The NFL’s two best teams meet in Super Bowl XLVIII in a match-up that sees the high-powered offence of the Denver Broncos take on the stingy defence of the Seattle Seahawks.
How significant is this match-up? We have seen the league’s top offence play the top defence in the big game only five times in the Super Bowl era.
The defence won out four of them, lending to the notion ‘defence wins championships’.
The last time the number one offence (Broncos) took on the number one defence (Seahawks) in the Super Bowl was back in 2003, when the Oakland Raiders took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In that match-up it was the number one defence of the Buccs that won out. Of course, neither of those teams had Peyton Manning.
So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at this fantastic match-up and see what’s really going on with these two great teams.
Seattle Seahawks – getting it done on defence
Seattle makes it to the Super Bowl only the second time in team history after narrowly beating the very strong San Francisco 49ers at home 23-17 in the NFC Championship.
In a low scoring affair, the Seahawks came away with the game after forcing a flurry of turnovers from 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, including a game-winning interception in the endzone.
The Seahawks won their two playoff match-ups (they beat the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round) the way they’ve done it all season – via a stingy, stifling defence and a reliable ground attack.
Without question, Seattle’s number one asset is their defence, highlighted by a secondary that includes cornerback Richard Sherman as well as safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
All three are considered elite players at their position, with Sherman arguably the best cornerback in the league today.
Since @RSherman_25 entered the League: • 1st in picks (20) • 1st in passes defensed (61) • Opp QB Rtg when targeted 39.4 (1st) SHUTDOWN.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 20, 2014
Unfortunately they’re without fellow cornerback Brandon Browner, who was suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy earlier in the season.
Despite that loss, the unit has adjusted well.
They’re assisted by a strong defensive line that includes the likes of Cliff Avril, Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Michael Bennett.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks have three of the NFL’s top 15 4-3 defensive ends (Bennett, Avril and Bryant) and two of the NFL’s top 15 defensive tackles (Mebane and Tony McDaniel).
Suffice to say, they’re loaded up front on defence.
All can get to the passer, and – most importantly – all allow the Seahawks to pressure the quarterback without blitzing, freeing up the linebackers and secondary to cover the Broncos’ numerous talented receivers.
The fact the Seahawks can put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing cannot be understated, and it is perhaps the team’s greatest strength.
All this adds up to the number one defence in the NFL (allowing only 273.6 yards per game allowed on average) thanks to a number one ranked pass defence (172 ypg) and number seven ranked rush defence (101.6 ypg).
On offence the Seahawks are just as physical as they are on defence. They love to run the ball, wear out defences, eat up the clock and on occasion come up with the big play.
Concerns of quarterback Russell Wilson’s December slump were unfounded in the postseason, with Wilson deftly distributing the ball, not turning it over and making the odd clutch play in both of his playoff match-ups.
Russell Wilson: 27-9 as starter, tying Ben Roethlisberger for most wins by a QB in his first 2 seasons in the Super Bowl era
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2014
Expect him to once again thrill with his mobility and strong arm, and the second-year quarterback is good for at least one scrambling big play per game.
Make no mistake, the Seahawks are a run-first team (they had the second-most rushing attempts in the league in 2013), and that means running back Marshawn Lynch will likely get more than 20 touches against the Broncos.
The bruiser who loves to invite contact has been especially effective this postseason, managing five yards per carry and three touchdowns on 50 total touches.
Thanks to Lynch, the Seahawks are able to eat up large amounts of clock and open up the play-action pass and some more plays out of the pocket for Wilson.
This will most likely be how the Seahawks will attack the Broncos next Sunday and, assuming their defence can keep the Broncos in check, getting the Beast rolling early will be absolutely vital for Seattle.
Denver Broncos – the high-flying offence
The Denver Broncos have made it to their seventh Super Bowl by closing out another chapter in the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning saga in the AFC Championship game with a 16-26 win over the New England Patriots.
The win saw the Broncos take control early and never let up on the back of a 400-yard, two-touchdown performance from quarterback Peyton Manning.
It was a signature victory for Manning, and one that should finally – we can only hope – put the poor-in-playoffs narrative to rest for the future Hall of Famer.
Just as it has been all season, the Broncos’ greatest asset is Manning and their lethal passing attack.
Statistically he’s been phenomenal, finishing the regular season with 5477 total yards passing (a new record) and 55 total touchdowns (also a new record), with only 10 interceptions.
