-to-man or Cover 3 (in which the two cornerbacks and the free safety cover the deep thirds of the field).

And they still have giant cornerbacks — all five are 6 feet and taller, and three of them are at least 6-2. Sherman is still an elite cornerback, with three interceptions this season. Thomas, the free safety, has two interceptions and a fumble return touchdown this year.

The Seahawks’ big-bodied cornerbacks are great for jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and playing physical with big receivers, but the Patriots don’t have big receivers. They have short, quick receivers in Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan isn’t short (6-2), but he’s quick, as well. The Seahawks couldn’t handle the Patriots’ quickness in the Super Bowl (Edelman, Amendola, and Shane Vereen combined for 25 catches for 221 yards and two TDs), and this should be another big game for the Patriots’ diminutive receivers.

The key for Brady will be identifying the Seahawks’ coverage before the snap, which usually isn’t too difficult. Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett will be important indicators — it will be man coverage if he is matched up with a linebacker, and zone if he is matched up with a cornerback. The Seahawks also give away their zone coverage when the cornerbacks’ hips are turned toward the quarterback before the snap, or if one of the cornerbacks isn’t lined up across from anybody.

When the Seahawks are in zone, there are usually some nice holes in the middle of the field.

When the Seahawks are in man coverage, the Patriots will run rub routes and crossing routes all day, or look to see if Gronkowski or Bennett are covered by linebackers.

“Don’t run vertical routes,” Belichick said in the documentary. “Run moving routes, crossing routes, force their defense to cover our quickness.”

The Patriots are lucky that Michael Bennett likely won’t play, although Clark has been no slouch. Ernie Adams said in the documentary that Bennett was the offense’s top priority. Bennett only had two tackles but hit Brady four times in the Super Bowl.

“Truth is we didn’t really block him all day,” Adas said. “Tom just did a great job getting rid of the ball.”

Avril and Clark will be a tough challenge for Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon. But if Brady can get the ball out quickly again on Sunday, he should be able to pick apart the Seahawks.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.