Early thoughts on the Super Bowl & Senior Bowl notes

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I slept for two hours last night. Maybe two and a half.

It was gone 6:30am when I eventually crawled into bed. I woke up with a headache and a sore throat to the news Denver had been installed as Super Bowl favourites by Vegas.

It’s irrelevant to the outcome of the game, but I’m a little confused how they came to that conclusion unless they just believe Manning is destined to have a game for the ages.

Seattle’s tougher road to NY-NJ

The AFC West produced three playoff teams, but that’s more a review of the AFC in general.

Kansas City always looked like a paper tiger and were one-and-done in the playoffs. San Diego upset imploding Cincinnati before succumbing to Manning and co last week. The Raiders continue to flounder.

Using Football Outsiders’ week 17 DVOA rankings, Seattle had six games against top-10 opponents — Carolina (#3), New Orleans (#4), San Francisco x2 (#6) and Arizona x2 (#10).

Seattle’s record was 4-2 in those games and 9-1 in the rest (with the other defeat against #13 Indianapolis).

The Broncos had just three games against the top-10 — New England (#5) and Kansas City x2 (#7).

They went 2-1 here (both wins vs the Chiefs) and 11-2 in the others.

Denver’s divisional games were also much less intense. The two games against the Chiefs were relative shoot-outs. The two games against the Raiders were blow outs. San Diego provided real competition and split the series 1-1.

Seattle had to earn every yard against the 49ers, Cardinals and Rams.

There’s little doubt the NFC West is the toughest division in football. It’s certainly tougher than the AFC West.

Both teams ended the year at 13-3. I’m not convinced the Broncos would’ve matched that with Seattle’s schedule.

Denver’s also been given favourable match-ups in the playoffs. They got a 9-7 team in the divisional round at home and then a depleted New England in the AFC Championship.

Of course, you still have to win those games. They only have to look back to last year to see how tough it can be to win in the playoffs.

But nobody can compares Denver’s route to the Super Bowl to Seattle’s. Drew Brees and the Saints (#4 DVOA) followed by another meeting with fierce division rival San Francisco and the hottest team in the NFL.

That’s as tough as it gets in the post season, even at home.

Seattle’s defense vs Denver’s offense

It’s hard not to admire Peyton Manning.

He may look eternally unsatisfied, kind of like a single male Tyrannosaur Rex. Yet there’s definitely a ‘man’s man’ side to his personality, as evidenced by his penchant for a cold one after beating San Diego in the divisional round.

His record breaking season has been a triumph, no matter the opponent.

If Denver weren’t playing the Seahawks in the finale, I’d be rooting for Manning and his team.

The guy works his ass off. Every bit of success has been earned.

And as the tears poured as his departure from Indianapolis was confirmed — he instantly seemed human again amid an avalanche of endorsements and sidelines scowls.

If he’s given time in the pocket in the Super Bowl, he’ll dissect the Seahawks.

Heck, he’ll dissect anyone in that situation.

What’s more, he has without doubt the richest bevvy of targets to throw to. It’s a loaded passing attack, designed to suffocate and dominate.

But has he played a defense like Seattle’s yet?

Not even close.

Look at this graph courtesy of ESPN:

When it comes to yards and points per game, Seattle is on another level compared to the rest of the NFL.

Now if you look at the offensive version of that graph, it’s a similar story for the Denver offense. They’re a mile ahead of everyone else too.

Yet theoretically the two units should offset each other and produce a middle ground. It’s unrealistic to expect either to dominate and there’s probably a medium yards/points the Broncos can realistically attain.

It’ll be up to the Seahawks to exploit the advantage they’ll have on offense against the Broncos defense (according to DVOA it’s the #7 offense vs the #15 defense).

More on that later…

Denver will have a job on protecting Manning the way they’ve done the last two weeks against tepid pass rush units.

They’re missing left tackle Ryan Clady and while it hasn’t hurt them too much so far, this is a very different challenge.

Combine that with the depth Seattle has in the secondary and the Seahawks have a real chance. If Manning needs a little more time to fire those short passes, you’re going to see pressure.

He’s not going to evade sacks like Colin Kapernick. He won’t be able to miss defenders like Drew Brees either. Manning is the ultimate statue.

