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Super Bowl XLVIII
Sunday, February 2, 6:30 PM ET – TV: FOX
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Seattle Seahawks (1) 15-3 vs. Denver Broncos (1) 15-3
The 48th Super Bowl presents a first cold weather city outdoor contest for spectators across the globe. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning set single season records for passing yards (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55), helping the Broncos set a single-season record for points scored (606) with a unit that sports an extreme amount of talent at his disposal. Manning has the opportunity to add more accomplishments to his illustrious career, with a chance to become the first quarterback to lead two franchises to a Super Bowl title. But Manning and the Broncos’ high-powered prolific offense will have to do against Seattle’s top-flight defense that’s the most intimidating group, a unit that features a stout pass-rush, ball-hawking linebackers, the best pass-defenders led by arguably the best cornerback in the game, Richard Sherman and two dynamite safeties, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Although Seattle’s defense is highlighted as their forte for success, offensively, their physical approach behind the legs of power-back Marshawn Lynch and second-year quarterback Russell Wilson’s ability to improvise, has also been one of their key-elements en route to making it to Super Sunday. With that being thrown into the pool, it’s time for me to breakdown Denver’s best offense versus Seattle’s best defense, along with other key aspects between both squads in one of the more intriguing matchups on the Gridiron’s ultimate grand-stage.
What Denver needs to do on the ground: Denver can run the ball too. Knowshown Moreno had an impact on Denver’s offense in the regular season, rushing for over 1,000-yards for the time in his five-year career. He also scored 10 times on the ground. Moreno is also a valuable option in the screen-game. He caught 60-passes for 548-yards and had three receiving scores in 2013. Moreno has the ability to grind it between the tackles and bounce to the outside. Rookie Montee Ball has also been an effective part of Denver’s ground-attack. Ball is used in short-yardage situations as the power-back, and converted 93 first-downs. More importantly, he doesn’t cough up the football. Moreno suffered a rib injury that knocked him out of the AFC Championship Game, but the injury doesn’t look like anything serious. His health is an asset to how he holds up against Seattle’s gang-tackling defensive unit. Ball can carry the load, but isn’t at the level of Moreno in terms of helping in pass-protection or as dangerous in the open field, rather running or catching out of the backfield. Neutralizing Seattle’s pass-rush is a must for Denver to keep Peyton Manning upright in the pocket. They’ll need Moreno and Ball to establish the run and place Manning in high-percentage passing downs. Don’t expect open lanes or opportunities outside the tackles. Seattle’s speed and athleticism will likely take that away from you. Both runners need to press up the middle, getting underneath Seattle’s defenders to gain the extra yards. Negating Seattle’s Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane and Clinton McDonald is extremely vital for Denver. Those three on the interior of Seattle’s D-line are essential to getting in Manning’s face and freeing up the outside rush for Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril on passing downs. Denver’s running game needs to be physical with help from their interior lineman, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez getting bench-press pushes off the ball to win in the trenches. Bottom line, Denver needs to be physical at the point of attack on the ground and utilize the screen-game to hide the Cake from Seattle’s “Hungry Boys” upfront.
Denver’s spread alignments vs. Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme: Hands, Seattle’s defensive backs are the best in the business when it comes to pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage. Seattle is fundamentally sound in dividing the field into three deep zones, with Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell locking up the outside receivers and free safety Earl Thomas roaming in center field. Strong safety Kam Chancellor is used near the line of scrimmage like an extra linebacker, and I’m expecting him to be matched up on Denver’s talented tight end Julius Thomas. In this scheme, Seattle forces the outside receivers towards the middle of the field where they have defenders dropping back in the zone defending the underneath routes that funnels everything towards the incredibly instinctive Thomas. Clearly, Seattle’s secondary matches up better than anyone in the NFL against Denver’s exotic offense. The key here for Denver is how they plan to attack the backend of Seattle’s defense with their multidimensional offense within their spread alignments. Receiver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are Manning’s prime targets on the outside, while Wes Welker works out of the slot along with tight end Julius Thomas. They can also throw in receiver Andre Caldwell and tight ends Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green in the mix. Denver uses various ways of spreading defenses out with their prime four targets by moving them around, using some motioning to keep the defense on their heels. It’ll be interesting to see if they move Thomas or Decker in the slot to move Sherman and Maxwell away from the outside, or use trips formations with three receivers away from Sherman on the opposite side. Manning will do everything he needs to get his receivers in position to work effectively away from what the opposition does best. Seattle’s vaunted-defense generally keeps it basic, but defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s unit can make adjustment if Denver flushes all three receivers on one side and lines up tight end Julius Thomas out wide. If Quinn elects his defense to stay in their base, this could help Manning and Denver’s passing game work on receiver-screens to Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, and find weaknesses on Seattle’s strong side. They can do this with keeping Moreno in the backfield by faking the screen and feeding the ball to Moreno on draws, or vice versa by faking the handoff and utilizing the quick-screen. Denver also likes to use the no-huddle that keeps defenses from making substitutions that can halt Seattle from rotating their defensive front and nickel corners. Seattle’s defense doesn’t allow you into the clear and beat them over the top, and what Denver’s talent does in the short passing game after the catch will determine their efficiency on moving the sticks and sustaining drives. Also, Seattle’s linebackers Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith need to help in coverage, particularly when Denver runs shallow crossing-routes, and Walter Thurmond, who will likely be matched up on Welker needs to be stout in coverage and wrap up Welker when he makes the catch. Ultimately, Denver needs to utilize their extreme talent and give Seattle’s backend different looks to help find weak spots in the zone.
