With so much talk revolving around Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense as well as Richard Sherman and the Seahawks’ defense, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that there are two other units that will play a huge part in Sunday’s Super Bowl. The Broncos feature a defense that’s stout up front but tends to allow big plays down the field while the Seahawks come in featuring a defense that doesn’t really let anything go freely.
An old expression in the NFL used to be, “defense wins championships,” but that statement no longer carries that ramifications it did at one time. In the past decade, offensive teams have dominated the list of Super Bowl champions. That’s not to say those teams’ defenses had no part in the outcome, but it was offense that got many recent champions to the show.
In recent seasons, the old adage, “run the ball and stop the run” has been replaced by, “throw the ball and stop the pass.” Interestingly enough, neither conference champion this season is perfect on both counts.
The Broncos throw the ball better than any other team in the NFL, and much of the credit for that has to go to Denver’s elite group of receivers. Obviously, Manning is the trigger man in their offense, but Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker can all bust a game open through the air on any given play. Manning is like a kid that has all the best toys, and all his friends have to be jealous.
Where the Broncos excel, the Seahawks often struggle. Seattle favors a ball control offense that limits mistakes and allows their top ranked defense to go to work. They’ll have a difficult time matching up perfectly against the Broncos, but if any team in the league has a chance of slowing down Denver’s passing attack, it’s the Seahawks.
In all likelihood, the Super Bowl won’t come down to what the best offense and best defense in the league do. It’ll come down to what their counterparts do. The Broncos don’t defend the pass particularly well, ranking 27th in the league, but the Seahawks don’t move the ball through the air well either, ranking just 26th in passing offense. Seattle would much rather run the ball, but Denver’s big men up front actually plug up holes rather well, ranking 8th in rush defense.
If Seattle is able to hold down Manning in the early stages of the game, it will allow Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ ground attack to establish the tempo. If that happens, it’ll be up to Denver’s defense to do exactly what they do best. If, on the other hand, Denver establishes an early lead, the Seahawks will be forced into throwing the ball more than they’d like to. In that case, Denver’s defense will have to find a way to slow down the Seahawks’ passing game, something they haven’t done well all year.
Because a runaway victory hinges on one team or the other doing something they don’t typically do well, we shouldn’t be in for a blowout Super Bowl. For the Seahawks to steamroll the Broncos, they’d have to open up the offensive playbook, and so long as they’re either close or winning, there’s no way they’ll be risking a big play going the other way.
Denver, however, does have a chance to open up a big lead, but only if they’re able to get past Seattle’s defense and only if their own defense can stop Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense. Admittedly, this is a more likely scenario than Seattle running away with the game, but still, do we really believe Denver can stop someone in the passing game?
The Broncos’ offense and the Seahawks’ defensive performances will almost certainly be top notch showings. We already know this. Super Bowl XLVIII will be determined by what those units’ counterparts do on the field. Which team will rise to the occasion? That’s anyone’s guess.