Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – Super Bowl Preview, 2013 Season
One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”
Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.
Well, we’ve come to the end of the road. The Super Bowl – and it’s a doozy, Clockwork Orange vs. The Legion Of Boom (and Bobby Wagner, to be fair).
We’ll still be bringing you all sorts of content here at TFQ over the months to come, including team postmortems and more Deep Posts for the NFL, High Posts for the NBA and NCAA roundball, and the Upside Down Awards, our own zany and fun ways to recognize what went down in the NFL this season. So stay tuned. For now, let’s giv’r.
Since I ain’t “saw” the Super Bowl yet, this week’s What I Saw Super Bowl Preview will be similar to the style in High Posts: topical observations and/or predictions about what could happen in the big game. Hope you enjoy, and hope I’m at least partially right about what I’m spitting.
Away from the game(s)
I SAW a great afternoon and evening slate of NBA basketball on the first football-free Sunday of the year. This is always a fun transitional time for me, as my obsessions switch leverage.
You may notice that I didn’t include the Pro Bowl as football. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but I gave up on the game years ago.
A few words about what’s wrong with the Pro Bowl. It feels like every recent change the league has made to try and market the games has made it less appealing.
Maybe the most creative idea has been to turn the event into a copy of the recent NHL process, whereby the teams are picked by two captains – in this year’s case, Hall Of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice – giving the game a playground-like style. While it’s neat to see teammates face off against one another, it removes the possibility for collective rivalries in between conferences, which was one of the few motivational aspects the players could look toward in order to play “hard”.
Moving the game to the week before the Super Bowl is still an awful idea – not just because a handful of top players are absent because they’re playing on Super Sunday, but one of the things I liked about the game when it was played after the Super Bowl is that it had this commencement-like feel to the event, where the winners and losers of the title game got to congregate with the rest of the league’s stars after the fact. The way the Pro Bowl is played now feels too much like an afterthought jammed in between the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
What ever happened to the skill competitions? The Fastest Man and the Quarterback Challenge were, like the NBA’s versions, often as entertaining as the game itself.
It’s funny – a friend of mine and I were talking about how they should just scrap the game and play a flag football game instead, with the fans closer to the action than usual, and the players without helmets, letting their personalities shine through in a way that would normally earn a penalty. I added, “hey why don’t they do that with retired players? That would be cool.” Then, I coincidentally turned on NFL Network the next day and they were airing a replay of the Alumni Air-It-Out game from the 2006 Pro Bowl weekend, which was exactly what we wanted! (I live in ESPN-less Canada, so I was unaware that this even happened since it wasn’t on TV here.)
It was a blast to watch John Elway guard Steve Young’s receivers and vice versa, like a real playground game.
If they brought that event back, I’d watch it. Wouldn’t you?
I SAW the Ravens hire former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak as their new offensive coordinator. Kubiak is also bringing Rick Dennison, his offensive coordinator in Houston, with him to be the quarterbacks coach.
I like the hire a lot. GM Ozzie Newsome brought in a guy with a proven track record of running a balanced offense, aka being productive in the passing game without neglecting the running game like the last few coordinators in Baltimore have. Hopefully this means the Ravens will recover from a long bout of Cameronitis (Cam Cameron was the first coordinator in Baltimore to eschew the ground game, followed by his successor and current Lions head coach Jim Caldwell.)
I SAW the Cowboys demote defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to assistant head coach-defense in favor of once defensive line coach Rod Marinelli…and they brought in Scott Linehan to be the “passing game coordinator” and take play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.
For an owner whose reputation is that of a hard-nosed maverick, Jerry Jones sure doesn’t have very big balls. Marinelli and Linehan have both been head coaches so they’ll likely do a decent job at their positions, but if you’re so unhappy with Kiffin and Callahan, why not show them the door instead of adding bodies to the “not enough chiefs and too many Indians” equation in Dallas? It also adds contracts. I swear if coaching salaries counted against the cap, Dallas wouldn’t even be able to field 53 players for game day.
I SAW Titans RB Chris Johnson undergo surgery for a torn meniscus this week. I’m not big on making excuses for CJ1K – his attitude, focus and consistency need work – but reports are that he’d been playing with the injury since Week 3. Just something to think about.