That’s not to say they have any chance of shutting down the Broncos. They won’t. They’re too good to not have some productive drives and score some points. And this will have to be very ‘bend but don’t break’ rather than total domination.

But the Broncos might need 25+ points to beat the #1 scoring defense in the NFL. Only one team managed that against the Seahawks this year — Indianapolis — and they needed a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and some Andrew Luck magic (yes — as a scrambler) to get there.

What is going to be crucial here is how Seattle plays the run. At times they’ve looked very good. Ask Frank Gore about it last night. Or the Rams in week 17.

Frustratingly they’ve also been gashed by the run too — weeks 8 & 9 against St. Louis and Tampa Bay were particularly difficult. Likewise the surprise week 16 loss to Arizona.

If the Seahawks can shut down a pretty average pair of running backs (Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball) and force Manning to keep throwing — they can go a long way towards winning this game.

If the Broncos find a way to run on Seattle — and it’s proven to be possible — this will make life much easier for Manning. Balance is key and it’ll give Denver their best chance to put up the points they need to win.

Seattle’s offense vs Denver’s defense

Too many people are going to argue Seattle won’t win this game because they can’t keep up with Manning.

Frankly, that is a pathetic angle.

Nothing about this defense will scare the Seahawks. There’s no Von Miller. The secondary is full of holes. Robert Ayers and Terrance Knighton aren’t going to keep you up at night.

The Broncos have the #15 defense according to DVOA. This isn’t Arizona, San Francisco or St. Louis. This isn’t even the New York Giants’ unit (ranked #6 by DVOA).

In fact this is the worst defense Seattle has faced since Minnesota in week 11.

Really, the Seahawks shouldn’t have too much trouble establishing what they want to do — run the ball and use play action. Wilson can afford to take shots against this secondary and Percy Harvin’s return will add a few extra wrinkles.

The Seahawks had the #7 offense according to Football Outsiders despite playing some of the fiercest defenses in the league.

Only bad execution and mistakes will stop the offense having success on the day.

It’s as simple as that.

I just can’t see the Broncos finding a way to shut down Marshawn Lynch and make Wilson jumpy in the pocket. I could be wrong, but this looks like a strong match-up for the Seahawks.

If Seattle’s #1 defense and Denver’s #1 offense do cancel each other out, there’s a fantastic chance for the Seahawks to win their first Championship.

Ignoring the noise

This could be Seattle’s biggest obstacle.

Are they ready to deal with the pressure of such a huge stage?

Rest assured Manning’s veins will be as cold as that Bud Light he drank last week. He’s been here before. He knows what it’s about.

Seattle doesn’t have anyone like that. This will all be new.

And while so far they’ve consistently delivered in the big games, this is a whole different situation.

They’re going to have the media all over for them next week. The world will be watching.

Staying in the zone and remaining focused will be crucial.

The one big advantage Denver has is its experience.

Seattle’s players need to treat the biggest game of their lives like just another day.

Good luck with that.

Senior Bowl notes

Oh yeah, errrr… the Senior Bowl is happening too.

Who knew?

I’m going to dip into this as much I can without access to the practises. Last year the Draft Breakdown guys (I think?) put some of the drills on Youtube so let’s hope for the same again.

I’d recommend Tony Pauline’s coverage at Draftinsider.net and he’s in Mobile this week.

Here are a few short notes so far:

– Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis, listed at 6-2 by Wisconsin, measured under 6-1.

– Jordan Matthews has big 10.5 inch hands but hasn’t had a great start according to Pauline:

Matthews was also listed under 6-3 (6-2 and 1/2). For me, he’s very much a second or third round pick and a pure #2 NFL receiver.

– Notre Dame’s talented left tackle Zack Martin only has 32 and 1/4 inch arms. It’s guard o’clock for him.

– Keep an eye on Fresno State tight end Marcel Jensen. Big hands, long reach and he flashed at times for the Bulldogs in 2013. Intriguing player.

– Reports suggest Will Sutton looked heavy at 6-0 and 315lbs. It’ll be interesting to see how he tests in the drills.

– Virginia’s Brent Urban is 6-6, 298lbs with nearly 34-inch arms. He’s one player every Seahawks fans should be monitoring.

