Denver offense vs Seattle defense
It wouldn’t surprise me if Peyton Manning didn’t attempt a pass beyond 15 yards on Sunday.
Not because of the weather or any physical limitations with his 37-year-old body.
Simply put, it makes little sense to attack Seattle downfield.
They love to play physical at the line, but they’re also adept in covering deep. Manning isn’t going to zip passes over the top of this defense.
Not a chance and he’ll know that.
Long developing routes won’t be his friend either. Denver’s much vaunted pass protection is a product of Manning’s quick release. Without Ryan Clady watching his blind side, he can’t afford to be sitting in the pocket waiting on a downfield target.
The way to exploit this defense will be underneath throws and finding ways to set up the run. It’s a pretty safe bet to imagine this could be Denver’s game plan.
I think Demaryius Thomas will actually have a quiet game unless they get creative and move him around. It makes sense to have him run downfield taking away one of the corners. That will open up the underneath coverage and allow space for the crossing routes.
If they have Thomas and Eric Decker coming up against Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman, they’ll probably both be used as a decoys. I expect Wes Welker to get a lot of targets over the middle on shorter routes, plus the two tight ends.
In fact I wouldn’t be shocked if Thomas and Decker are non-factors. At the end of the day, are you going to challenge Sherman and Maxwell with Manning’s arm — or do you fancy your chances throwing against Seattle’s linebackers and Kam Chancellor underneath?
This will be about YAC and chipping away at the defense. Slow burning, patient and methodical drives.
Denver has the players to dominate even with a fairly conservative game plan.
Manning doesn’t care who he passes to. He’s going to snap and throw — get it out there and let the playmakers do the work. Some of those lesser known receivers and tight ends are going to get plenty of looks. Don’t be surprised if an Andre Caldwell, Jacob Tamme or Joel Dreessen ends up having a big day with a touchdown or two.
There’s not really much Seattle can do about this. Field goals will have to be considered victories. It’ll be very difficult to win the field position battle because Manning’s going to get to midfield consistently, even if a drive eventually stalls.
As for the running game — I think they’ll mix it in once they’ve got the passing game into a rhythm. If Manning gets into his stride early on the Seahawks should be concerned. It’ll really open up the run from the shotgun and Knowshon Moreno could have a field day on just a handful of calculated carries.
Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to stop a Manning offense running the ball once he’s established the passing game. It can be frighteningly potent.
Expect to see some screens too — but Seattle has done a fantastic job taking these away this season.
At the end of the day you can’t stop this unit scoring points and building drives.
They’re just too good.
The question is, can you limit them to enough points that your offense has a chance to win you the game?
Key players: Peyton Manning (obviously), Jacob Tamme (TE), Julius Thomas (TE), Joel Dreessen (TE), Wes Welker (WR), Knowshon Moreno (RB)
Seattle defense vs Denver offense
This is about damage limitation.
However good this defense is — and it’s one of the best ever — you’re going to give up yards and points to Peyton Manning.
Unlike his brother, he won’t sit in the pocket absorbing pressure before throwing a few ducks to be intercepted.
He’ll snap and throw, challenge the linebackers in coverage and find ways to eat away.
Field goals are not a bad thing. I don’t expect Manning to turn the ball over more than once.
This is going to be about disciplined, containment football and good tackling.
If Manning does attack underneath, make a tackle. When you get into those 3rd and short situations, run around and force an incompletion.
San Diego beat Denver in week 15 by putting a lid on the passing game — and in the process taking away the run.
If you can limit the damage, they’ll get no rhythm. Moreno ran for 19 yards on eight carries against the Chargers because Manning spent most of the game searching for his mojo.
Andre Caldwell and Montee Ball were Denver’s two leading receivers on the night.
If you can take away the big playmakers (Seattle has a shot with Sherman/Maxwell/Thurmond) and force Manning underneath and to his secondary targets — you can frustrate this offense.
San Diego held the Broncos to 20 points and scored 27 to win.