I SAW Dolphins WR Mike Wallace tell the Miami Herald that he “should have had 15 or 20 more touchdowns. And that’s being modest. If you press me, you have no shot to cover me. Once I get you to stop your feet, it’s over.”
You’ve got to love when a player who has been criticized for having a bad attitude and lacking chemistry with his quarterback (in this case Ryan Tannehill) makes public comments that, in essence, place the blame on the QB. Maybe Wallace should consider running less lazy routes…and actually doing what he said he was doing – being modest.
Super Bowl Preview
Here we go! I’ve tried to make this true to the claim in the Facebook/twitter claim, that this is one of the most detailed and candid previews out there on the interweb. To do that, I’ve watched a shit-ton of the media circus on NFL Network this week and crunched enough numbers to make Will Hunting dizzy. How ’bout them apples?
Actually, in the end I pared down the statistical analysis and translated the story I found in the stats into (I hope) more pleasant analysis…while keeping some of the more straightforward stats for you. Hope you dig it.
“Experience is the teacher of all things”
Julius Caesar said that, and if the phrase is accurate, both Super Bowl Contenders have a lot to learn.
The Seahawks are the first team since the 1990 Bills to make the Super Bowl without a player with experience in the big game. (Actually, WR Ricardo Lockette was on the Niners roster last season but only on the practice squad, so he never took the field against the Ravens.)
Meanwhile, the Broncos have five people on the team with Super Bowl experience: QB Peyton Manning, TE Jacob Tamme, WR Wes Welker, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and head coach John Fox.
Let’s use two quotes to consider the positive and negative effects of this lack of experience.
Seahawks CB Richard Sherman: “I’ve never seen experience play in games.”
Sometimes players with less experience are too ignorant to know how much pressure to feel, as one theory goes. Seattle should know this – in already their second playoff run during this era for the franchise they still boasted the youngest roster in the playoffs this season. At least the relatively shared lack in experience shouldn’t give one team too much of an edge in this department, which hopefully helps downgrade the possibility of the dreaded Super Bowl blowout.
Hall Of Famer (and SB winner) Marshall Faulk: “You can watch film on your opponents, but you can’t watch film on your emotions.”
Yet another wise insight from the man I consider to be the best all-around former player-cum-analyst working in the NFL today. As he and fellow HOFer Emmitt Smith explained on NFL Network, a player can mentally prepare themselves for the adrenaline rush all they want, but most of them will still have their breath taken away during warm-ups when the magnitude of Super Sunday starts to set in. Because of this, don’t be surprised to see one of those typical championship games in any sport, characterized by tight play at the beginning because no one wants to make a mistake – followed by more excitement once nerves calm down and adjustments get made after each unit gets their first look(s) at the opponent.
A Word On Champ Bailey
I will be very happy for him if he finally wins a ring. In his prime, Bailey was the best all-around cornerback of his era. But let’s say what few other are saying while he’s been getting praise all week: The guy has been a human piece of toast for the last few seasons, especially in the heartbreaking loss to the Ravens in last season’s playoffs when QB Joe Flacco all but spread marmalade all over the then-34-year old cornerback.
Now Bailey has been mercifully demoted to the role of the nickelback/slot corner. But that doesn’t mean a Seahawks receiver like the sneaky Jermaine Kearse can’t burn him.
I wish Bailey the best on Sunday. But it’s unlikely he’ll figure into the game much – positively, anyway.
Leave Marshawn Lynch Alone, People
Really. He’s not being disrespectful; he just doesn’t want to talk to the media. (What a revelation in this day and age when the media is treated like the end all, be all.) As far as the First Amendment is concerned, I think he’s allowed to do that.
Don’t Leave the Weather Alone, Though
I don’t want to say much about the weather, mostly because it’s the most beaten dead horse so far. Also because no one is able to predict the weather terribly well these days, so who knows what sort of conditions the players will deal with on Sunday.
