Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has talked this season about the difference between a good running back and a great one, and referred to the ability of a great running back to tack on yards beyond those that his offensive linemen account for with their blocking.
We've seen both Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden do a good job of breaking tackles and collecting additional yardage on their carries, and the Patriots' defense will face a difficult test this weekend in squaring up Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch is known as a powerful, ferocious back who is unafraid to initiate contact, and Belichick described him as one of the best backs in the league at creating his own yardage.
"Absolutely, yes absolutely," he said. "I would say [Seahawks running back] Leon Washington is in that category too as a returner. The number of yards that he gets after contact is very impressive, whether he runs through a tackle or just uses his quickness to make the guy who really should make the tackle miss it. But, yeah, Lynch is outstanding. He's got great feet, good balance, he's a powerful guy and there are times that he does get tackled, but a lot of times it's with three or four extra yards because of his good pad level, and ability to maintain his leg drive through contact. And by the time the defender gets him on the ground, it's an extra two, three yards that Lynch has created on his own. Absolutely, he's one of the best."
Added defensive coordinator Matt Patricia of Lynch, "Seattle, their offense, they obviously have some great players, and Marshawn Lynch is certainly top on that list. [A] very, very tough, hard-nosed runner. He's fast, great agility, this guy is a true challenge for us. He's a phenomenal running back, he'll be a lot of work for us."
While Lynch remains the focal point of the Seahawks' running game (he's currently third in the NFL with 508 rushing yards), Belichick also praised the ability of rookie Robert Turbin, a fourth-round pick out of Utah State.
"But I'll say, they have different styles, but when Turbin is in there, he makes a lot of yards too on contact and avoiding guys too," Belichick said. "If you're not really studying the backs, you're just kind of watching them, I don't want to say you can't tell them apart, but both guys run hard, both guys make yards after contact, both guys are very good runners, and so is Washington, so it doesn't really matter who is in there. All those guys, that's a very good group."
Given the ability of each of the Seahawks' backs to create yardage on their own, Patricia says tackling and a dedication to fundamentals will be pivotal on Sunday.
"We always try to stress the fundamentals every week of the game of football, and certainly when your team plays players like this, and really all of them, Turbin and Washington, they all do a great job in terms of breaking tackles, running hard, and just getting positive yards when they touch the ball," he said. "It's got to be a point of emphasis, again, when you face players like this, the fundamentals are going to be really important to execute. Obviously tackling is at the top of that list.