Big backs a concern for Seahawks, Patriots

Both Super Bowl teams have found big playoff performances from their big-bodied running backs, and each is a primary concern for the opposing defense in Super Bowl XLIX.

PHOENIX, Ariz. – In a matchup where there are such contrasting styles of quarterbacks at the Super Bowl, the running backs for the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are both big-bodied, tough runners looking to prove that the NFL postseason is as much about running ball as the regular season is hyped for its quarterbacks.

Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday could be more about the brawn of the backs than the pizazz of the passers.

But if the physical makeup of Marshawn Lynch for Seattle and LeGarrette Blount for New England are similar, their seasons haven’t been.

Lynch has been the season-long workhorse for the Seahawks and a player that many consider the most important for their offense. Blount has been the running back surging late and wasn’t even on the Patriots roster for the first 10 weeks of the season.

“We both run the football hard. We both have good balance. We both have good vision. We both are pretty big guys and hard to tackle. So it will be a good game,” Blount said.

Lynch has played all 16 regular-season games, carrying the ball 280 times, fourth-most in the league and had 1,306 yards, fourth-most on the season, with a league-tying 13 touchdowns.

“With a guy like that, you have to make sure you have more than one guy around the ball. He’s so dynamic at what he does,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “All of those guys with the football in their hands are very explosive. We have to make sure we always have two, three people attacking him at all times. We understand that. We’ve been doing a good job in practice with just everybody understanding how important it is to get to the ball. So, I might be doing a lot of running – more than I usually do in a game. If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.”

Wilfork will hardly be the only defender running to stop Lynch. The Patriots know it will take a group effort.

Lynch is a top-three running back in the NFL when it comes to yards after contact and average yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus, and is easily the NFL leader for causing missed tackles.

“With a player like Marshawn Lynch, you just have to wrap him up,” Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones said. “I see him on film a lot just breaking off tackles, breaking through tackles, and he keeps his feet moving. He does a good job of keeping his feet moving. H’s a very good player. I enjoy watching him on film.”

The experience may not be as pleasant on the field. But that holds true with the Seahawks trying to stop the Patriots’ ground game, especially with the additional concern of what Tom Brady can do throwing the ball.

The Patriots’ ground game is unique, for sure. At the start of the season, neither Jonas Gray nor Blount was on the team. Gray didn’t enter the New England equation until Week 7. After a three-carry game against the Jets, he became their main runner over the next three games, highlighted by a 37-carry – yes, 37! – 201-yard performance against the Indianapolis Colts. Then, over the final five games of the season, he only carried 20 times.

That’s because Blount became the new workhorse. He wasn’t on the team for the first 10 games, but as Gray tailed off, Bount became the tailback of choice. Over the final five games of the season he played, he carried fewer than 10 times only once, and as the playoffs arrived, so did Blount.

Blount brought a renewed toughness to the Patriots run game, and an unexpected one considering he started the season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and played there in the first 2½ months.

“Man, that’s crazy. He’s playing for one team Monday night; he’s in our locker room Wednesday night. That’s crazy,” Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell said. “I’m glad that guy came here. He brought a toughness to this team. He brought an attitude back to the backfield that we had already but we lost with Stevan Ridley and he just filled in that role. He got those guys behind him playing at a high level.”

In the AFC Championship Game, Blount established himself as the star of the backfield, rushing 30 times for 148 yards, his first 100-yard game of the season. But there has to be some caution. His big game came against the same team, the Colts, that Gray disassembled during his 201-yard performance.

Still, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor is confident that Blount won’t have many yards after contract.

“Not at all. No way. When we play this game, you touch this ball it is all about getting you down,” Chancellor said. “It’s about running and hitting. It’s about being fundamentally sound. If you prepare for it, it will get done in the game. So, if you prepare and once that man catches it, the rest is want-to.”

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas called Blount a “big body” and defensive tackle Kevin Williams admitted he will be a load to tackle.

“He is a tough guy. He is a big guy to bring down. If you seem him, he is a load in person,” Williams said. “The key is to get his legs to get him down. It is going to take more than one guy. You have to continue to fly around. It shouldn’t be much of a problem but you can’t just count on one guy to make the tackle.”

Wilfork is just as impressed with Lynch and the Seahawks.

“He’s unbelievable. This team is built to run the football,” Wilfork said. “They are built to play football. You look at this team – everything in a football team you want, they have. They have the right mindset, the physicality, they make plays, their playmakers make plays all the time. It seems like they’re always in tune with the game. They’re a really good fourth-quarter football team.”

And when the defense start to tire in the fourth quarter, that’s when the ground games could start to flourish … for either of the hard-charging Super Bowl backs.

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