One thing is a virtual guarantee, though: It will be cold in New York, almost certainly colder than any other Super Bowl has been. Everyone has been talking about Broncos QB Peyton Manning and his diminished play in cold weather. According to NFL Network, he is 0-4 in playoff games when temperature goes below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the thermometers in the Meadowlands will likely be at or below that threshold. So, if Manning wants to win ring number two, he’ll once again have to buck a career trend….
Will Peyton Finish The Deal (Again)?
I mentioned last week that Manning is on a mission to remove a number of monkeys off his back. Let’s be frank. His stats in The Big Game aren’t very scintillating: Two touchdowns, two interceptions, an average of 290 yards per game and an 85.4 passer rating.
But Manning is coming into this championship after arguably the best performance of his playoff career, against his arch nemesis, New England. It’s no small feat even for Peyton to complete 74.4 percent of one’s passes while throwing 43 attempts – and he spread his 32 completions to eight different receivers against a Patriots defense that had traditionally taken him out of his rhythm. There were only two drives in the AFC Championship that Manning and the Broncos didn’t score on: The first drive, which ended in a punt, and the last one that ended with a kneel-down.
The Denver quarterback’s hot play extends beyond that Patriots game, too. The MMQB’s Peter King points out that “in Manning’s 21 possessions over the last three games, Denver has scored 15 times and punted only once.”
If Peyton can maintain his outstanding play, he’ll achieve a number of milestones apart from further silencing critics:
He will become the only starting QB to win the Super Bowl for two different teams. Only two other quarterbacks have even had that chance. I’ve heard a few sources say that Kurt Warner is the only other pivot to start for two different teams (St. Louis and Arizona) in the Super Bowl, but that’s not accurate. I looked it up, and Craig Morton started for the Cowboys in Super Bowl five and for the Broncos in Super Bowl twelve.
Manning also has a chance to do something Marino, Brady and Warner couldn’t do, even though they made it to the Super Bowl trying: Win the whole shebang in the same season as being the league’s leader in passing yards.
Manning will also become the second-oldest quarterback to start in a Super Bowl. This stat is dripping with irony, and perhaps a forecast of Peyton’s immediate future, because the oldest QB to start on Super Sunday is his boss, John Elway. Elway won his second straight Super Bowl at age 38, and the retired on top. For those who think Manning will retire after this game if he wins, I point to this stat, and how he’ll (consciously or not) want to duplicate Elway’s success at 38.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I already mentioned the cold weather above, but another climate factor in the game will be the infamous wind currents in MetLife Stadium, which can be as challenging to navigate as the DaVinci Code. Manning won’t have Robert Langdon/Tom Hanks to help him out in this regard. He’ll have someone better – his little brother, who calls the Meadowlands home. Eli has already told the media that he’ll be giving Peyton pointers about the wind in the stadium, and for a maniacal and meticulous mind like the elder Manning son’s that could make a significant difference.
Shit, so you’re telling me the wind in that end zone is actually a chick?
Deacon Jones Must Be Spinning In His Grave
Peyton Manning hasn’t been sacked yet this postseason, and if ESPN’s box scores are accurate, he’s only been hit eight times in the two previous playoff games. Wow.
In fact, Denver’s offensive line allowed the least amount of sacks (20) in the regular season – a feat that is all the more impressive considering that Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady has been injured for most of the season. Manning might not have Dan Marino’s legendary quick throwing release, but he has a similar effect in terms of avoiding sacks despite any deficiencies along the O-line because he makes quick decisions and gets the ball out before the threat of a rush can influence his timing.
At this time, let’s give PROPS to Chris Clark, an undrafted rookie in 2008 who has stepped into Clady’s spot and done an admirable job.
Manning’s cunning at avoiding pressure with decision making is actually something the Seahawks will need to address….
Seattle’s O Won’t Carry The Day – Ask Robert Loggia
Make no mistake: Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch probably has to play big and QB Russell Wilson will be called upon as well, but those factors are just a major assist in Seattle’s game plan. It will be their elite defense that wins or loses the game against Denver’s Clockwork Orange offense.
