Why the Denver Broncos' Run Defense Will Ultimately Decide Super Bowl XLVIII

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Why the Denver Broncos' Run Defense Will Ultimately Decide Super Bowl XLVIII
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
Terrance Knighton must be brilliant against Seattle.

The Super Bowl is not going to come down to Peyton Manning throwing a touchdown as time expires or Richard Sherman knocking that pass in the air so that it can be picked off, but to the men in the trenches, the anchors of Denver's defensive front. 

Big men like Terrance Knighton and rookie Sylvester Williams. 

Of course, the sexy matchup is Peyton Manning, who just led the single best offense in history, against the league's best pass defense in Seattle. It's a dream matchup that people have been craving and only the ninth time that a pair of No. 1 seeds have met in the Super Bowl since 1975. 

It's the immovable object meeting the unstoppable force. 

The brash, young, hard-hitting Seahawks' secondary coming up against one of the most brilliant offensive minds to ever grace the field, the veteran with more than a decade and a half of experience who looks like he can pick apart any secondary as if he knows their scheme better than they do. 

As a football fan, that's what you want to see. That's where it looks like the game will be decided. Will Manning shred that secondary and give Denver an easy win, or are they going to knock out his receivers, force him into turnovers and turn that legendary offense on its side?

However, Manning has defined the Broncos' offense all year, and he's played brilliantly. Still, they lost three games. If you look at why and how that happened, a very clear trend shows up. 

First, take a look at their victories. When they win, the leading rusher for the opposing team is typically mediocre and sometimes downright pathetic. 

In Week One against the Ravens, Ray Rice had just 36 yards

In Week Two, the leading rusher for the Giants was David Wilson with 17 yards

The list goes on and on like this. Pryor with 36 yards. Murray with 43. Karim, for the Texans, with just 30. 

Of course, there are some outliers.

The Chiefs ran fairly well both times they met the Broncos, and the Eagles did as well. They just couldn't put up enough points. Alfred Morris was able to get to 93 and the team got over 100 even in a loss.

Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

So it's not a perfect science, and it is possible to point to examples that disprove the theory. But we're not looking for a bulletproof law; we're looking for a trend. And the trend is clearly there: When the Broncos win, you generally can't rush against them. 

Now, take a look at the losses.

When they went into Foxborough and choked away a 24-point halftime lead, the stats are a bit misleading. The top rusher, Brandon Bolden, only went for 58, but it's because they split the carries. When you add them all together, you get to 116. 

It's not always this way for the wins, where the key is in adding the rushing yards together. Look at the Ravens again, add them up, and they're still only at 58 total yards. The Titans had two backs go for 46 in their loss to Denver, but they were still under 100 as a team.

Back to the losses. When you look at the Colts, you initially think that Denver held the leading rusher, Trent Richardson, in check with just 37 yards. Again, though, you have to add up the rushing totals, and you get to 121. 

Yet another game with over 100 yards against on the ground. 

San Diego gave the rest of the league the best example of this style of play when they met Denver in the regular season. They ran the ball all night, and the Broncos couldn't get them off the field. They converted on third down. They turned drives into points.

Ryan Matthews alone ran for 127 yards, and the team ran for 177. 

Manning actually played well, but he was rarely on the field, keeping the score down and letting the Chargers get a hard-fought victory. 

As can be seen, the Broncos win by stifling the run, shortening drives for the opposition, and getting that scoring machine that broke every major record back on the field.

Then they run the score up, and you can't run against them even if you wanted to. You have to throw to catch up. Unless you have a QB who can keep up with Manning's blistering pace, you fall behind and you lose. 

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The offensive key for the Seahawks is Marshawn Lynch, something that comes as a surprise to no one.

He's been a beast all year. He runs angry, runs into contact and is almost impossible to get to the ground. It's an attitude as much as it is brute strength, and it makes him one of the most dangerous players in the league. 

That anger and that brute strength: Those are the things Denver has to stop to get the third Super Bowl victory in team history. 

If they can keep Lynch in check and dominate up frontSeattle has had a bit of turmoil on the offensive line, and it's already led to at least one lossthey will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as the confetti falls. 

The bad news, of course, is that Lynch has looked almost unstoppable at times. The good news is that Denver's defensive line has been playing incredibly well as of late.

There has really been a toughness there, almost a nastiness, that has led to some brutal and effective play at the line of scrimmage. 

In the playoffs, they held the Chargers, the team that once put up 177 rushing yards on them, to just 65.

The next week, they kept the New England Patriots to one yard less with 64

You want an even more telling stat? Against the Colts in the previous playoff game for New England, LeGarrette Blount ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns. Analysts were picking him to have the best week out of any running back who was playing the weekend that he played Denver. That included Lynch, Frank Gore, and Knowshon Moreno. 

Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

Blount ran the ball five times for six yards. He didn't score. He wasn't a factor. 

Tom Brady had the team's only rushing touchdown. 

There is no possible way that Denver is going to hold Lynch to those types of numbers.

However, the line does have to keep him in check. They have to shut him down, force a few punts and make the Seahawks turn to their passing game.

Russell Wilson has really cooled off lately; the team only averaged a little over 200 passing yards a game this season. Wilson threw for just 215 and one touchdown against the 49ers, and he was even worse against the Saints, tossing the ball for a pedestrian 103 yards without a touchdown. 

Those are numbers that Denver can deal with.

Above all else, Denver's defensive front has to keep Seattle from putting together long drives, it has to keep Marshawn Lynch from dictating the pace of the game and it has to keep Peyton Manning on the field, giving him chances to work against that vaunted defense.  

And that is going to decide the whole thing. 

 

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