Super Bowl XLVIII: Profiling Coaching Staff, Tendencies and Philosophies

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Super Bowl XLVIII: Profiling Coaching Staff, Tendencies and Philosophies
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Super Bowl XLVIII is a dream matchup for fans and media alike.

It's an all-too-rare championship battle between the two winningest teams in the NFL, the best offense against the best defense. It offers ultimate redemption for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and announces the ascension of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Seemingly lost in all the hubbub about the quarterbacks, the fans, controversial Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and the New Jersey weather are the men most responsible for engineering this incredible Super Bowl matchup: the coaches.

John Fox, the Broncos skipper, has been here once before: in 2003, as head coach of the Carolina Panthers. In fact, per The Denver Post, Fox is just the sixth coach to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

This is Pete Carroll's first Super Bowl, but it's hardly his first big game. As head coach at the University of Southern California, he went to seven BCS bowls in nine seasons, winning six. In the process, he secured two national championships and narrowly lost out on a third.

How much do we really know about these coaching staffs, each of which had coordinators poached for head coaching gigs after their successful 2012 campaigns—and were better in 2013?

Who are these coaches, and what are their backgrounds, tendencies and philosophies?

 

Denver Broncos Offense

The first thing you need to know about the Denver Broncos offense is that it isn't the Denver Broncos offense.

AJ Mast/Associated Press

As Chris Brown of Grantland covered extensively last season, the core of the Broncos offense is the lethally simple Peyton Manning-Tom Moore offense Manning ran in Indianapolis.

Per Brown, when Manning came to Denver, then-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy tried to combine his own philosophies, formations and personnel packages with some of the Manning-Moore offense.

Over the course of a 2-3 start that included a loss to the Patriots and a brutal three-interception performance against Atlanta, McCoy whittled the playbook down to Manning's preferred plays and concepts.

With a handful of deceptive permutations built off just a few core offensive ideas, Manning can set up a defense with predictable plays and then burn them with variations—just as his longtime audible call of "Omaha!" seems to mean something different every week.

Better yet, it's easy to run much of the offense at a hurry-up pace, denying defenses the ability to react with personnel changes.

In 2012, the Broncos went on to average the second-most points per game (30.1) of any NFL offense and didn't lose another game until the playoffs.

With former quarterbacks coach Adam Gase in the offensive coordinator role for 2013, it's been more of the same. The Broncos have been even more successful: They led the NFL with a whopping 37.9 average points scored per game, again went 13-3 in the regular season and this time won two playoff games.

Manning and Gase have a competent run game to fall back on, with a powerful interior offensive line and a trio of effective running backs. Still, they clearly favor the pass:

Ty Schalter/Bleacher Report

Fox is notoriously risk averse; he ranked 79th out of 84 coaches in a Football Outsiders fourth-down "Aggressiveness Index" calculation.

Yet what makes Gase so effective is his confidence in Manning and the rest of the offense to execute. He's not afraid to be aggressive, and Broncos president John Elway loves that about him.

"I wish I could have played for him," Elway told ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. "I think he's done a tremendous job. That shows up in the numbers we've put up this year."

 

Seattle Seahawks Defense

Like the Broncos offense, the Seahawks defense is the top-rated unit in the league in both scoring and yardage allowed, holding opponents to just 14.4 points per game.

It also had its well-regarded coordinator (Gus Bradley) leave to take a head coaching gig.

And like Denver, the Seahawks defense is better this season than last. It is outperforming last seasons's league-leading unit by an average of 0.9 points per game, and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn deserves some credit for that.

He's continued Bradley's philosophy of bringing heat from the defensive ends and linebackers while pressing the corners hard on the outside and using the safeties all over the field: one-high, two-high, in man, in zone, coverage and run-blitzing alike.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The Seahawks defensive line coach in 2009 and 2010, Quinn spent two seasons as the University of Florida's defensive coordinator before taking over for the departing Bradley. Now that he's filled his former mentor's shoes, a lot of heads are turning this way.

SiriusXM's Adam Caplan reported Quinn has a lot of people thinking he's "special," and Quinn's been a person of interest for several head-coach jobs this hiring cycle. 

When Bradley left, Carroll had to make only one call.

“I loved Dan when he was here before," Carroll told Cabot, "and knew that if we had an opportunity that he would be the guy that we would like to bring back.  “So there really wasn’t a big decision. I had already kind of figured that out from the time we had spent together.’’

However, a lot of credit for the Seahawks' defensive step forward is owed to the team's front office for adding playmakers like defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, who combined for 16.5 regular-season sacks, and the continued development of the remarkable Seahawks secondary.

