We can talk all we want about Richard Sherman's post-game rant. We can talk all we want about Wes Welker's "pick" on Aqib Talib. We can talk all we want about Pete Carroll's laid-back style or Peyton Manning's fondness for Omaha.
Or, we can talk about what really matters—the game. Super Bowl 2014 features an absolutely outstanding matchup between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks—the two best teams in the game all season long.
The game is going to come down to matchups.
It's pretty simple, actually. Can the Seattle secondary stop Peyton Manning? And can the Denver run defense stop Marshawn Lynch?
We're going to go in-depth and break down these two matchups, giving you everything you need to know about the matchups that will really define what should be a fantastic game.
Peyton Manning vs. Legion of Boom
Here's the thing—Richard Sherman really is the best corner in the game. Pro Football Focus breaks it down:
In the last 2 seasons Richard Sherman has allowed a single receiver more than 3 catches in a game just once...Titus Young! (5)— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 24, 2014
Inc playoffs QBs targeting Richard Sherman have a league-low 44.5 QB rating. Completing exactly 50% of passes.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 20, 2014
So Sherman does back up his talk with the stats. And along with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the "Legion of Boom" secondary is going to make life very difficult for Peyton Manning.
Yes, Manning is almost superhuman. He threw for 5,477 yards in the regular season, along with 55 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In the AFC Championship game, Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns.
But he hasn't faced a defense quite like Seattle's. Sherman and Walter Thurmond are lock-down defenders on the outside, Chancellor is a big hitter, and Thomas might be the best of them all. As Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated notes:
His development as a tackler over his NFL career — particularly in the last two seasons — is something that has gone relatively unnoticed, but it’s real, and it screams off the tape. Now Thomas isn’t just a great cover safety from anywhere to anywhere on the field, he’s also turned himself into a Scud missile, able to take ridiculous angles and read plays with microscopic precision.
When Farrar talks, I listen, and so should the Broncos. Look, it's going to be difficult for the Seahawks to stop the multi-dimensional attack of the Broncos. With two weeks to prepare, Manning will find something to exploit.
But it's not going to be much. If Manning cannot have his usual big game, and the Broncos are forced to rely on the run game, then the Seahawks have a huge advantage.
It will be fascinating to see just how Manning attacks this secondary. Does he focus on short, underneath routes designed to test Bobby Wagner and the linebackers? What about screens that get Wes Welker involved? Or does he try to challenge the secondary directly with trips and bunch sets?
I'm sure all will be tried, but one thing is certain—it won't be easy for Manning.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Denver's Run Defense
Seattle's offense thrives off of Marshawn Lynch and his bruising style of running.
That style will be critical in this game. The longer that Lynch can eat up the clock, the less time that Manning has the ball. One of the major keys for Seattle will be to slow the game down and run the ball.
And even though the Broncos do not have the best pass defense—they ranked 27th in the league during the regular season, giving up an average of 254.4 yards per game—they do have an excellent run defense. In the regular season, they gave up an average of 101.6 yards per game, good for eighth-best in the league.
A main reason for that success is defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Danny Trevathan. Peter King of the MMQB details just how good they were against New England:
Knighton and linebacker Danny Travathan were Denver’s best defensive players against New England in a game that was not nearly as close as the 26-16 final indicated. Travathan’s speed behind a gap-proof defensive front helped wreck the Patriots passing game. He made an amazing play to ruin a New England drive in the second quarter with the Pats trying to narrow a 10-0 deficit, covering fullback James Develin out of the backfield on a route up the right side, then sprinting back as Julian Edelman caught a short cross, cutting his legs out after just a two-yard gain. He was around the ball all game. I can see Travathan in the film room today, studying Percy Harvin and Marshawn Lynch (Harvin certainly last season in Minnesota too, because of his limited play this year) and figuring out how to make plays around the line of scrimmage against one very speedy player and one very strong one. Travathan has shown all year long he can play both speed and power with equal skill.
Knighton was all over the field against New England, including a major sack on Tom Brady on a late fourth-down play.
It's going to be up to him and Trevathan to come up big, because stopping Marshawn Lynch is not easy.
He is a clutch performer, as the NFL on ESPN notes:
Marshawn Lynch has 4 rushing touchdowns of more than 25 yards in the postseason, twice as much as anyone else in NFL HISTORY #BeastMode— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 23, 2014
On the season, Lynch rushed for 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns. Against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, Lynch rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown.
It will be interesting to see how Lynch plays. Denver is going to do all it can to stop him and try to force Russell Wilson to beat him. It would not be surprising to see the 'Hawks use Percy Harvin on reverses to try and open up the middle of the field. Harvin cleared concussion protocol this week, according to the Seattle Times:
Either way, Lynch is going to get the rock 25-30 times. The Seahawks need him to run the ball effectively so that they can set up play-action. If "Pot Roast" Knighton and the rest of the Denver "D" can hold Lynch in place, then it's going to be a long day for the Seahawks.