What sets Seattle’s D apart is their remarkable depth and its speed. Peyton Manning can’t do much to take away the blinding speed of Seattle, but his no-huddle tempo will prevent the Seahawks from relying as much on the 6-man rotation of D-lineman that they like. It’s no coincidence that the only team to beat Denver in the playoffs under Manning was the Ravens last year. Baltimore had so many veterans and relied on Ray Lewis’ instincts and pre-snap adjustments more than rotating players.
Conventionally, football games are won in the trenches. But against Peyton Manning and his ability to get the ball downfield before any pass rush the next two levels of the defense are just as crucial, if not more. And the players there for Seattle are that best in the biz right now. They affect the whole game, even when they’re on the sideline.
It reminds me of an old John Cusack movie, Hot Pursuit (1987). When I looked it up for this post, I see it’s considered a shitty movie, but I found it amusing in its silliness. Anyway, Cusack is trying to meet up with his girlfriend and her family (who are being conned by Jerry and Ben Stiller – seriously) and he meets a drunken sailor, played by Robert Loggia. It’s vintage gravely bad yelling by Loggia, and one phrase he instills in Cusack is, “best defense is best offense.”
I wanted to post that clip, instead of describing it, but I can’t find it anywhere. Seriously, it’s vintage Loggia. Here’s the trailer, at least.
Best defense is best offense. Always abide by Loggia.
I digress. Let’s make Loggia’s point more clear….
Take(away) This, Denver
The Seahawks led the NFL in the regular season with a plus-20 turnover differential, thanks in large part to a league-leading 39 takeaways.
Oh yeah – Seattle also led the regular season with 28 interceptions, but there’s another even more important stat to consider in this category for Sunday: Including the playoffs, 18 of Seattle’s 30 interceptions came on tipped balls. I got that stat via NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones and it surprised me so much that I verified it myself. (No joke. You can tell in the play-by-play who tipped a pass because their last name is in parentheses after the name of the player with the interception. Don’t try that at home, kids – it took several Zig-Zags and a full flask of Jameson to get through it.)
This high amount of “tip-picks” indicates that Seattle doesn’t rely so much on dynamic circus plays by defenders so much as disruption and team efforts. That appears to be one of the Hallmarks of The Legion Of Boom, aka the ’Hawks defensive backs. Their man-zone hybrid (the corners bump receivers as though it’s man, but pass them off to a complex overlap of zones if the routes turn to the middle area of the field) depends on a mixture of elite closing speed and deft film preparation in order to get into passing lanes and put a mitt on the ball. Then, their constant drilling on tip drills and overthrown ball interception games in practice has linebackers and DBs alike ready to seize any opportunity for an interception after passes get rerouted by tips. (Head coach Pete Carroll calls that part of practice Turnover Thursdays, according to Jones.)
This will be the key to getting the better of Peyton Manning. I’m not sure the defensive front will be able to get to Manning and sack him (see below), but if they can just make him move in the pocket and/or hesitate for a split second then a defender might be able to tip the ball and start the sequence that Seattle so often turns into turnovers. They don’t even need turnovers, though. Even just incompletions in such situations will take Manning out of his crucial comfort zone.
Third Time’s The Charm For Welker?
Denver WR Wes Welker has been here before, twice, and he’s 0-2 in the Big Game while with the Patriots.
This week he boasted that he could “take anyone 1-on-1 in the slot”, including Seattle CB Richard Sherman. I don’t doubt it. I’ve been saying for a long time that Welker gets open as a product of simple routes that don’t require elite skill or athleticism because they guarantee him separation from defenders with shallow cuts yards away from coverage. Note that Welker had to specify “in the slot” while bragging, because he knows damn well the edge he has there in terms of spacing.
If Welker is going to be a big factor on Sunday he’s going to have to do it against probably the best slot corner he’ll have faced this season, the very underrated Walter Thurmond. And if he beats Thurmond he could get his block knocked off by LB Bobby Wagner, one of the fastest linebackers in the league. Translation: Welker might not have quite the cushions of space he’s used to, like he did against the undermanned Giants defensive backs when he caught a total of 18 balls for 163 yards in his last two Super Bowls.
A Foxy Super Bowl?
