Never mind the sophisticated schemes or individual player matchups, the NFL’s Coach of the Year – someone who knows the Seattle Seahawks especially well – thinks Super Bowl XLIX will come down to the most fundamental of football skills.
“It’s going to sound too simple, but I think the whole game comes down to tackling,” Coach Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals said in a phone interview Sunday.
“The Patriots have really good underneath receivers – [Rob] Gronkowski, [Julian] Edelman, [Shane] Vereen – and if they’re catching it for four or five yards and getting tackled or getting blown up, I like the Seahawks. If they’re gaining eight or nine yards on those plays, I like the Patriots.
“And vice versa. If the Patriots tackle [running back] Marshawn Lynch and [quarterback] Russell Wilson, and don’t miss tackles, that’s really good for them. This whole game will come down to tackling, yards after contact and yards after catch.”
Arians knows these teams. His Cardinals play the NFC West-rival Seahawks twice a season, and in 2013 became the only visiting team in two years to win at Seattle. In 2012, when Arians was interim coach in Indianapolis, his Colts were blown out at New England, 59-24.
Arians said Seattle is “the best there is” when it comes to tackling.
“They play zone, they play seven eyes on the quarterback, and they break on the ball with all that length and speed,” he said.
But in the NFC championship game against Green Bay, he said, “some short passes turned into big gains, and some runs turned into big gains. If they play that style – because [Patriots running back] LeGarrette Blount’s going to be a handful too – if Earl and Sherm aren’t tackling well because of their injuries, then I think the Patriots have a great chance against them.”
“I think the Patriots' running game, they’re going to be real satisfied with three- and four-yard gains, and staying balanced as far as run-pass ratio,” Arians said.
He anticipates the Seahawks willingly giving up yardage underneath to Tom Brady & Co., as long as they do not allow a receiver to slip behind their last line of defense. With Gronkowski, he envisions Thomas covering him if he lines up as a receiver, and either safety Kam Chancellor or linebackers K.J. Wright and/or Bobby Wagner on him as a tight end, or some combination of those three.
“Neither team has a wide receiver that’s going to take the top off and hit a home run unless it’s busted coverage,” he said. “So it’s going to be all the underneath stuff that’s thrown five yards and gains 15, unless somebody makes somebody miss.”
Asked if he thinks the game will be close, Arians said: “I hope so. I think the league needs this Super Bowl. I’m hoping it’s a game that comes down to the last possession, and see if the quarterback, either one, can beat the defense.”