As much trouble as the Broncos' top four targets (receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, plus tight end Julius Thomas) can cause opposing defenses, the Seahawks have four players (cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) with the size, speed, intelligence and physicality to match up well.

Only the question of whether or not the Denver offensive line can keep the ferocious Seattle pass rush off of Peyton Manning's neck needs to be answered.

 

Seattle Seahawks Offense

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The architect of the Seahawks offense is Darrell Bevell, who helped make waves a few years back when legendary quarterback Brett Favre came back out of retirement to play for him in Minnesota. Favre, according to ESPN's John Clayton (via Pro Football Talk), developed a rapport and friendship with Bevell when he was an assistant in Green Bay, and for one season, the two made beautiful music together.

In 2010, things didn't go nearly as well for Bevell, Favre and the Vikings, and Bevell moved on to Seattle. The offense improved from a 23rd-ranked 20.1 average points per game in 2011, per Pro Football Reference, to an eighth-ranked 26.1 points per game in 2013.

Bevell has an impeccable third-generation West Coast offense pedigree, having worked as an assistant and quarterbacks coach in Green Bay from 2000-2005 and offensive coordinator of the Vikings under Brad Childress (an Andy Reid protege) from 2006-2010.

Yet Bevell doesn't really use the West Coast philosophy. As he told ESPN 710 back before the 2012 season, quoted via FieldGulls.com, he likes to use a mix of game-controlling power runs with aggressive downfield passing:

I think the important part of the passing game is that it needs to be explosive. It gives us opportunities to throw it, not just the little, you know, West-Coast Offense style where you're going five or six yards, we want to be able to get big chunks. If you're going to drive the length of the field, you're going to have to do that, and I think that's something that we're still working on.

Bevell likes to get his offensive line moving, with stretch and zone runs moving to the side and power running Marshawn Lynch going with (or cutting back against) the grain.

Here's how the Seahawks' run/pass balance broke down this regular season:

Ty Schalter/Bleacher Report

The Seahawks offense couldn't get much more different than that of the Broncos. One of just two teams (including their rival, the San Francisco 49ers) to run the ball more frequently than they pass, the Seahawks took the ground on 52.3 percent of their offensive plays.

In fact, according to the research I did for my "tale of the tape" comparison of Wilson and Manning, Manning threw 61.9 percent more often than Wilson did in 2013.

Still, 57.9 percent of the Seahawks' yards on offense came through the air. Wilson's dangerous legs and great arm make him lethal on play-action, bootlegs and roll-outs.

Wilson's effective, efficient, aggressive play gives Bevell the perfect complement to his favored power run game.

 

Denver Broncos Defense

Broncos head coach John Fox comes from a defensive background. He came up as a defensive backs coach and was the architect of the powerful New York Giants defense from 1997-2001 (which includes a Super Bowl appearance).

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Coordinator Jack Del Rio has a long history with Fox. Del Rio was Fox's original defensive coordinator in Carolina for one season before being hired as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Del Rio lasted almost nine seasons in Jacksonville, getting fired just as Fox's first coordinator in Denver, Dennis Allen, left for his own head coaching gig in Oakland.

Del Rio has a powerful influence on the defense and on the team. In fact, when Fox missed four games in 2013 with an emergency heart surgery, Del Rio was named interim head coach. The Broncos went 3-1 during that stretch, prompting Elway to give Del Rio a game ball.

"He was amazing," wide receiver Eric Decker told DenverBroncos.com's Gray Caldwell. "His biggest thing is making sure we have fun and that we’re playing fast and we’re not worried about making mistakes. I think that showed a lot tonight, guys stepping in at the right time and making big plays.”

Per Pro Football Focus(subscription required) Allen called blitzes 42.6 percent of the time, fourth-most in the NFL that season. In 2012, Del Rio called blitzes on 36.9 percent of snaps, still 12th-most in the NFL, but far less frequently than Allen.

Along with the significant dip in blitzing came a significant increase in performance: In 2011, under Allen, the Broncos had the 24th-ranked scoring defense. In 2012, under Del Rio, they were ranked fourth, allowing an average of 6.3 fewer points per game.

However, there's been a dramatic dropoff this season. The Broncos defense allowed an average of 24.9 points per game in 2013, a half-point more than Allen's 2011 unit did.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Surely, the loss of superstar pass-rusher Von Miller—first to suspension, then to injury—had something to do with that dropoff, as did season-ending injuries to fellow defensive starters Kevin Vickerson, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris.

But thanks partly to defensive end Shaun Philips and other veterans coming through in the clutch, plus the sudden emergence of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton—whom, as I recently profiled, was imported by Del Rio from Jacksonville—the Broncos held the New England Patriots to just three points in the first three quarters of the AFC Championship Game.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com

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