In making it this far, Broncos head coach John Fox has joined a special group of six coaches who have guided two different franchises to Super Bowls. The other five:
Head Coaches To Make Super Bowl With 2 Different Teams
|John Fox||Carolina, Denver|
|Mike Holmgren||Green Bay, Seattle|
|Don Shula||Baltimore (Colts), Miami|
|Dick Vermeil||Philadelphia, St. Louis|
|Bill Parcells||New York Giants, New England|
|Dan Reeves||Denver, Atlanta|
That’s very impressive. Note that even if Fox wins on Sunday none of the men on this list will have won rings with different teams.
Fox also has a chance to join another, even more rarified group. It’s been a decade since he led the Panthers to a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, and only three other head coaches have won a championship at least ten years after their last appearance in the league final: George Halas, Vermeil and Bill Cowher. That stat might bode well for Fox – all three of those head coaches won their second try.
If It’s Moreno’s Last Tick With Clockwork Orange, Will The Bell Toll For Denver?
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has been reporting that this could be RB Knowshown Moreno’s last game as a Bronco because his contract is up, there’s youth behind him in the backfield in rookie Montee Ball and the franchise has other salary cap concerns that they will likely feel are more pressing. (Eric Decker, several offensive lineman and multiple defensive players all are set to be free agents as well as Moreno.)
I think Moreno could have a big day, and not just because he might feel motivated by playing his last game in the Clockwork Orange offense. Here are two big reasons why:
He’s been getting a bigger workload as the games have gotten more important. Moreno averaged 15 carries per game in the regular season, but totaled 37 attempts in the last two playoff games, including just his third game with more than 20 carries all season. Granted, he only had 14 attempts in the AFC Championship against New England but that’s because Peyton Manning was spinning it as well as he ever has. Even then, Moreno had 81 all-purpose yards on 16 touches against the Patriots.
The other reason is an appeal to history. Manning hasn’t played very well in his last two Super Bowls (see above). In fact, Manning’s typically poor postseason run over his career has led the media to emphasize his lone championship so much in order to prop up his legacy that lost in the process is the huge day the Colts had on the ground in that win over Chicago.
Remember – it was rainy that night in Miami seven years ago, taking away some of the Colts’ advantage in the passing attack. As a result, tailbacks Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combined for a 40 carries and 190 yards and one of the two touchdowns Indy scored on offense all game.
It’s safe to say that the weather on Sunday won’t suit Manning’s taste. It might be just as safe to assume that he won’t be afraid to hand Moreno the rock and see if he can have the game of his life. It wouldn’t be the first time Manning rode his teammate(s) to the Lombardi trophy.
If It Doesn’t Snow, Will It At Least Rain Skittles?
Sometimes strange things happen for a team in order for them to win the Super Bowl. Think Jermaine Lewis for Baltimore in 2001, or Redskin Timmy Smith churning out 204 rushing yards in 1988 – still a Super Bowl record – only to get cut from the team the following season.
Maybe the Seahawks will win in some unpredictable way, but it’s much more likely that RB Marshawn Lynch will factor greatly into a Seattle win.
Lynch is truly in Beast Mode, averaging 5.0 yards per carry for a total of 249 rushing yards and three touchdowns so far in these playoffs. I’m not sure I’ve seen a running back – Earl Campbell or Craig “Ironhead Hayward, maybe – get violent with opposing tacklers like Lynch does when they try to tackle him. Two weeks ago he put All-World Niners linebackers Patrick Wills and Navarro Bowman on their heels, if not their backs, numerous times. You just don’t see that.
But the man who loves Skittles isn’t all about contact. He has very underrated agility and a sense for cutback lanes. He doesn’t really have a weakness, and barring some eternal brain freeze on his part he’s the most likely player to succeed on Sunday.
People can talk Pot Roast this (see below), eight in the box that. The fact is that Lynch has been beasting out against eight, nine in the box all season. And he’s done it while playing in the Cold Tub Division (the NFC West) no less.
88 Club (and Decker) Could Be Bouncin’ On Super Sunday…
I think Seahawks CB Richard Sherman is prone to overplaying receivers at times (see below) and Peyton Manning expertly coaches his wideouts to communicate anything they see during the game that can be exploited in this regard. WR Demaryius Thomas (number 88) is big enough to play through Sherman’s aggressive bumps and grabs and could make Sherman look bad if he gets too caught up in the physical tug of war with Thomas.
