The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots have many Pro Bowlers and game-changing players on their respective rosters, but the lesser-known role players make Super Bowl XLIX an intriguing matchup. And those “X-factors” could turn out to be the difference in the game.
With so much talent on both sides of the ball, how each coaching staff utilizes their role players on Super Bowl Sunday will be extremely important. And it could prove to be the key deciding factor on the outcome of the final game of the 2014 season.
Here are three players from each team that haven’t been garnering headlines, but seem poised to play a big role in the outcome of Super Bowl XLIX.
Byron Maxwell (cornerback)
The least-known member of the “Legion of Boom,” cornerback Byron Maxwell is still a key part of the Seahawks’ defense because of his length and versatility.
Few defensive backs possess Maxwell’s height (6’1″) and arm length (33.5 inches). And it’s extremely rare for cornerbacks to play on both the outside and in the slot with such size, making him a key piece in Seattle’s defense.
Maxwell’s ability to move inside and outside the formation will allow him to keep Julian Edelman and/or Danny Amendola in check, depending on where they line up. Richard Sherman typically does not move from his left cornerback spot, making Maxwell’s versatility even more valuable.
K.J. Wright (linebacker)
Shutting down the Patriots’ wide receivers is one thing, but limiting Rob Gronkowski is a whole different story.
The Seahawks will likely give safety Kam Chancellor plenty of opportunities to match up against Gronkowski, but linebacker K.J. Wright also figures to cover No. 87 as the team’s best coverage linebacker.
Wright will have to put together his best showing of the year if the Seahawks are going to have a chance at shutting down Gronkowski and the Patriots’ prolific passing attack.
Justin Britt (right tackle)
The Seahawks’ slow start in the NFC title game happened due to a few reasons. One of them was because they were playing without starting right tackle Justin Britt, who was dealing with a sore knee.
However, with Pete Carroll recently saying Britt should be available for the Super Bowl, the Seahawks will get a much-needed boost to their offensive line. His replacement, Alvin Bailey, did not grade out well in the team’s game against the Packers. He yielded a sack, a hurry and a hit on Russell Wilson.
While Britt—a second-round pick in the 2014 draft—has been mediocre during his rookie season, his presence was clearly missed in the NFC title game. Getting him back to help protect Wilson from Chandler Jones and other pass-rushers will be vital if the team wants to start the game in a rhythm—rather than how they performed in the first half against the Packers.
New England Patriots
Logan Ryan (cornerback)
There are plenty of big-name players in the Patriots’ secondary, but attempting to stop the Seahawks’ run-heavy offense will put particular emphasis on slot cornerback (and occasional safety) Logan Ryan.
The most underrated trait of a slot cornerback is tackling ability, and Marshawn Lynch is as tough as it gets to wrap up and bring down. Ryan, however, is one of the better run defenders on the team, outranking all other cornerbacks in this area (according to Pro Football Focus).
When the Seahawks attempt to run out of three and even four-wide-receiver sets, Ryan’s role will change and he’ll essentially become a linebacker. If he doesn’t perform well when this happens, the Patriots could be in for a long night on defense.
Jamie Collins (linebacker)
Perhaps the most versatile defender in the NFL right now, the Patriots have plenty of options regarding exactly where Jamie Collins can line up.
For as much help as they will need defending against Lynch and keeping the running game at bay, Collins—a spectacular coverage linebacker—can also line up against tight end Tony Moeaki to take away Russell Wilson’s security blanket.
What makes Collins such a versatile and dangerous player is that as good as he is in coverage, he can be left on the field for first and second downs to rush the passer or stop the run—just as any conventional linebacker would.
Attempting to identify where Collins will line up in any given situation will likely give the Seahawks fits before the ball is even snapped.
Tim Wright (tight end)
Tim Wright has cooled off since scoring six touchdowns in five weeks midway through the regular season, but he seems poised to make an impact in Super Bowl XLIX.
Acquired in the Logan Mankins trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wright is a red-zone specialist in every sense of the word. He’s too small to be an every-down tight end, but is not quick or athletic enough to line up as a wide receiver. Wright’s physical makeup makes him difficult to cover in the red zone, as opposing teams often struggle to decide if they should cover him with a linebacker or defensive back. This creates confusion in the defensive backfield.
Wright’s number has not been called many times this season. But he’s risen to the occasion when called upon. Six of his 26 receptions in 2014 went for touchdowns. After keeping him on the sidelines for most of the season, it would be quite “Belichickian” to make Wright an integral part of the game plan—especially since there isn’t much of a scouting report or film to watch on how the Patriots would plan on using him.