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  1. MJ

    I was happy to see Michael Sam and Chris Smith measure in with long arms. Really intriguing LEO options IMO.

  2. Tomahawk

    Thanks Rob. Just finished following the link on this site to get my Hawks Super Bowl shirt. Wish there was more we could to show our gratitude for this site. This blog has become a cool part of several lives over the years. Super Bowl here we come!

    • Cysco

      no doubt. A simple “dontate” link for pay pal donations would be nice.

      • Jordan

        seriously, I would donate in a heartbeat

  3. CC

    Thanks again Rob! The headline from the NY Post – Manning vs The Mouth! They already have the story line – EVERYONE wants Peyton to win his second SB and it will all set up for that to happen. They will make bad calls against us, and non calls – they expect the Seahawks to lose! The good news is – if we lose, that is what they all thought would happen – but if they win, well, trust me, we won’t get any credit. The golden child Peyton Manning vs the villainous Richard Sherman.

    I really wanted to make it to the Super Bowl – to beat SF in the process, ideal. This is the icing on the cake. Now, of course, I want the Seahawks to win, I think they can win, in fact, I think they should win – but I am not stressed. Unlike this past week, I’m going to enjoy it!

    Thank you also for the WR senior bowl thoughts – the field is deep and if somehow we have the last pick in the first round, I’m sure whomever is chosen is a good pick!

    Super Bowl baby!!

  4. Norm M

    Rob, First off, thanks for your work. It still amazes me how you can pull off a blog like this. Regarding the Super Bowl…. I can see this as game where Seattle breaks out the run option. Wilson has been bottled up the last few games due to good game planning by some of the best defenses in the league but it has almost felt like they have been saving the option for just this game. Kind of like the Chicago game last year. With the added “wrinkle” of Percy Harvin in the mix and Denver’s defense having to fully committing to slow down Lynch, I can see Wilson having more opportunities to pick up first downs with his legs. I also see the added bonus of having a full two weeks off to benefit Seattle more than Denver. With fresh legs, Lynch will only be better against Denver’s run defense.

    • Rob Staton

      That is a great call. I can totally see the read option being back on the table in this one.

  5. rrsquid

    Strange (and nice) to not be deep into draft analysis at this point. It will be a whirlwind two weeks and then we’ll have a lot of things to talk about.

    One thing I’ve been wondering, what trade value to you think Sherman will have? I’m OK with his post-game antics, it is what he is. If we don’t know that by now, it’s our own fault. I just don’t see how we can pay him if he asks for a Revis-like $16 million/year. Recovering from an injury he got a #13 overall and a future 3rd(?) round. Cleveland has cap room, but #4 overall seems a little high. Sherman is in his prime, maybe not. Maybe a #4/#32 swap and a 3rd rounder from Cleveland. Just one crazy though I’ve had recently.

    • Rob Staton

      The Revis trade sets the trade market for elite corners so that would be the bench mark. However, I think it’s as certain as night turning into day that Sherman receives a new contract this off season. Whatever else happens, Sherman, Thomas and Wilson will get big new deals.

      • Michael M.

        Here here!

        • Ed

          Cheers to that!

  6. AlaskaHawk

    I just rewatched the SF/SEA game and I am feeling even more satisfied than the first time. Overall impression – we have a tough team, both offensively and defensively. I think we will wear Denver out and take over the game in the second half, just like we did to SF.

    Second impression- Russell Wilson had a couple bone head plays, but overall he had a good game against a really good defense, and no interceptions. I like what he did and feel confident that RW and Marshawn Lynch will bring that trophy home.

    Third impression- We got a lot of great defensive players. Should be fun watching them go for interceptions.

    Love your blog Rob

  7. Mylegacy

    Rob – Ive a SERIOUS question: Fact one: Manning is (as you say) a statue. Fact two: Despite this he has passed for an otherworldly amount of yards and points. Fact three: His offensive line HAS TO be exceptional or Fact’s one and two couldn’t exist….so… my question Rob is:

    “Just how good is that teams OLine? Statistically speaking is it anywhere nearly as exceptional an OLine as Seattle’s defense is exceptional?