On the other hand, the Seahawks have told the media that they won’t be deviating from their normal strategy of keeping Sherman on the left side of the defense, so he won’t be following Thomas around the field if Manning starts to move him around in the formation. This mean that Eric Decker will line up opposite Sherman at times too, and I actually like Decker’s odds more against Sherman. Decker is no tiny man by any stretch of the imagination, but he plays a game that relies more on quickness than Thomas. Where number 88 might get caught up in the physical challenge Sherman poses, Decker has more of a repertoire of slick moves to avoid bumps at the line of scrimmage and get behind Sherman.
Either way, if the passing game is what wins the day for Denver, expect at least one of these guys to have a big day. I’ve been saying all season that Manning loves having the tallest, biggest wideouts he’s had in his career, and he’ll make use of them when given the chance.
… But Orange Julius Could Get Juiced
I’ve read and heard a lot about Broncos TE Julius Thomas being an x-factor in the Super Bowl because of the same reasons the new breed of receiver causes problems for defenses. He’s too fast for a normal linebacker to keep up with and too big/strong for a typical defensive back to cover.
Well, the Seahawks ’backers and DBs are far from typical or normal. Maybe only the Niners have the athleticism at linebacker that Seattle has, guys that are actually able to cover tight ends – and even some receivers – man-to-man. Seattle’s defensive backs are also probably the biggest such group the league has ever seen, and they aren’t slower for it.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at how the Seahawks defense fared against what I consider the only trio of NFL tight ends that present as much of a challenge as Thomas.
Top Tight Ends Against The Seahawks – 2013 Season, Including Playoffs
|Player||Gms vs. SEA||Receptions||Yards||TD|
*- Injured early in second game
That doesn’t bode well for Orange Julius. It will be interesting to see if/how Peyton Manning tests Seattle in this regard.
Can A “College” Coach Carr(oll)y Lombardi Home?…
I’m a big Pete Carroll fan (despite too many players testing positive for PEDs during the last year or so under his tenure). But hey, I also like his polar opposite, Jim Harbaugh, so maybe I just get off on great coaching.
But Carroll is a very unique coach. He’s so liberal in his approach that he looks as though he just stepped off a sailboat, handed his sunglasses and scarf to whoever’s tying down the bow, claps, and coaches players into a frenzy. It’s a pretty entertaining juxtaposition he maintains, being so carefree at letting his players be themselves yet so successful in terms of getting them supremely motivated.
With this intriguing persona it’s easy to overlook Carroll’s prowess with X’s and O’s and innovations in terms of team framework and practice schedule, dovetailing player individuality with collective preparation.
With this in mind, I thought former Jets QB Boomer Esiason made a very apt comparison via The MMQB’s Peter King (Carroll coached the Jets briefly while Boomer was there): “To this day I have no idea why [owner] Mr. Hess fired Pete after one season. He was brilliant. He was the Chip Kelly of his time. I wish he’d have stayed our coach.” Jets fans probably do too.
Hold on – Carroll’s still coaching while Kelly is too…so how can someone so youthful in personality span two coaching generations? How old is Carroll again? Sixty-two.
In fact, Carroll could become 3rd-oldest coach to win the Super Bowl.
Who is this guy, Benjamin Button?
…Just Don’t Make The Mistake Of Thinking That Carroll Is All Fun & Games
Carroll said during his Monday press conference that his team had installed the game plan (TRANSLATION) for the Super Bowl on the week after the NFC Championship, as per the usual in-season timing for teams following a game.
My interpretation: The mindset for the Seahawks defense is to play their man – “do your job” as Patriot Bill Belichick extolls ad nauseum – and not worry about the frills that Peyton Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase will throw at them. Stick to the plan that has worked all season.
As a defensive wizard of the highest rank, Carroll knows both that Manning should be feared, and that he can be beaten. That’s what I got out of what he told The MMQB’s Peter King:
“It’s historically as hard as it gets. They’ve broken every major record. Peyton’s been extraordinary. We’re up against it. It’s an extraordinary challenge. But they have to play us too.”
