Matchups for the Super Bowl on Sunday between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium:
When the Seahawks (15-3) have the ball:
Beast Mode. And big plays.
Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning
That’s what got the Seahawks to the big game for the second time in eight years, although nobody is left from that team which lost to Pittsburgh.
RB Marshawn Lynch (24) has been pretty much unstoppable in the playoffs after a late-season slump. He powered his way to 109 yards and a 5.0 average per rush against San Francisco’s staunch defence in the NFC title game. His 40-yard TD run got Seattle back in the game, and he ran all over New Orleans the previous week.
Denver has stepped up defensively on the ground, led by NT Terrance Knighton (94) — yep, “Pot Roast vs. Beast Mode” — and LBs Danny Trevathan (59) and Wesley Woodyard (52), and will be in excellent shape if it can slow Lynch.
And don’t think Lynch can’t burst free for big gains as well as get the tough yards inside.
Seattle’s offensive line struggled protecting Russell Wilson (3), but was fine when pounding it out against the 49ers. The Broncos aren’t as physical or as deep defensively, and without LB Von Miller, there could be vulnerability.
Then again, they are 10-0 without him as Trevathan has become a standout, DE Jeremy Mincey (57) has sealed the edge, and LB Shaun Phillips (90) and Robert Ayers (91) have ramped up their play.
Seattle prides itself on an unrelenting physical offensive line. It’s anchored by centre Max Unger (60) and tackle Russell Okung (76), but it’s also deep because injuries forced backups into action all season.
Where the Seahawks sometimes struggle is keeping pass rushers off Wilson; he was sacked four times by San Francisco. Phillips led the Broncos with 10 sacks during the season and has two more in the playoffs, while Ayers also has become dangerous.
The key is to keep Wilson contained in the pocket. Once he gets outside, he will create big plays either running or passing.
Despite what some critics maintain, he does have the targets to produce with his arm. Doug Baldwin (89) has been superb in the post-season, and Golden Tate (81) is just as formidable at wide receiver. Third wideout Jermaine Kearse (15) caught the 35-yard TD pass for the winning points last week.
Denver’s battered secondary handled Tom Brady quite well for the AFC championship, so it should ride a wave of confidence into the Meadowlands. Veteran DBs Champ Bailey (24), Tony Carter (32) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (45) will have a tougher time against these receivers than they did against New England.
Don’t underestimate the abilities of TEs Zach Miller (86) and Luke Willson (82) to get open and contribute, either. And if WR-KR Percy Harvin (11) is recovered from a concussion suffered against the Saints, it adds more speed and elusiveness for the Seahawks.
When the Broncos (15-3) have the ball:
The Seahawks ranked first in overall defence this year, yielding a league-low 231 points. All Denver did was score 606, shattering the previous NFL mark.
Even juicier for this Super Bowl, Seattle was tops against the pass, which, of course, is a Peyton Manning (18) specialty.
This is likely where the game will be decided.
If Seattle’s unequaled secondary led by All-Pros cornerback Richard Sherman (25) — yeah, the guy can talk, but he sure can play, too — and safety Earl Thomas (29), supported by terrific S Kam Chancellor (31) and emerging CB Byron Maxwell (41) can handle Manning’s myriad receivers in man coverage, the Seahawks get a huge edge. Denver has not faced a defence with these cover skills, and those talents even extend to nickel backs Walter Thurmond (29) and Jeremy Lane (20).
Of course, Seattle has not faced a QB like Manning, either. His 400-yard game against New England epitomized his sensational season.
Manning will look for WRs Demaryius Thomas (88) and Eric Decker (87) in favourable matchups, especially on the outside, and for slot receiver Wes Welker (83) and TE Julius Thomas (80) over the middle. The Seahawks like to keep LBs Bobby Wagner (54) and Malcolm Smith (53) on the field as much as possible, so one of them could wind up against the dynamic Denver tight end. So might the now-healthy LB K.J. Wright (50).
Manning will go there quickly to see if Seattle can handle Thomas. The Seahawks’ defenders will play tight and tough on those targets.
For those who haven’t noticed, mesmerized by Manning and his record-setting performances, the Broncos have a running game. The question is whether that ground attack will get anywhere against Seattle, which held the 49ers’ third-ranked rushing unit to 161 yards, 130 by Colin Kaepernick.
Manning hasn’t accumulated 130 yards rushing in his last eight seasons combined. So no worries there.
The worry for Seattle is workhorse Knowshon Moreno (27), who can offer enough balance with his running to keep the opposition, well, off-balance. Moreno’s work as a receiver out of the backfield gives Manning an astonishing five targets who caught 60 or more passes. All five also scored 10 or more touchdowns.
Denver’s line has surrendered a mere 20 sacks, none in the post-season. RG Louis Vasquez and RT Orlando Franklin and centre Manny Ramirez are particularly stout, and will need to be against Seattle’s deep D-line rotation. Watch for Michael Bennett (72), Chris Clemons (91), Cliff Avril (56), Red Bryant (79), Brandon Mebane (92), Tony McDaniel (99) and Clinton McDonald (69) all to play roles.