That will be the blue print for Seattle — and they’re capable of scoring more than 27.
A lot of people expect Seattle’s big-time edge rushers to dominate against a sloth-like Manning.
Unfortunately I can’t see the edge guys having much impact just because of the quick release. Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons will struggle to create pressure, let alone sack the quarterback. Michael Bennett has spent a lot of time outside recently and will probably suffer a similar fate.
We might even see some three-man rushes to put an extra body in coverage.
Instead this is a game for the interior lineman.
If Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane and Clinton McDonald win at the snap, they are the ones who can collapse the pocket and force pressure. This is absolutely crucial and the only way to stop Manning getting into the zone.
The balls going to be out before the edge guys can have an impact. The interior pass rushers have to win and get into Manning’s eye line.
They also have to be disciplined enough when Manning audibles into a run play — especially if he finds a rhythm early. They can’t press and lose their shape. They have to remain organised and avoid trying to do too much.
Those three players are pretty much the key to Seattle’s defense on Sunday.
McDaniel, Mebane and McDonald.
Plus Bennett when he lines up inside.
In fact it might be worth using Bennett predominantly from the interior to max out his impact.
The linebackers will have to play the best games of their short careers. This is a huge challenge for Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith.
They’re going to be challenged to tackle well and cover the best they can.
Walter Thurmond as the slot receiver is going to need to be at his sharpest to keep an eye on Wes Welker.
Essentially you can’t stop Welker getting a step and making a catch — but you can make it a 3-5 yard reception instead of a 15-20 YAC effort.
For all his attention this week I expect Sherman to spend most of his day running downfield with either Thomas or Decker on a decoy. I doubt Manning challenges him even once.
I don’t think the cornerbacks will rotate. Sherman will stick to the left and cover whoever is outside — I doubt he sticks with Thomas. They seem to trust Maxwell a lot.
The motto essentially needs to be field goals instead of touchdowns to give the offense a chance to win the game.
Play smart, tackle well and rush the interior.
Key players: Tony McDaniel (DT), Brandon Mebane (DT), Clinton McDonald (DT), Bobby Wagner (LB), K.J. Wright (LB), Walter Thurmond (CB)
Denver defense vs Seattle offense
I fully expect the Broncos to focus on stopping Marshawn Lynch.
It’s a no-brainer really.
Denver’s passing defense, at least from a personnel stand point, isn’t a strength. Not with their current injuries.
No Von Miller. No Derek Wolfe. No Chris Harris.
Their best way to challenge Russell Wilson is by taking away the run and forcing Seattle to pass.
The Seahawks have been dreadful on third downs recently. Putting them in lots of 3rd and +5 situations will be a real test.
They have to stack the box and try to stop Lynch. Objective number one.
The only problem is — Wilson has shown he can beat a superior defense using this game plan.
New Orleans in week 13 completely sold out to stop the run.
Lynch had 45 yards on the night — Wilson ran for 47 and passed for 310 more.
If Seattle wins this game, I could see a similar stat line for both.
But really, this is what Denver has to do. They have to try and stop the run, score regularly on offense and force the pass.
Wilson’s threat as a runner will be a concern, however.
In the AFC Championship game the Broncos defensive front consistently broke contain against Tom Brady.
They won’t get away with it against a much more mobile quarterback. There’s easy running yards to be had there.
If the Seahawks use the read option, Danny Trevathan might keep an eye on any QB keepers. This is another big area where the Broncos have to be ready.
During the 2013 season the only mobile quarterbacks they faced were Terrelle Pryor, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick.
Pryor isn’t good enough, RGIII was mid-meltdown and Vick was on the brink of losing his job to Nick Foles.
Wilson is a much greater challenge — and the Broncos might be a little unprepared for a player who moves as well as Seattle’s quarterback.
I’ll be stunned if the Seahawks doesn’t utilise the read-option much more than they have in recent weeks.
