Churchill: Super Bowl XLVIII Stats & Notes
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It’s Super Bowl Sunday and all of analysis is in. The pundits have made their picks. There has been billions gambled on the game in Las Vegas. The only thing left to do is play the game.
But before you sit down and enjoy the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, fill your brain with the following tidbits, statistics and notes on what may be the greatest matchup in NFL history.
- Peyton Manning completed 68 percent of his passes in 2013, a number that rises to 73 percent when throwing to receivers that did not see press coverage at the line of scrimmage. When Manning’s throws are to receivers who faced press coverage, his completion percentage drops to 58 percent.
- In related news, the Seahawks’ cornerbacks play a lot of press coverage. Byron Maxwell lines up in press coverage 55 percent of the time while Richard Sherman does so nearly 50 percent of snaps. Nickel corner Walter Thurmond employs press coverage more than 36 percent of his plays, which ranks No. 6 in the NFL for slot defensive backs with at least 200 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
This game truly is a matchup of strength versus strength and goes well beyond the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense. In fact, it’s also a matchup of weakness versus weakness. Want proof?
- Pro Football Focus notes that the Broncos’ strength in run blocking is to the right side of their offensive line where they average 4.48 yards per carry, No. 8 in the NFL to that spot. When they run to the left, that number dips to 4.14, which is about league average. The Seahawks run defense excels at stopping runs to the right side of the offensive line, holding opponents to 3.48 yards per, fourth best in the league. Seattle allows a league-average 4.12 yards per carry to the left side of the offensive line.
- The Seahawks run for 4.53 yards per carry at the middle-left of their offensive line — between the center and the left guard — but struggle running behind the left guard or between the left guard and the left tackle, managing just 2.9 per attempt. Denver limits attempts to the middle-left of the offensive line to 2.63 yards per carry, but has had a lot of problems when teams run behind the left guard or between the left guard and left tackle, yielding 5.26 yards per carry, among the very worst in football.
- The best pass-rushing defensive lines the Broncos faced in 2013 may be a 3-way tie between the Houston Texans, led 3-4 defensive end by J.J. Watt, the New York Giants with Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul on the edges and the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are the only one of the three that get solid, consistent pressure up the middle, thanks to Jurrell Casey. None of the defenses Denver faced in 2013, however, regular season and playoffs, have quality edge rushers on both sides, and the ability to apply consistent pressure from the tackle spot. Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons and Michael Bennett are well above average at end, while Bennett, Clinton McDonald and Brandon Mebane are a solid group providing a rush versus the guards and center.
- McDonald tallied six sacks, 11 QB hits and 17 hurries in 2013, and did so in just 314 passing downs. That’s the seventh best rate in the NFL among tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. One might imagine McDonald’s presence in the lineup suggests Seattle is expecting a pass, but McDonald has been solid versus the run the past six weeks. The same holds true for the run-stopping tackles, Mebane and Tony McDaniel. Their pass rushing performances have been strong all year, particularly Mebane, who totaled six hits and 26 hurries, which bodes well for Seattle when Denver passes on first and second down.
- Guard Zane Beatles is the weak link on the Broncos offensive line, but he’s been solid in the playoffs and after watching film it appears he does well with bigger, stronger tackles but struggles versus tackles with above-average quickness or when teams send a defensive end at him in space. What Denver has done a lot of, though, is run at that spot from passing formations and on passing downs, discouraging the defense tackles from trying to push up the field, the same goal of a screen pass. McDonald and Beatles may face each other a lot Sunday.
- While Marshawn Lynch has forced 106 missed tackles this season — the most of any running back in football and the most in the NFL in nearly a decade — Knowshon Moreno has created just 21 missed tackles in the run game. Moreno, however, has forced 14 more as a pass receiver and caught 57 balls in 2013. The Seattle linebackers, especially Bruce Irvin, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, will have to make good decisions and tackle well when Moreno catches balls out of the backfield.
- Lynch isn’t just a one-dimensional power back. He also excels in pass blocking, grading out among the top few No. 1 halfbacks in the game. He surrendered just one QB hit and three hurries this season. Beast Mode is also a solid receiver, leading the team in receiving yards three times in 2013 and gathering 36 catches with only one drop.
- It’s worth noting that Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is asked to pass block just 20 percent of the time Manning drops back. Thomas is among the worst pass blocking tight ends in football while Seattle’s Zach Miller pass blocks on 22 percent of Seattle’s pass plays and is considered above average. Denver’s Jacob Tamme, on the other hand, is on par with Miller, allowing the Broncos to run two tight end sets on occasion.
- It’s been discussed the past two weeks that the Broncos linebackers lack speed without star Von Miller, which contributes to the team’s difficulties covering tight ends, running backs and third receivers. That lack of speed strongly suggests that Denver’s defensive backs are almost solely responsible for keeping Percy Harvin in front of them and avoiding the big play for which Harvin is known. The secondary isn’t exactly a group of speedsters, either, particularly the safeties and the two older cornerbacks in Champ Bailey and Quentin Jammer. When he’s on the field, Harvin will demand at least one and a half sets of eyes, perhaps two, which will make things more difficult for the Broncos to defend Lynch, the Seahawks tight ends as well the other receivers.
- The last time Harvin faced the Broncos he caught eight balls for 156 yards and two long touchdowns, not that it matters, since that was 2011 and most of the Denver defense is different. Fun stat, anyway, if you are a Seahawks fan…
- As for Harvin’s health, the Seahawks and Harvin have both been saying he’s ready to go without limitations, but Will Carroll of Bleacher Report offered some tells in his latest piece. Carroll says there are no reasons to believe the concussion will be an issue Sunday — barring another blow to the head, of course — but suggests watching for a few things from Harvin early on to see how healthy his hip really is. “He’s shown straight line speed and some burst (in his 37 snaps this season), but none of the lateral motion that makes him so difficult to cover,” Carroll said. “Watch for any lateral motion, double moves or quick stops by Harvin early in the game as a sign of just how healthy the hip is.”
- This analysis by Sam Monson discusses what I spoke about Friday on the Steve Sandmeyer Show regarding how the Seahawks sometimes use Bennett as an inside rusher, but spread out the four down linemen to create some advantageous angles. Monson posted a screen shot that shows how Bennett is lined up outside, even though he’s technically one of the inside two linemen. What this does is allow Bennett to use his edge rush abilities and gain an extra advantage by lining up more than a full player’s width to the right of the left guard, the player responsible for blocking him. Monson explains why a tackle lineup of McDonald and Bennett could be key in the Super Bowl. Check out the piece.
- Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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