Denver Broncos: 4 Potential Unsung Heroes for Super Bowl XLVIII
The Super Bowl is well-known for bringing formerly unknown people ample fame.
Did many fans know Tracy Porter before his interception of Peyton Manning four years ago? Was David Tyree a household name before his breakout performance in Super Bowl XLII? How about Mario Manningham, who made a critical catch in Super Bowl XLVI?
These players were relative unknowns before the Super Bowl but now, they're NFL heroes. There are players who literally become famous overnight every year, and this Super Bowl will be no different.
If Denver wins, it would have at least one new celebrity. But who could that be?
All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Denver's secondary has lost many players to injury, and the loss of Chris Harris forced Tony Carter into action.
Carter played 33 of 52 snaps against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and he was not outstanding. He gave up some completions, although he didn't give up a big play and defended two passes. He also came close to intercepting Tom Brady.
He was forced to play prevent defense, though, as Denver was ahead by 20 in the fourth quarter. That hurt his numbers, but it didn't change the fact that he did exactly what Denver needed him to do.
In the Super Bowl, Carter will likely be tasked with guarding Doug Baldwin or Golden Tate. Both are deep threats and decent receivers, but neither is exceptional. Percy Harvin will play, and Russell Wilson will look his way.
Still, Carter is clearly the weak link in a cornerback trio consisting of stars Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey. He will be targeted, and he will have chances to step up.
That would be especially true if Denver continues its recent trend of building big leads. Seattle would certainly throw more, which would give Carter more chances to make plays.
Carter has been abysmal for most of the season, but he played fairly well against the Patriots and now has a chance to make a name for himself on Super Bowl Sunday.
Denver has incredible depth at wide receiver, and it doesn't have a weak link.
Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas have all been incredible this season. All four had at least 10 touchdown receptions in the regular season, and they have done well in the postseason as well.
However, they will face an immense challenge in the form of the vaunted Seattle Seahawks secondary. Seattle has a physical defense, and it could wear the Broncos receivers down a bit.
This could allow Caldwell to see the field. Caldwell has performed much better this year than he did last year, when he caught just one pass. This year, he hauled in 16 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns as a quality reserve.
Caldwell played 15 snaps in the AFC Championship Game, and he caught a pass for 11 yards. He has just two catches for 26 yards so far this postseason, but he will get a chance to improve those numbers Sunday.
It's likely that when he's in, he'll be matched up with Byron Maxwell on the outside. Maxwell is far from a slouch, but Caldwell can still get open against him. He will receive an opportunity, and if he gets open, Peyton Manning will find him.
Denver's defensive numbers were underwhelming this season, but there were incredible individual performances from some players.
Malik Jackson was one of those players. His basic numbers weren't astounding; he had six sacks and 42 total tackles.
However, if you dig deeper, it becomes clear that Jackson was extremely productive behind the scenes. He led the team with 11 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hits.
He received stellar all-around grades, finishing 12th among defensive tackles overall. He ranked 11th as a pass-rusher and 22nd against the run among 69 defensive tackles.
Jackson sacked Philip Rivers in the divisional round, but he was quiet in the AFC Championship Game. He'll be motivated to do much better in the biggest game of his life.
He will need to do so, as he's a key run defender. With Seattle planning on running the ball a lot, he will be needed against the run. Marshawn Lynch is very talented, but he has fumbled four times so far this season. Jackson forced a fumble during the regular season and could do so again.
He could also make a monumental impact rushing the passer. Wilson tends to hold onto the ball for a long time, as he often looks for deep passes and trusts his ability to escape pressure when it comes. Consequently, he's been sacked seven times in two postseason games.
Wilson is elusive, but he can be brought down. Lynch is talented, but he can also be stopped. Jackson will be integral in slowing down these two, and he could make a big play in the process.
Robert Ayers, like Jackson, has quietly been one of the best defensive players for the Denver Broncos.
Ayers had just 5.5 sacks in the regular season, but his advanced stats showed that he was actually extremely productive. He was tied as the ninth-best run defender among 52 4-3 defensive ends in the regular season, and he's been even better in the playoffs.
He's graded out amazingly well as a pass-rusher lately, finishing with a plus-2.0 grade against San Diego and a plus-1.9 grade against New England. He sacked Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, and he could do the same to Wilson.
That's partially because Seattle's offensive tackles are mediocre. Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini both graded out negatively in the regular season, and Okung has poor pass-blocking numbers (Giacomini's are slightly above average). The white-hot Ayers, who will take on Okung as the right defensive end, will likely take advantage of this matchup.
It helps that Wilson holds onto the ball for a long time and takes sacks. Look for him to do the same in the Super Bowl, and look for Ayers to capitalize and make plays.
Additionally, look for him to be key against the run. He might not make the game-changing play in that aspect, but he should make an under-the-radar impact. Ayers should make his presence felt and make a name for himself.