    • Steeeve

      My understanding is that Manning gets his ball out quicker than any other QB in the league, so their OL doesn’t need to protect as long as most.

      Does anyone out there who knows Manning’s game better than me know how Manning does if his receivers get jammed at the line? I’d imagine his routes are timing routes if he’s getting his ball out quickly, and our DBs disrupt a lot of those. Could that be a key?

      • Rob Staton

        That can be a huge factor.

    • Rob Staton

      For starters I don’t think they’ve played a great defense yet. And when teams have pressured Manning (eg their defeat at home to San Diego) he’s not looked quite as sharp. You’re going to set records when as a quarterback you’re afforded the opportunity by your coaching staff to throw seven touchdowns, some in garbage time, against a pathetic defense.

      Do they have a great offensive line? No. At least not on the edge without Ryan Clady. They make up for this — as a lot of good teams do — by having an assortment of weapons. If you’re a QB like Manning who can snap and throw in a flash and you’ve got Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas to throw to, then you’re going to have a lot of success. The offensive line has done a good job don’t get me wrong, but we also have to take into account teams are scared to death of blitzing Peyton. So there’s a combination of factors really, it’s not an exceptional offensive line.

      • Barry

        You should have heard me trying to explain this very thing today to my co-workers, who are mostly Denver fans. I few grasped it while others though three playoff teams means better division. I told them yes…. with a smile.

  8. Colin

    I think this team has to very seriously consider letting Golden Tate walk. He’s a great special teams guy, but his value as a WR is pretty limited, and it’s clear Russell trusts Doug Baldwin more than he does Golden. I’m not sure we want to spend a bunch of money on a guy whose production is so spotty.

    It’s clear we need to make some upgrades on offense, mainly at WR/TE. I felt like we left too many plays on the field yesterday- that can’t happen in 2 weeks. The offense is going to have to step it up a notch, but Percy can provide a pretty major spark.

    • Barry

      I wonder the same thing Colin. But it seems like Tates confidence has really waned the last few weeks.

      • Colin

        I think the ‘confidence’ argument is overstated. We have no idea what his confidence is or isn’t- the talking heads are spewing that babble about Russell Wilson and it’s annoying because it’s a lazy way to analyze the Hawks struggles on offense.

        • Barry

          That very well could be. But when I stated anything relating to confidence it was just from what I’ve come to know of Tate from observing him. Could be way off but just a observation.

          • AlaskaHawk

            I like Baldwin a lot, and he did have high yardage on the Seahawks his rookie year. But then Tate had a great year last year. I think a lot of their production depends on who is guarding them. For that reason we really need both players. Hopefully one of the two will uncover and catch the ball. I also think they should both be paid equally, I say fooo to the talk of cheaping out on Baldwins contract. He is a valuable player, at least equal in value as Tate.

  9. jeff

    Seahawks actually opened as 1 pt favorites but all the money is going to Denver moving the line 3.5 points in less than a day.
    Vegas doesn’t set lines based on what they think will happen, the set them based on evening the action out. The public is betting on offense and Manning so Vegas has to make Seattle a value bet to even the bets out.

    • Barry

      I saw that. A buddy of mine is pretty solid into the Vegas numbers and keeps me updated. I told him this morning if the line hit three I might have to break one of my rules and bet on my team lol

  10. Stuart

    I just placed a $500 bet on the Seahawks getting 2.5 points. Not only will the Seahawks beat Denver, they are getting points too. The national media and talking heads really have no clue how good this Seahawk team is, Las Vegas does though.

    Denver is an excellent team but could they even beat the Saints on a neutral field? IMHO, the winner of Seattle/SF was going to win the Super Bowl. Robs points are excellent about the level of competition Denver has played compared to Seattle.

    The Seahawks are really coming on in the playoffs. Remember how good PC’s USC team’s were in bowl games? Somebody help me here, something like 7-2? , and 2 National Championships.

    Our Defense is historically good and our offenses is lead by young phenom Russell Wilson. After we win the Super Bowl, the entire nation will finally understand what we in Seattle already know.

    Yes, just like you, we have been drinking the same cool-aid since the Atlanta loss.

    Go Hawks!

    • AlaskaHawk

      I like that spread. 3.5 would be even better.