His offence finished the season averaging 457.3 yards per game and 37.9 points per game (yes, also a record, and 10 points better than the second-best team, the Chicago Bears).
Here's your 3:18 PST stat of the day… When Peyton Manning got inside the opponent's 30 in 2013, he threw 45 TD's and ZERO picks. Amazing.
— Elliot Harrison (@Harrison_NFL) January 23, 2014
Making use of dangerous underneath crossing routes with pick plays (rub routes) – and we mean dangerous! – Manning has picked apart secondaries with incredible ease all season long.
His ability to read and react to what the defence is doing, before and after the snap, coupled with his quick release has resulted in the number one offence in NFL history.
And he made it look easy doing it.
That quick release will be especially significant against the strong Seahawks defensive line.
Of course, he’s presently got the best collection of weapons in his NFL career.
Receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker are all legitimate first-read targets, with both Thomas and Decker managing over 1000 yards receiving this season (1430 and 1288 respectively).
Thomas in particular is having a career year, with 14 touchdowns to go along with 92 catches. He’ll most likely face off against the Seahawks lead cover man in Richard Sherman, and reportedly looks forward to the task.
If he can avoid Sherman’s vicious jam at the line of scrimmage, he could find the separation he needs to make plays.
Regardless of who covers Thomas, the Broncos will find ways to get him open. The aforementioned rub routes will ensure that, and it’s likely we’ll see Thomas utilised in receiver screens often as well.
Adding to the already impressive list of offensive weapons is tight end Julius Thomas, who has broken out this season to the tune of 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns, and running back Knowshon Moreno, who along with his 1038 yards on the ground has another 548 receiving.
If there’s one thing we can say for sure about Manning’s offence, it’s that he knows he has a ton of weapons and knows how to spread the ball around.
On defence the Broncos remain good-but-not-great, and the loss of pass rusher Von Miller undoubtedly hurts them going into this match-up.
Most concerning is their troubled secondary, the loss of cornerback Chris Harris will be felt, leaving it up to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to carry the load.
Working in their favour (especially so against the Seahawks) is their strong rushing defence.
The Broncos severely limited the Patriots rushing attack in the AFC Championship and the San Diego Chargers’ equally potent ground game in the divisional round.
The Broncos limited both teams to a combined 64.5 yard average on the ground.
This was in no small part due to the efforts of nose tackle Terrance Knighton (also known as ‘Pot Roast’) but also due to the impressive outside linebacker Danny Trevathan and veterans such as defensive end Shaun Phillips.
Broncos front office got/stole Terrance Knighton last offseason. 2-years, $4.5M, $500k guaranteed.
— Brian McIntyre (@brian_mcintyre) January 19, 2014
If they can bottle up the Seahawks’ rushing attack, they stand a good chance at taking control of the game.
Let’s not kid ourselves, however, it’s clear this game will be won or lost by the arm of Peyton Manning.
Richard Sherman versus Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas
Can the league’s top cornerback take away one of Manning’s most dangerous weapons? If so, it’ll allow the rest of the secondary to double-team Manning’s remaining receivers.
The 49ers rarely threw in Sherman’s direction in the NFC Championship game, and when they did it resulted in an interception in the endzone.
He’s without question the most talented player on defence.
How Manning and the Broncos choose to attack Sherman – or, alternatively, ignore him – will go a long way to deciding this match-up.
Terrance Knighton versus Marshawn Lynch and Max Unger
The Seahawks will want to run the ball, Knighton will want to stop them. It’s really as simple as that.
The Seahawks love to run the ball over the centre, which means Knighton will be first in line when it comes to the Broncos attempt to limit them.
If centre Unger (who has had a good-but-not-great year) wants to clear a path for Lynch, he’ll need to do it through Knighton.
It’s a match-up worth paying attention to.
The last time the Seahawks made the big game, they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 40.
As for the Broncos, this will be their seventh Super Bowl appearance, and have won just two of their previous six visits.
Peyton Manning has made the Super Bowl twice in his career, and won it once.
Both teams are due for success, and both deserve it.
On paper the Seahawks are the overall more talented team, but the Broncos have the best player in the NFL.
While Seattle have the tools required to beat Manning and the Broncos, the stars have truly aligned for Denver’s future Hall of Famer and he’ll finally capture his second Super Bowl ring.
Forget what they’re saying about the weather, count on Manning’s ability to read and react to whatever the situation.
They say defence wins championships. We’ll likely never see a better test of that philosophy than in Super Bowl 48.