It’s not just the running of Wilson either. How do Denver keep a check on Percy Harvin?
Last time he played the Broncos he had eight catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Admittedly this was pre-Manning in 2011 — although Manning won’t be playing defense on Sunday either.
Denver struggled to contain Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster — he managed ten catches for 96 yards in two meetings during 2013.
When the Patriots beat the Broncos in the regular season, Julian Edelman had nine grabs for 110 yards and two scores.
They’ve struggled to cover smaller, quicker receivers. And neither Edelman or McCluster get close to Harvin’s explosive potential.
Jack Del Rio may well make stopping Lynch his priority. Finding a way to stop Harvin will be problem #2.
The national media have taken to Denver’s defense but this is a group missing its best pass rusher, best corner and a top interior lineman. It’s a team that had issues at safety anyway and is devoid of any real stars.
Even a guy like Terrance Knighton — I’m not sure you’d swap him for Seattle’s Mebane the way he’s been playing this year.
The Seahawks offense should have success here against what looks like a pretty overrated group.
For those who want to argue otherwise. Look at Denver’s key players on defense.
Then compare them to Lynch, Wilson, Harvin, Tate, Baldwin etc…
Key players: Terrance Knighton (DT), Sylvester Williams (DT), Danny Trevathan (LB)
Seattle’s offense vs Denver’s defense
The Super Bowl narrative is Seattle’s offense is mediocre and won’t be able to keep up with Manning.
A lot of people are missing the point.
Manning has to contend against the #1 defense in the NFL.
Seattle is coming up against the worst defense they’ve faced since week 11 (Minnesota).
In a point scoring exercise against identical defenses, Denver would come out on top.
But they aren’t facing identical defenses in the Super Bowl.
Let’s look at the DVOA marks for all four units:
Denver’s offense (#1) vs Seattle’s defense (#1)
Seattle’s offense (#7) vs Denver’s defense (#15)
There’s a clear advantage to Seattle’s offense there.
The kind of advantage Denver cannot expect against the NFL’s top defense.
My prediction is the Broncos will have success against Lynch and the running game because they’ll sell out to stop it.
But Wilson will also be able to run for 45-60 yards and will make a few big plays in the passing game too.
Harvin’s return is a huge positive. I hope Seattle works to protect him — avoiding throwing downfield too often where he becomes a big-hit target and instead using him as a YAC threat.
I think we’ll see sweeps, designed runs and some quick screens and throws into the flat. Anything to get the ball in his hands quickly so he’s running at defenders.
The receivers should have success competing against this secondary. Zach Miller might act mostly as a luxury extra blocker and a safety valve.
I’m expecting Luke Willson to make his customary early play on offense. Why break with tradition?
Overall this unit will make plays, just like they have all year. And if Denver can’t stop the run, it could be a very fruitful and balanced day for this offense.
It’s absolutely vital they have a good day on third down. This has been an area of struggle for the Seahawks — even against San Francisco they were only 5/14.
They also have to improve in the red zone. This has been a surprising issue this season.
Wilson is the key and could be in line to complete his legacy with a MVP performance. Even if Terrance Knighton collapses the pocket — without Von Miller there’s very little edge speed to stop him moving around and making plays downfield.
This is the type of opponent, like Atlanta, where Wilson can be at his creative best.
He’s struggled mostly when teams like the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers can bring constant pressure from both sides with a four or five man rush. He gets flustered, doesn’t know whether to escape or sit and usually gets sacked.
Here it’s unlikely he’ll face much edge pressure and if the interior has an impact, he can just scramble away from danger.
For me the stars are aligning for Wilson to have a big day.
Yet ultimately the Seahawks have a lot of good players on offense. I’m not sure many people realise how highly the offense ranked in DVOA.
They’ll surprise a few people on Sunday.
Key players: Russell Wilson (QB), Percy Harvin (WR), Doug Baldwin (WR), Golden Tate (WR), Jermaine Kearse (WR)