All anyone in Denver can talk about is Peyton Manning, and there’s a perfectly good reason for that.
Manning turned in a phenomenal, clutch performance in the AFC Championship Game. He bested his rival Tom Brady with 400 yards passing, and he completed 32 passes and tossed two touchdowns.
The offense controlled the clock and did a great job carving up New England’s offense. However, while the Broncos offense did more than enough to win, a good defensive performance was necessary.
And boy, did Denver’s defense deliver.
Brady and the New England Patriots offense scored a mere three points before the fourth quarter, when the Broncos went to a prevent defense.
New England finished with just 16 points and got going too late to win. The Broncos made some key stops and didn’t give up big plays, which helped chew up the clock.
There’s no reason to believe the same won’t happen in the Super Bowl.
The Broncos will face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. They aren’t very similar to the Chargers and Patriots; they have a running quarterback in Russell Wilson and ride the power-running game.
Marshawn Lynch is Seattle’s best running back, and he has put up stellar numbers this year.
He ran for 109 yards and a score in the NFC Championship Game, and he ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the divisional round against the New Orleans Saints.
Denver’s defense will have to stop Lynch, and many think it won’t be able to do so.
However, it’s worth noting that Denver held LeGarrette Blount, who lit up the Indianapolis Colts for 166 yards in the divisional round, to six yards. Denver also held Oakland Raiders breakout star Rashad Jennings to nine yards, and it limited other power backs as well.
A large reason why it was so successful against power backs was because of run-stopping menace Terrance Knighton. Defensive ends Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers have also excelled in that aspect, and Danny Trevathan can fly around to make plays on the second level.
Knighton is fourth among 70 defensive tackles against the run, Ayers is seventh among 49 4-3 defensive ends, Phillips is 14th among 4-3 defensive ends and Trevathan is 10th out of 36 4-3 outside linebackers (in all games played). All have been tremendous, and there's no reason why that will change.
In other words, there’s no doubt that Denver has the personnel to stop Lynch, who averaged a less-than-spectacular 4.18 yards per carry this season.
The only reason Lynch is expected to shred Denver's defense is because his yardage total is inflated. That's because Seattle runs the ball often. It’s been able to because it usually jumps out to leads, but the Broncos have been doing a great job getting ahead early lately. This forces their opponents to throw the ball.
Denver has led at halftime by at least 10 points in its last four games.
The Patriots and Chargers, two playoff teams with capable running backs, ran for just 129 combined yards against the Broncos. That’s because they had to throw to overcome big deficits in losses.
If the Broncos offense jumps out to a big lead, which isn't exactly unlikely, Russell Wilson would have to beat the Broncos without much assistance from Lynch. And that wouldn’t be easy for a conservative, second-year signal-caller.
Even if Percy Harvin, Seattle’s explosive but injury-prone receiver, plays, the Broncos secondary can slow down Wilson and Seattle’s mediocre receiving core.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey will likely combine to guard Harvin.
Harvin played predominantly in the slot in his two games, and Bailey is by far Denver’s best slot cornerback. He gave up one completion for four yards against the Patriots, and with Harvin not fully healthy, the motivated Bailey could definitely contain him.
The same goes for Rodgers-Cromartie, who defensed 15 passes and didn’t let opponents complete 45 percent of their passes on him during the regular season. Both are playing tremendously, and both can handle Seattle’s two receivers.
Those two receivers should be Harvin and Doug Baldwin. Baldwin is a deep threat, but Rodgers-Cromartie, who likely will line up against Baldwin the most, thrives against deep passes and should be able to contain him.
That leaves Golden Tate, who is nothing special and won’t torch Denver's third cornerback, Tony Carter. Carter gave up some short completions against the Patriots, but his main focus is not to get beaten deep, and he should accomplish that goal against Tate.
His fellow cornerbacks should do the same thing.
Denver has proven it can take away the deep pass and force quarterbacks to lead long drives. Wilson, who has struggled with the inclement weather lately, could have trouble doing that.
In other words, the Broncos can force mistakes if they prevent the big play.
Denver would have to make Wilson throw to force those mistakes, though. Wilson can run the ball, and he loves to escape the pocket (to set up a pass or to run). He’s a dual-threat quarterback who can challenge the Broncos in two ways.
However, if history is any indication, he won’t crush Denver with his legs. The Broncos have done a nice job stopping running quarterbacks this year, as Terrelle Pryor, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick did nothing special running the ball.
Vick started just five games and ran for 265 yards, or an average of more than 75 per game (not including a half he missed against the New York Giants). Denver, however, allowed just 41 rushing yards to Vick.
Sure, Vick, Pryor and Griffin aren’t as good as Wilson overall. But the fact that Denver didn’t allow any of those players to lead their team to more than 21 points in any of the four games is encouraging, and it shows that the Broncos can prevent running quarterbacks from shredding them.
And that’s saying something considering the rushing talent Denver’s faced. Denver’s faced quarterbacks who like to run more than Wilson, who has just 99 rushing yards in his last six games.
Wilson likely won’t improve that number much against Denver, and that’s because the Broncos can use a spy freely. Seattle lacks pass-catching threats at tight end and running back, so Trevathan can be Wilson’s spy. Trevathan is athletic and can make the open-field tackles Denver needs to make.
Another way to prevent big gains from Wilson is by keeping him in the pocket.
If the Broncos do that, he would have to win with his arm. Considering that he has just five touchdowns, two 200-yard games and no 220-yard games through the air in his last six games, it’s hard to think he’ll be able to do that.
Seattle’s offense is anything but explosive, and the Broncos can stop it. The Broncos defense is clicking, and Seattle’s offense is sputtering. Everything is in place for a tremendous defensive performance, and everything is in place for another Broncos championship.
All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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