It’s the final game of the NFL season, yet it may be the most intriguing matchup of the year well beyond the fact that it’s the league’s championship game and the biggest stage in the sport. While the two title games featured contestants very similar to one another, that is not the case in Super Bowl 48.
Each team’s checklist varies, too, thanks to near polar opposite personnel strengths and weaknesses.
The three keys for the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game played out perfectly. Read that here.
If Denver can keep Lynch from running wild with just their front seven, the safeties can focus on the tight ends and receivers when the Seahawks run play-action, which they do more than any team in the NFL. If they need an eighth man in the box, it’s going to give Russell Wilson a lot of one-on-one opportunities to allow Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin to make plays. The former three down the field and Harvin near the line of scrimmage in open space where he’s as dangerous as it gets.
Seattle will not abandon the running game early, so the Broncos will have to be consistent and disciplined for four quarters or strong safety Duke Ihenacho may have to creep up and help. Watch for Zach Miller and Luke Willson to run some curls, hooks and seams if this occurs, both intermediately and further down the field.
Slowing Lynch without an extra defender near the line of scrimmage allows John Fox’s defense to stay true to itself and perhaps hide some of its deficiencies. Lynch can run for 100 yards and the Broncos can still win. If he goes for 140 and is successful on first down, Denver may be in big trouble.
The Seahawks live off creating turnovers and a clean game from Denver’s offense in this area forces Seattle to make more plays on the ball and maintain their assignments if the Broncos carry a lead into the fourth quarter. It also makes it more difficult on the Seahawks offense, which isn’t as equipped as Denver to sustain long drives with regularity.
Peyton Manning doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions, and it appears the Broncos have figured out their fumble problem from earlier in the year. Denver doesn’t force many turnover, however, so the pressure is on the offensr to hold serve.
Some teams the Seahawks faced late in the year and in the playoffs kept a spy, or two, near the edges to prevent Wilson from both keeping the ball on read-option plays and scrambling for big yardage after fleeing the pocket. Denver isn’t nearly as talented at linebacker, so ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips may be a bigger part of that plan. If that is the case, it could impact the pressure either will be able to bring off the edges, offering Wilson a bit more time to find a receiver who also will have an extra split second to get open versus what appears to be a below-average pass-coverage secondary.
Denver may try to use a safety to spy Wilson if Seattle employs any two tight end formations with one back and two wide receivers. Such a plan leaves the corners on an island, but they’ll likely need to mix things and disguise what they’re doing or Darrell Bevell, Tom Cable and Wilson will figure it out and expose it. This may be the biggest key for a Denver defense that has but two impact players in defensive tackle Trent Knighton and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
There’s exaxtly zero question that Seattle is the more physical team and will be Denver’s greatest test in that manner. The Seahawks are mouth punchers and some good teams haven’t gotten up off the mat this year, including the New Orleans Saints, who are basically a paired-down version of the Broncos in terms of talent and scheme.
Seattle will continue to rotate its linemen, keeping them fresh against a strong Broncos offensive line, but all 11 players on the field for the Hawks defense plays hard, hits hard and maintains a physical intensity for all 60 minutes. Denver hasn’t been challenged in this manner and no matter what happens early the Seahawks’ M.O. will not change: “Hit them, hit them hard, hit them often.” Denver’s ability to respond and throw their own punches is critical. It is, however, out of character for them, giving Seattle a big mental and emotional edge.
The Seahawks are known to start a bit slow offensively and a 10-0 deficit in the second quarter against Manning at MetLife Stadium may be more daunting than it was versus the 49ers at CenturyLink Field, despite the Broncos lacking a dominant defense.
This is a tricky endeavor, because it’s critical for the Seahawks to make sure Lynch remains a factor for four quarters, but falling behind early by two scores will test the discipline of Bevell, Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll in how they call the game on both sides of the ball.
If Seattle stays close, they’ll be able to continue to pound Lynch and use play-action, and it will also mean the defense can continue to do its thing and not take risks to try and get the ball back.
I wrote about this earlier in the week right here, and if the Seahawks take advantage of the poor coverage abilities of the Broncos linebackers and safeties by utilizing Zach Miller and Luke Willson, as well as running some intermediate crossing routes and posts with wide receivers, Denver will not be able to keep seven men in the box, let alone sneak an eighth man up on obvious running downs.
Expect Seattle to use more three and four receiver sets to get the Broncos out of their base defense, which should create some lanes for Lynch, Robert Turbin and Wilson in the running game.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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