By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The greatest focus going into Super Bowl XLVIII will be on Peyton Manning’s ability to attack Seattle’s overpowering defense with efficiency, consistency and big-play ability.
Manning led Denver’s record-setting offense to heights that had never been seen before in an NFL regular season. The Broncos scored 606 regular season points and Manning threw 55 TD passes. No matter what happens Sunday, those are numbers that should not be glossed over.
Still, the Seahawks had the top-ranked defense in the NFL by nearly every measurable standard. They allowed the fewest points and yards, and they also dominated modern metrics that reward a team’s performance against top competition.
However, that part of the game is not the entire focus. The Seahawks are going to try to establish their own offensive identity with a power running game led by Marshawn Lynch (1,257 yards, 12 rushing TDs). If they can do that, it will make life much easier for quarterback Russell Wilson (63.1 completion percentage, 26 TDs, nine interceptions), who has avoided turnovers and knows how to keep drives alive with his quick feet and his ability to buy time.
The Broncos were able to dominate the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game largely because they shut off New England’s running game in the early going. LeGarrette Blount had dominated Indianapolis with his ability to run the ball between the tackles, but Bill Belichick decided to abandon the running attack when Blount was held in check through his first five carries.
Belichick’s decision was largely influenced by the presence of defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, who was dominating the Patriots’ interior blocking. Knighton does not look like a brilliant athlete because his stomach protrudes far over his beltline. However, the 6-3, 335-pound Knighton combines shocking quickness with overpowering strength, and that’s a winning combination.
Seattle will not abandon the running game if Knighton and the Broncos’ front hold the running game in check early. Head coach Pete Carroll believes he has the NFL’s best running back in Lynch, and he will stick with his greatest asset.
“When you coach a team, you have to know your greatest strengths and your potential weaknesses,” Carroll said. “It’s our job, as coaches, to put our greatest strengths in a position to succeed. That’s a position I have held throughout my coaching career from the start and it has never wavered.”
Carroll told reporters that Lynch doesn’t talk with the coaching staff much more than he talks with the media, but he just brings so much energy to the huddle that it’s difficult to contain him for 60 minutes.
As good as Knighton has been, it may be difficult for him to have the same kind of effectiveness against the Seahawks that he did against the Patriots. Carroll is not going to abandon Lynch under any circumstances and Knighton’s stamina could be an issue in the second half.
The Seahawks’ receivers have largely been afterthoughts and they don’t have the firepower that Denver’s Demaryius Thomas (92-1,430-14), Eric Decker (87-1,288-11), Wes Welker (73-778-10) and Julius Thomas (65-788-12) bring to the table. However, Golden Tate (64-898-5)and Doug Baldwin (50-778-5) have made big catches all season long, and tight end Zach Miller (33-387-5) knows how to make the tough catches on third down that keeps drives alive.
But there’s one big X-factor for the Seahawks. That’s the presence of wide receiver Percy Harvin, the former Minnesota Viking gamebreaker who was acquired in the offseason.
Harvin has done very little this year as he was unable to play throughout much of the regular season due to hip labrum surgery, while concussions have slowed him in the postseason. However, he has been cleared to play in the Super Bowl, and it’s doubtful that cornerbacks Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Marquice Cole can stay with him. Bailey called Harvin “a very dangerous man” this week.
It’s just a question of whether Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will give Harvin an opportunity to make big plays.
The Seahawks had the seventh-most efficient offense in the league this season, according to Football Outsiders’ modern metrics, and the 16th-rated offense by conventional standards. The Broncos had the 15th-rated defense according to Football Outsiders and 19th by conventional standards.
They are much stronger against the run than they are against the pass, and that would seem to work in their favor against the ground-oriented Seahawks.
But the Seahawks have Beast Mode. Lynch may not want to talk to anyone, but he plays with a relentlessness that the Broncos have not seen to this point in the year.
Lynch’s ability to deliver punishment when he runs should eventually tilt this part of the battle in the Seahawks’ favor.
Manning’s record-setting offense vs. Seattle’s bone-rattling defense gets most of the attention in this Super Bowl. However, this so-called secondary matchup of Seattle’s offense vs. Denver’s defense may prove to be decisive.