By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) And then there were two.
For just the second time in 20 years, the Super Bowl will feature the No. 1 seeds in both conferences. The last occurrence was Super Bowl XLIV, when Drew Brees’ New Orleans Saints downed Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts, 31-17. Will Manning come up short again in Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks?
Not only are these two teams the top seeds in their respective conferences, they’re the NFL’s No. 1 offense (Denver) and the No. 1 defense (Seattle). In an offensive league dominated by creative passing schemes, the “defense wins championships” cliche will be put to test on Sunday in MetLife Stadium.
Both teams have devised systems and procured the necessary talent to execute them with extreme efficiency. While they may seem complex, at the heart of both schems is an element of simplicity that requires cohesion but allows each player to execute his specific assignment with precision.
For the Broncos, it’s a spread offense run primarily out of ’11’ personnel (one running back, one tight end), with elite talent at virtually every skill position. Manning’s pre-snap histrionics are largely a ruse, designed to get the defense to tip its hand and provide a clear snapshot so he can put his team in the best play for that specific situation. The Broncos use a variety of route combinations and packaged plays to take what the defense gives them.
For the Seahawks, they primarily play an aggressive a Cover 3 zone defense (three deep, four underneath defenders), with a few wrinkles based on elite personnel at certain positions, and Cover 1 man. What makes the Seahawks Cover 3 unique is they press with their cornerbacks with outside leverage, which is a technique traditionally reserved for man-to-man defense. But with players like left cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, the idea is to be physical at the line of scrimmage to disrupt timing, take away the sidelines and force routes back to the middle of the field to limit big plays.
The Broncos will attack the Seahawks’ Cover 3 with vertical routes up the seam and sideline, sail routes (three-man combination of a vertical, corner, and flat route) and curl-flat concepts designed to flood the passing zones with more receivers than defenders.
When shown Cover 1 man, the Broncos will attack with their levels concept and mesh routes, to rub or “pick” defenders across the middle of the field. (For a more detailed X’s and O’s breakdown of the game, you can listen to a segment I did with Laurence Holmes by clicking here.)
Given the chess match when the Broncos have the ball, this game will come down to what the Seahawks offense is able to do against the Broncos defense. At the core of the Seahawks offense is a bruising inside and outside zone running attack, led by Marshawn Lynch, that opens up play-action opportunities down the field.
The Broncos defense has endured a litany of injuries at every level, which has challenged their depth. However, they’ve been stout against the run and will need to remain that way to put the game in Russell Wilson’s hands and challenge an ordinary group of Seahawks wide receivers.
This game will be played close to the vest, with the Broncos deploying a controlled passing attack to test the flats with vertical shots sprinkled in. I picked these two teams to play in the Super Bowl in the preseason and am sticking with my pick of the Broncos, who will defeat the Seahawks, 27-23.
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