Can His Team Stop Clockwork Orange?
I’m saying more than this above and below, as far as the matchups are concerned. For now let’s take a general look at that matchup.
The Seahawks topped the NFL this season in points (14.4), total yards (273.6) and passing yards (172.0) allowed. In other words, there isn’t a more ideal defense – statistically – to face Peyton Manning than Seattle.
However, it’s a mistake to overlook the fact that the average rank of the offenses that the Seahawks defense has face this season is 23rd. They have their work cut out for them. Which defense wouldn’t against the most prolific passing attack in NFL history?
On the other hand, including the playoffs Denver has faced only one defense that was ranked in the top ten this season, and that was the Texans (7th) in Week 16 once Houston’s season was a write-off. A teaser at my final prediction: I think that Broncos stat is more telling than the Seattle one.
For what it’s worth: The number one offense in the regular season has faced the top defense in the championship just 5 times since 1970 and the number one defense is 4-1 in those games. (NFL Network)
Pot Roast Has To Be Prime Rib
As far as I can tell, Broncos DT Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton has become the trendiest underrated player in Sunday’s matchup. He’s earned it, on both counts: He’s had some Warren Sapp-like footwork and made some big plays this postseason…and he’s only surged very recently, after a regular season with just 13 total tackles and 3.0 sacks.
I know Knighton has been a big factor lately, but if the Niners defense couldn’t stop Marshawn Lynch how will the Broncos? For the record: San Francisco ranked 4th in the NFL against the rush this season and Denver was tied for 7th…with Seattle.
On Knighton’s side, however, is the Seahawks’ weakness at left guard. They’ve tried several different people there, with minimal success. Pot Roast needs to meat up that area of the line and force Seattle to play just one side of the field to help the rest of the defense key on less area for coverage. In other words, Knighton’s influence might be typical of an interior defensive lineman: Integral to success, but unnoticed by most.
We’d Be Remiss Not To Touch On The Most Polemical Player In The Game
I’ve about had it with the Sherman controversy about his behaviour after the NFC Championship. I discussed it last week, athletes let their emotions get out of hand sometimes, black people get described as scary when they’re angry, yadda, yadda.
As a result of that incident Sherman was fairly contrite throughout the media coverage leading up to Sunday, but he did give out one good quote: “You can’t get in Peyton Manning’s head. If you get in his head, you’ll get lost.”
To me, this translates into “I’m going to focus on my receiver, bodying him and taking him out of his comfort zone.” To me, that translates into “I might get burned on a double move pick/rub play due to tunnel vision.” (See above.) It wouldn’t be the first time for Sherman this season that he was had on such plays.
But I agree with him that he’s the best cornerback in the NFL right now. (Sorry Derrelle Revis. Maybe you still can earn that title back with a different coaching staff and a stronger knee.) Sherman is fast, fearless and highly intelligent. His biggest asset, though, are his arms. He has such long arms for a corner, allowing him to approach handwork almost like lineman technique in terms of leverage through extension. In other words, if he gets his hands on you, you’re probably finished.
The New Soul Glo Will Shine
The Seahawks have scored more than 24 points just once since Week 13 and that’s not likely to cut it against Clockwork Orange. Enter Wilson, who has been growing what inadvertently looks like a playoff Jheri Curl. Elite Daily was all over it like Soul Glo on Eriq LaSalle.
What many people haven’t pointed out yet is that Wilson’s productivity wasn’t the same since that 34-7 win on December 2 against the Saints. I dug up the numbers:
Russell Wilson Through Week 13 And After – 2013 Season
|At Week 13||After|
I don’t think he’ll be able to get away with mere game management against Clockwork Orange. But that’s okay – Wilson has game, and can also rely on his athleticism when things break down.
According to Sports Illustrated Wilson had 26 runs of 10 yards or longer this season, by far the most of any quarterback. He might need to leg out some yards to move the chains on Sunday, but I think the threat of him running could be just as, well, threatening. He can buy time by scrambling and then pulling up before the line of scrimmage to find a receiver that gets open because the Broncos defensive backs won’t be able to cover receivers long enough.
