We are now less than a week from arguably the biggest spectacle in all of sports, the Super Bowl. The AFC Champion Denver Broncos will battle the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX. Most of the hype coming into this matchup has been around Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
One name that has not been mentioned much during the build-up to this contest is Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno. That's a real shame because Moreno will be the X-factor that will determine if the Broncos can win the big game or not.
Entering the Super Bowl, no Bronco since 2000 has more rush attempts in a season without losing a fumble than Knowshon Moreno in 2013 (278).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 22, 2014
The Seahawks have been a nightmare for opposing offenses this season. Seattle has the No. 1-ranked defense in the league, allowing just over 14 points per game and less than 274 total yards per game. The Broncos, on the other hand, have the No. 1 offense in the league. Denver is scoring an average of 37.9 points per game while averaging 457 total yards of offense per game. Something has to give.
Manning is having arguably the greatest season for a quarterback in the history of the NFL. However, he has been known to be shaky during postseason play. To his credit, he has yet to play a "bad game" this postseason, but given his playoff history, the chance is still there. To be fair you can say that about a lot of players, but Manning gets the extra pressure whether it is fair or not.
Mark Madden of WXDX recently described the implications of Super Bowl XLVIII on the legacy of Manning, via Beaver County's The Times:
Manning’s legacy is up for grabs. If Denver wins, Manning has two rings with two teams. The Broncos quarterback will cap off arguably the greatest individual season in NFL history with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Manning’s career stats are crazy: No. 2 all-time in passing yards, touchdown passes and QB rating. Those eight playoffs where he was one-and-done are in the rear-view mirror.
But if Denver loses, Manning goes back in the QB pack. Top 10, somewhere. That’s unfair. But it’s reality. Manning will have piled up numbers, but failed to get the job done. Again. A one-man Atlanta Braves circa 1991-2005. No denying the quality, but capable and having done (and won) so much more. Resources squandered. Manning’s career statistics won’t be diminished, but will be put in a different context.
Madden is not the only talking head with this line of thought, and you know Manning hears it. That is a lot of added pressure for one man. Throughout his career Manning has been able to put his team on his back and carry it to victory. The Seahawks pass defense is simply to good for that to happen.
Collectively, the Seahawks are allowing just 172 passing yards per game on average. The Seattle secondary is more than just good. It is great. For all the backlash Sherman received after the NFC Championship Game, he has a point.
It is hard to call any part of Seattle's top-ranked defense a weakness. But if there is an argument to be made for a weakness, it would be the Seahawks' rush defense (and even that ranks seventh in the league). For Denver to win this game, Moreno will have to be effective on the ground.
The Seahawks finished the regular season with a record of 13-3. The team was 8-0 when holding opponents under 100 yards rushing and 5-3 (with two OT wins) when allowing over 100 yards rushing. That is a winning record either way, unless you look deeper at the numbers.
Seattle's margin of victory when holding opponents under 100 yards rushing during the regular season was 20.5. When opponents rush for over 100 yards, that margin shrinks to 7.4.
As great as Manning has been this season, it will be up to Moreno (and Montee Ball) to keep the Seahawks defense honest, which will allow Manning to be Manning.
Moreno finished the regular season with 1,038 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. During the postseason his yards-per-carry average has dropped to 3.8, and he has just one touchdown. His counterpart Ball has just 95 total rushing yards in the postseason and zero touchdowns. That is not a strong enough ground effort to keep the Seattle defense on its toes.
Moreno and Ball have each gone over 100 yards just once this season. Statistics say that if the duo combines for over 100 yards against Seattle, Denver's chances of winning increase drastically. With Moreno getting the bulk of the carries, the pressure is on him to elevate his game and help Manning cement his legacy as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterbacks of all time.
Just landed..home sweet home!
— Knowshon Moreno (@knowshonmoreno) January 26, 2014
And he'll have to do it, in front of his hometown.
Stats courtesy of NFL.com