It's not often in the National Football League that the No. 1-ranked offensive team bumps helmets with the No. 1 defensive team. In fact, it hasn't happened in Week 6 or later since Dec. 9, 2007, when the New England Patriots, the best offensive team at that time, defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, the top defensive club. Game wasn't even close, New England rolling 34-13.
The No. 1 offense (New England) and No. 1 defense (Seattle) will meet again Sunday at CenturyLink Field. The Patriots, behind quarterback Tom Brady, lead the NFL in scoring offense at 33.0 points per game, while Seattle's defensive unit is ceding just 10.8 points per game. Seattle has surrendered 70 points to the opposition, but six came on an interception return and two more came via a planned safety.
"They are a top defense in the league for a good reason," said New England coach Bill Belichick. "First of all, they’re very well coached. Pete (Carroll) does a great job, we all know that. They’re strong against the run, taking the ball away a lot, causing a lot of fumbles. They have a real good pass rush, good pass defenders, a lot of good players.
"I’m really impressed with the front; Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane do a great job in the running game. Alan Branch is solid in there, too, as well as Jason Jones, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, and Greg Scruggs. Those guys can all rush the passer.
"The linebackers are fast, Leroy Hill, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, those guys get to a lot of balls, they don’t get blocked very often and they close space in a hurry. They probably have the biggest corners in the league.
"Marcus Trufant is an outstanding player who comes in for them on the nickel. Kam Chancellor is a big physical force in there at safety, and Earl Thomas is probably as good a safety as we've played against. He has great instinct, vision, speed, and ball skills. He’s a real playmaker for them back in the secondary.
"Good, well coached with a lot of good players, good depth at every position, and they’re a real good defensive team. There’s no doubt about it.”
While the Patriots feature the league's best offense so far -- it has scored 79 more points and gained 761 more yards than the Seahawks -- their defense ranks 24th in the league. New England allows 22.2 points per game, more than a touchdown more than Seattle allows.
But with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks don't yet have much of an offense, ranking 25th of 32 teams and 31st in passing. With Marshawn Lynch, the league's No. 3 rusher, Seattle wouldn't have any offense at all.
“Sure the run game is a big part of it, but there is a lot more to it than that," said Belichick. "The Seahawks have a good offensive line, and good depth on the offensive line, they used a number of different players in there. Their backs run hard. Marshawn Lynch is a great back, there is no question about that. He’s as good a back as we’ll face all season.
"Robert Turbin comes in there and does a great job, so there is definitely a big threat there in the run game which kind of opens up everything else in the offense. The play-action pass and the bootlegs have gotten the ball to Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. It hit Tate on a big play action pass against Green Bay for a touchdown. Hit a bunch of passes to Rice, the play action pass, the bootleg, over routes, corner routes, and things like that. They definitely use the tight ends in the passing game as well. Of course Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy are both solid guys."
"The Seahawks run a good complimentary offense, they control the ball. They force you to stop the run, and when you do that, that opens up some other things for them."
Russell Wilson played by far his best game against Carolina last Saturday and Belichick professes respect for what he's accomplished so far.
"He has done a good job on some of the moving pocket plays," said Belichick. "Certainly he’s a threat to run if you don’t contain him, but he’s also a good passer. He’s made a number of plays, particularly on play action. On third down, they spread the field and give you some three open and empty looks. They use the principles of the West Coast passing game, which we all know are fundamentally sound and proven over the years.
"So we have a lot of things to stop. We have the running game, the passing game, the West Coast passing game, their spread empty game, and the running quarterback. They hit you with a lot of different things, and combined with their overall production in the kicking game, which has been outstanding, and defensively they have been outstanding, the whole complimentary game that they play in all three phases, I think is a very good one.”
The Seahawks last played the Patriots in 2008 (lost), have dropped the last two to New England, and haven't beaten the Pats since 1993. Sunday's game will also mark Brady's first start in Seattle.