Manning put on a clinic by picking apart the Patriots’ leaky secondary as he has so many times in his career. It isn’t exactly a stretch to say the primary reason that the Broncos are heading to the Super Bowl is Manning and the incredible passing attack.
No. 18 threw for an astounding 5,477 yards and an all-time high 55 touchdowns during the year. The litany of weapons that Manning has at his disposal at wide receiver and tight end, and even with the running backs coming out of the backfield, is enough to make almost any quarterback to ever play the game jealous.
Despite all of that success throwing the ball though, it will actually be the Broncos’ rushing attack and not the aerial assault that will make the difference in Super Bowl XLVIII.
For one, the game-time temperature is projected to be in the 20s at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Snow is possible, and the winds will be whipping across the field. Moving the ball through the air in weather conditions like that is never easy, even for an all-time great like Manning.
Another more pertinent concern is the opposing secondary.
None of the promotion seemed over the top. The secondary is Seattle's identity, and it is punishing, loud and yet somehow playful. It is intimidating, helping collect a league-high 28 interceptions and a wide array of bruised bodies and egos. It can be maddening, watching Sherman and his buddies flying around, gesturing wildly, congratulating each other like high school boys after every big play.
Yes, the trash talking may wear on some (did you see Richard Sherman’s postgame interview with Erin Andrews after the NFC Championship Game?), but no individual unit has earned the right to “talk the talk” as much as Seattle’s secondary. Because it has certainly "walked the walk" this year.
So, on paper it will be strength against strength as the Broncos bring the top-ranked passing attack to the Super Bowl against the Seahawks' top-ranked pass defense. Still, the key to the entire game will be how effectively Denver can run the ball.
Knowshon Moreno finished the year with 1,038 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground, while Montee Ball totaled 559 yards rushing and four scores of his own. The two of them controlled the divisional round against San Diego with a combined 134 yards, which was critical for ball-control purposes and keeping the Chargers’ offense off the field.
Running the ball effectively against the potent Seattle defense will do a number of things for the Broncos’ attack.
For one, it will neutralize some of the effects of the weather. More importantly, it will set up the play-action pass for Manning and the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, which could just be the best way to attack Seattle through the air if there even is one.
Furthermore, running the ball and controlling the clock will keep the Denver defense off the field. If the Broncos do have a weakness, it is their 27th-ranked pass defense. However, if Russell Wilson is on the sidelines for most of the Super Bowl, he won’t be able to attack it.
For as much credit as Manning and the passing game get (and rightfully so), the running attack will be critical as the Broncos try to control the clock, pace and overall feel of the Super Bowl against the formidable Seahawks.