  11. Darnell

    Urban is a sub 5.0 40 away from really blowing up. All reports suggest he could test really well at the combine. Not JJ Watt, but a better prospect than Margus Hunt.

    • Rob Staton

      He’s a very exciting player and someone we must monitor for the Seahawks.

  12. Spireite Seahawk

    I do have access to NFL network and from the Senior Bowl practice I saw it was Robert Herron who caught the eye.

  13. adog

    I would expect more of the picks we saw them use against the Patriots. I’m sure the Broncos will dink and dunk and that in a essence will be their running game. The TE Thomas is one guy i think the Seahawks have to shut down. He will be a key player in the Denver offensive game plan.

    • CC

      I agree with you – if PM is going to pass quick, you have to push the receivers off of their line before they get to the pick. If you succeed, you throw off the timing which could give the pass rush a chance to get to PM. Excited to see how our D plays against a very good offense.

  14. Mylegacy

    ADOG: Your comment about the “picks we saw them use against the Patriots” is interesting – I just saw Fox’s (Bronco’s head coach) press conference – he was specifically asked about the way his team uses “picks” – the questioner even said it seems some receivers are “not even trying to run a route” – Fox grinned, said “I doubt they’re not trying to run a route” grinned again and took a drink of water from the cup he was holding. Interesting.

    However, it’s hard to run a pick when at least one receiver on each side can’t even get off the line of scrimmage. How can Manning make a quick throw to a guy who’s open because of a pick when some of his receivers are on their butts and the others are having their jock straps taken off by our corners. Takes two to make a pick – hard to do with Maxwell and Sherman jamming down your throat.

    Gonna’ be a hot time in Rutherford early February.

    • adog

      I would expect the Broncos run bunch formations…and i mean a lot of them. We’ve saw teams do this against the Seahawks Secondary at times this year. The Broncos have the “right” type of players to be successful with these bunch formations. To counter this…i would think that Seahawks have an audible to go into a man zone. Either way, from a bunch formation, it is hard to stop a well executed pick play(from a secondary point of view). A pass rush will end this gimmick in short time.

  15. House

    The Unstoppable Force vs. The Immovable Object… #1 Offense vs. #1 Defense… David (Russ) vs. Goliath (Peyton)… On paper/on the field, it doesn’t get much better than this.

    Here are 12 questions I have going into the game:
    1. We’re probably not going to keep DEN TD-less, but can DEN win if they have to kick FGs?
    2. Will Peyton attempt to throw a fade route against Sherm?
    3. Can DEN’s Defense stop BEASTMODE?
    4. How big of an impact will Percy Harvin make?
    5. Are Bennett/Avril going to make life for Peyton miserable?
    6. Will the weather have an impact on this game?
    7. Which WR shows up big for us?
    8. Does Wilson show up big?
    9. Can DEN’s WR handle our Press coverage?
    10. Who wins the Turnover margin?
    11. Does Peyton get his 2nd, or does Russell get his 1st?
    12. Who is ready for an epic game?

  16. RJA

    Given that Martin is looking like a guard would you still put a first round grade on him?

    • Rob Staton

      Yep. Terrific football player. And while most will now see him as a guard, it’s worth noting some teams aren’t out off by short arms. The Falcons drafted Sam Baker in round one in 2006 to play left tackle and he had the same issue.

      • Madmark

        I think Zack martin would be a great acquisition to this team, taking Paul McQuistan place is he doesn’t actually take a starting spot at LG or ROT. It really depends on what we can do with Breno who I’m thinking is the emotional guy on this line.

      • MJ

        I gotta say…it really worries me drafting a non-LT in round 1. Even if they don’t play LT, I hope they have the ability to do so.

        I really, really believe that if a non-LT is drafted in R1, anything less than a Pro Bowl talent is a waste. Kinda like drafting a non-pass rushing LB. They better be the premiere at their position and soon.

  17. Ralphy

    About the spread. There are limits early on to how big you can bet. Because of this there are mostly amateurs betting and they typically like offense. The line opened with the Seahawks as favorites and the amateurs pushed it the other direction. I would expect for it to move back towards the Hawks as we get closer to the game but two and under is basically even for betting.

  18. Stuart

    Exciting times in everyway

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