In fact, I think Wilson will be a headache for a Broncos defense that doesn’t have experience this season against a top-notch dual threat quarterback. They faced Terrelle Pryor and Michael Vick in back-to-back games in Weeks 3 and 4. Pryor averaged nine yards per rush on four carries and Vick averaged five yards on eight, and let’s be honest – Pryor is about as raw as tartare and Vick doesn’t make smart enough decisions to really scare people now that age is starting to creep in on his athleticism. Denver faced Robert Griffin III in Week 8, but we all know that RG3 wasn’t the same runner this season as he was during his amazing rookie season.
In other words, it’s been since September that the Broncos have had to prepare for a QB that can run for first downs and even then they weren’t able to corral those pivots. Imagine the stress a top notch passer/runner like Wilson (or Colin Kaepernick, or Cam Newton) can put on the Denver safeties who haven’t had to play multiple levels of the defense honestly like they will on Sunday.
The lack of experience on Wilson’s part might not factor into the game because of his unique maturity. He went to last year’s Super Bowl and the press days just to see what it was like for future reference. He even called Terry Bradshaw and Drew Brees for insight into experiencing the game. Obviously nothing can prepare you for the moment, and I’ve heard Wilson say as much to reporters this week. But this is a glimpse into the Peyton Manning-like fervor for preparation and respect for the unpredictability of the game that helps make Wilson so special.
Wilson will be ready, and he will be able to make some clutch plays.
The Big X Factor
Apparently Seahawks WR Percy Harvin will be good to go on Sunday.
Any impact from Harvin is very welcome for Seattle, considering that their wide receivers combined for a paltry 141 receptions this season. For those of you scoring at home, that’s shitty. In fact, only one of the healthy wideouts to finish the NFC Championship for Seattle was drafted (Golden Tate – and don’t sell him short either, he’s playing like a guy in the last year of his contract).
Here’s why I think Harvin could put his stamp on this game: He played just 38 snaps this season, so the Denver defense doesn’t exactly have a lot of film to study as far as how Seattle will use him. He might even break a kick return or two, like my old Michigan boy, Desmond Howard did while winning Super Bowl MVP for the Packers back in the day.
After all of that, I’ll be more direct here.
This season, Denver never played the NFC West. They never played Cincinnati. They never played Carolina. In other words, the Broncos haven’t played the most physical teams in the NFL, and now they face arguably the most physical team in recent years. They haven’t been hit in the mouth like Seattle’s defense will likely hit them on Sunday, and it will take Denver a while to adjust to that.
It’s not just Seattle’s physicality that Denver hasn’t seen yet. The Seahawks D might also be the fastest one overall that I’ve seen since the Cowboys defense during the dynasty in the 1990s. Both squads don’t necessarily rack up the sacks, but they cover space like there’s extra defenders on the field. I remember before the first Cowboys-Bills Super Bowl that onetime wagering guru Danny Sheridan chose Dallas, saying “speed kills” when arguing that the ’Boys defense would win the day. I think it will kill Denver on Super Sunday too.
More specifically, as mentioned above, I think the lack of experience on both sides will make for a slow start to the game, which plays into Seattle’s hands. It will be on Manning and Clockwork Orange to change the tenor of the game, maybe after halftime adjustments, and I think it could be too late by then if Wilson can overachieve.
Seattle wins, 24-21
…And, I’m out.
I just had to fit this in somewhere.
Former Jets QB Boomer Esiason was telling The MMQB’s Peter King about a great New Yorker moment that he experienced while driving home after the Jets lost in that legendary Dan Marino fake spike TD to Mark Ingram:
“I’m in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel [the route from East Rutherford to Long Island, via Manhattan] and next to me there was an accident, and I’m thinking, Should I get out of the car and help? So I do, and the woman in this car is slumped over the wheel, with a cigarette in her hand. I rap on the window. ‘Lady! You okay!’ She opens her eyes. She says, ‘Boomer? BOOMER? Man, you guys suck! How’d you lose that game!’ ”
Remind anyone of a certain Jay Buhner fan?