Super Bowl XLVIII
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2
Time: 6:25 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: Foxsports.com
Prepare yourself for an entire two weeks of Super Bowl storylines centered on the high-powered offense of the Denver Broncos going up against the stifling defense of the Seattle Seahawks.
All the “truisms” and clichés are coming to—defense wins championships, something has to give, etc. Of course, Richard Sherman only added fuel to the fire for these stories by providing everyone with a superstar foil to Peyton Manning with his trash talk and the way he backed it up on the field during the NFC Championship Game.
While the Broncos offense and Seahawks defense provide a litany of fascinating storylines, what about the other matchup?
After all, the Seahawks will have the ball for approximately half of the game assuming one squad doesn’t completely control possession. Seattle will undoubtedly have to score some points to beat Manning and the aerial display of the Broncos, even with Sherman and Co. trying to shut it down.
Statistically, Seattle will be attacking a defense in Denver’s that leaves much to be desired.
The Broncos finished the year 27th in the league in opposing passing yards a game and gave up at least 20 points in 12 of their 16 contests. However, Denver has orchestrated a late-season turnaround on the defensive side that has been surprising and impressive.
In the past four games, which includes the Broncos’ two playoff victories, Denver has allowed just 15 points and 268.5 yards per contest. That was after giving up 26.6 points and 371.5 yards a game in the first 14 regular-season affairs.
What’s perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that the Broncos have drastically improved their defensive production with critical pieces missing with injury. Let Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger break it down:
Denver lost star LB Von Miller for the first six games of the season, then for the season in Week 16. Then CB Chris Harris, their top corner, tore his ACL in the divisional round. All for a defense that was middle of the pack this year. Seattle is more than capable of wearing down a defense already losing a battle of attrition, with their hardnosed running game likely to test Denver’s depth.
Fortunately for the Broncos, Seattle’s forte of wearing defenses out with the run just so happens to play into their defense’s strong point.
Denver finished eighth in the NFL in opposing rushing yards per game, which was much better than its passing defense. Of course, the argument can be made that Denver didn’t give up as many rushing yards because teams were constantly playing from behind and throwing the ball with Manning lighting up the scoreboard on the other end.
Seattle will put that theory to test with Marshawn Lynch and the NFL’s fourth-best rushing attack in terms of yards per game on the ground.
Furthermore, after being dominated by San Francisco’s front seven in the first half of the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks made a critical adjustment that could pay dividends in the Super Bowl against Denver.
Alvin Bailey saw the field at times in the second half as a sixth offensive lineman, which helped spring Lynch loose for multiple impressive runs, including his 40-yard touchdown. That all came after he only tallied 33 yards on 12 carries in the first half.
Even if Seattle has success on the ground like it usually does, it is hard to envision the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl without a contribution from Russell Wilson and the passing game. Denver’s defense is certainly vulnerable through the air, but Wilson struggled down the stretch before his game-winning touchdown pass against the 49ers.
The last time Wilson threw for more than one touchdown in a game was back on Dec. 2 against New Orleans, and he only cracked the 200-yard passing barrier once in the five contests before the NFC title tilt.
It would be absurd to ask Wilson to match Manning in the passing game—that’s simply not how the Seahawks play—but there will come a moment when he needs to beat the Broncos secondary, which has been quite leaky at times.
While this “other” matchup between Seattle’s offense and Denver’s defense may not be as glamorous as that between the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense in the league, it could very well decide who is holding up the Lombardi Trophy.