Don’t underestimate Seattle’s offense: Seattle’s offense is centralized around grinding it out with Marshawn Lynch, but don’t ignore the fact that Russell Wilson can get the ball downfield. I’m expecting Denver’s defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to have his defense crowd the box on Lynch and send pressure with some blitzes towards the elusive and mobile Wilson. Seattle’s offense has struggled recently, and has had issues protecting Wilson from the rush. Wilson was hurried 82 times, the most of any quarterback during the regular season, and brought to the ground 44 times. You can pin point the injuries and shuffling they made due to them, but how left tackle Russell Okung and the left side of the line performs will be essential for Seattle in negating Denver’s best edge-rushers, Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers, and Terrance Knighton, who has been a force on the interior for Denver upfront. You can’t let Knighton and the beefy part of Denver’s interior line get pressure up the middle and be a force in containing the run or free up the outside rush. Del Rio knows you need to keep Wilson in the pocket and not let him escape and throw on the run. In the NFC Championship game against San Francisco, the 49ers were able to get after Wilson on blitzes from the inside when Seattle used some slide-protections. Denver, like Seattle has been solid against the run and halted New England’s running game and pressed their receivers, limiting Tom Brady from stretching them. Del Rio needs to be careful here and anticipate Wilson when he’s under center on using the bootleg. Denver’s secondary is far more vulnerable without Chris Harris (Achilles), and if they don’t get after Wilson when they pressure him and are in man, Wilson can find escape lanes, finding Lynch leaking out in the flats and use his improvising skills to allow his receivers, all deep-threats, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse to get free deep. Not to mention tight ends Zach Miller and Luke Willson that can get separation, who aren’t statistical eye-catchers, but are better than perceived. What about Percy Harvin? You have to take account of all the dynamics that he brings to the table when he’s healthy. His ability to do so much that can stymie the defense. I wonder if Seattle’s offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has any gadget-plays up his sleeve in utilizing him, but I do expect him to be used on bubble-screens when Wilson is in shotgun. The ideal plan for Bevell will be to neutralize Denver’s interior line, limit linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard from containing Lynch by continuing to be discipline in pounding the rock, and set up the play-action pass for Wilson to connect with his underrated group of receivers against the weak spots of Denver’s secondary.
Don’t exclude Special Teams: Both kickers, Seattle’s Steven Hauschka and Denver’s Matt Prater are reliable. Hauschka has gone 39-of-41, while Prater has gone 30-of-32, including the postseason. The edge goes to Prater here. The difference between both of them is Prater’s ability to nail them from long range. Prater tied for the league-lead, six field goals from at least 50-yards out, and set an NFL record on Dec. 8 against Tennessee by converting a 64-yarder. What about touchbacks? He’s hit twelve straight touchbacks in the postseason, not allowing the oppositions return game from setting their offense up in good field position. So most likely, 99.9-percent of the time, your offense needs to go 80-yards to punch it in the endzone. What about the return game? It’s no secret that Denver’s return-specialist Trindon Holliday is one of the more dangerous players in this aspect of the game, and word out in the street is Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll is planning on giving the return duties to Percy Harvin. When healthy, Harvin has displayed his return skills as an explosive return man, leading the NFL in kick return average in 2011 (32.5-yards) and 2012 (35.9-yards). Big plays out of the special teams in past Super Bowls impacted some outcomes, and both teams have the qualities within their personnel that can make a difference in this matchup.
My Verdict: When I evaluated all 32 NFL teams back in August, the team I picked to win this whole thing was Seattle. Why? They have an intimidating playmaking defense, a solid special teams unit, a consistent power running game, and a quarterback that’s disciplined, with the ability to extend plays and make plays with his feet outside of the pocket. The under minded factor of this matchup is what Seattle’s offense can do to Denver’s defense by shortening the game, controlling the clock, moving the football methodically, consuming time, edging Denver in time of possession, and being patient in developing a favorable matchup downfield on the deep-ball, something Russell Wilson and Seattle’s passing game is capable of doing from establishing the run. Surely, Denver’s offense doesn’t make any negative plays and moves the chains by Manning distributing the football. But if you look at your recent Super Bowl winners, the 07 Giants halting Brady and the Patriots seemingly unstoppable offense in Super Bowl XLII, with a dominant defensive front, the same I see Seattle’s stellar four man rush that can pressure Manning and throw him off his spots, and defense that sends a message, bringing their bone-crushing, aggressive, hard-hitting, opportunistic-tactics to the party. Denver does have some rudeness to their game and are more physical than perceived, but if they’re going to win this game, they need to be more physical than ever and run the football with authority into the heart of Seattle’s defense. I’m not saying that Denver can’t be successful on the ground, but I don’t think they do enough with it. And I think once again, defense proves to be victorious in the “Big Game” before our eyes.
Pick: Seahawks 24, Broncos 20
MVP: Russell Wilson
You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @NFLMassimo and SilverandBlueReport.com @SilverBlueRpt