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Shepkowski’s Super Bowl Matchups: Breaking Down Seattle’s Pass Defense

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Earl Thomas and Byron Maxwell. (Getty Images)

Earl Thomas and Byron Maxwell. (Getty Images)

Nick Shepkowski Nick Shepkowski
Nick Shepkowski is the associate producer of Spiegel and Mann...
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By Nick Shepkowski-

(CBS) The most anticipated matchup in the Super Bowl comes when Peyton Manning and the Broncos put the ball in the air.  That’s when the Broncos are at their best, putting up historic numbers. That’s also when the Seahawks are at their best, stopping foes’ passing attacks significantly better than anyone else in football this year.

We could sit and disect what Manning did with his weaponry of Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker this season.  It was the best season we’ve ever seen from a quarterback, perhaps the best ever at his position, from one who will soon enough be awarded his record fifth MVP award.  Watching Manning and the Broncos offense operate is one of the most enjoyable things for a football fan can watch.  Instead of disecting the inner workings of the Broncos success, though, I was curious to learn more about the Legion of Boom secondary that sits in their way.

Seattle’s 2,752 pass yards allowed were the fewest in football, 353 fewer yards than what the second-ranked Saints gave up. Not only were the Seahawks better against the pass than anyone else, they were roughly 22 yards a game better than anyone else.  Even more, their 63.4 quarterback rating against is 10.8 better than second-ranked Cincinnati. So not only are the Seahawks the best pass defense in football, they’re the best by an extremely large margin.

You also simply can’t throw deep against Seattle, thanks to star cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell or safety Earl Thomas.  Per Seagulls.com, the SB Nation Seahawks site, Seattle has been tested in the deep middle just eight times all season long. Furthermore, just two of those attempts were completed, meaning it’s pretty safe to assume this won’t be the route Peyton Manning goes in order to try and beat this secondary.

The Seahawks will likely do what they’ve done most of the year: have Sherman line up on the defense’s left side, and both he and Maxwell will beat the hell out of whichever receiver lines up in front of them and attempt to throw off the Broncos’ timing enough to make Manning appear human.  Sherman (47.3 qb rating against) and Maxwell (47.7) were rated as the two best cornerbacks in football this year in terms of opponents’ quarterback ratings when throwing at the two.  Add the rangy Thomas (five interceptions) and the sure-tackling Cam Chancellor to the equation and you can see why teams have such a problem throwing against Seattle.

Does this mean Denver is for certain doomed? By no means, and there’s reason for plenty of hope if you’re a Bronco-backer.

The Seahawks have played far-from-elite passing offenses this season.  The best they’ve played, New Orleans (second-most passing yards), is great inside their dome, but their troubles away from home have been well documented. That’s where the Seahawks twice had the benefit of playing the Drew Brees-led offense and holding them well below their averages both times.  After the Saints, though, the next best rated passing offense Seattle played was in its two divisional meetings with Arizona, the 13th-best passing offense in football this year. What Seattle has done is no doubt impressive, but also far from being consistently tested.

Expect a several bunch formations from Denver on Super Bowl Sunday, as that’s what most teams have tried to use to beat Seattle’s secondary.  Indianapolis had the most success against it, scoring 34 points and having Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton combine for 205 yards in their Week 5 meeting.

Which team can do what they’re best at better than the other on Sunday?  That answer will probably tell you who ends up taking the confetti shower.

Follow Nick Shepkowski on Twitter at @Shep670.

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