By Nick Shepkowski-
(CBS) It won’t be a surprise when Peyton Manning is awarded yet another MVP for what was the best year a quarterback has ever had in NFL History. His 55 touchdown passes and 5477 passing yards were both records and he’s the main reason the Broncos are appearing in their seventh Super Bowl.
One look at Manning and you realize the zip on his ball isn’t there nearly as frequently as it was back in Indianapolis. You also see that, despite him never running like a gazelle, he appears to run away from pressure about as fast as a tortoise. So how in the world did No. 18 have the best season by any quarterback in any NFL season?
Well, not only did Peyton set the passing touchdown and yardage records in 2013, he also got rid of the ball faster than anyone. Thanks to the people at Pro Football Focus, the amount of time a quarterback holds onto the ball is now easily trackable, and, on average, Peyton got rid of the ball in 2.36 seconds. By comparison, Russell Wilson held onto the ball the longest of the 27 qualifying quarterbacks, averaging 3.18 seconds.
But what that means is that it’s incredibly difficult to get to Peyton Manning simply because he doesn’t hold the ball long enough to allow much pressure. Manning was sacked just 17 times on 676 dropbacks this season, an incredible percentage of just 2.51. By comparison, Jay Cutler dropped back 383 times this season and was sacked 19 times (4.91 percent).
Sure it helps that Manning has the best set of targets in the NFL but it would be foolish to think he doesn’t make each one of them better. His pre-snap reads, audibles and “Omaha” calls that have been discussed so thoroughly the last few weeks are a huge reason the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker all had monstrous seasons. Get them in position to make a play and get them there quickly.
How many times Manning audibles and how effective his calls are will no doubt play a huge factor into determining Sunday’s outcome. He’s facing the best secondary in football (that we’ll touch on tomorrow) but as even Richard Sherman said, every good pass defense can only be as good as the pass rush in front of them.
The Seahawks defensive line, although not the best in the league, is still pretty damn good. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett anchor the pass rush attack, as they combined for 16.5 sacks during the regular season and have gone for three more in a pair of games this postseason. As a whole, the Seahawks sack opposing quarterbacks 7.7 percent of the time they dropback, the fifth highest rate in the league.
Bennett and Avril most often line up to attack the right side of an offensive line. Perhaps their best showings this season came in two games against the Saints, the best right side of an offensive line they saw this year, doing so twice.
Saints right tackle Zach Strief and right guard Jahri Evans combined to grade out at +40.1, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s not as high as the +52.8 Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin of Denver compiled, but is still plenty respectable. All Bennett and Avril did against Strief was force a combined grade of -5.8, but more importantly a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles.
Will Bennett and Avril be able to again get after a future Hall of Fame quarterback like they twice did to Drew Brees this year? Or will Peyton Manning be able to dink and dunk his way downfield regularly? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining what Seattle will be forced to do offensively and ultimately who wins Super Bowl XLVIII.
Follow Nick Shepkowski on Twitter at @Shep670.