Eric Decker ranked among the top 15 receivers in just about every category this season, yet his presence at Super Bowl XLVIII has gone largely unnoticed.
dust snow finally settles Sunday night, Decker could very well be a big part of why Denver comes out on top.
The fourth-year man out of Minnesota posted career highs with 87 receptions, 1,288 yards, 19 catches for at least 20 yards and 63 first downs. He also hauled in 11 of Peyton Manning’s NFL-record 55 touchdown passes.
Yet Decker might not even be Manning’s third-best option:
That in and of itself makes Decker so valuable: his ability to get lost in the fray of covering Denver’s many weapons. (Don't forget he caught four touchdowns in Week 13 against the Chiefs.)
First, there’s Richard Sherman, likely to see a lot of Demaryius Thomas throughout the game. Then come his Legion of Boom regulars in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, two of the best and hard-hitting safeties around. They’ll be largely responsible for Welker and Julius Thomas.
And then there’s Byron Maxwell, Seattle’s third option at right cornerback and equally as lost in the hoopla as Decker. Forced into action with suspensions to Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, Maxwell has quietly been one of the best cornerbacks in the league:
That’s second in the league only to Sherman.
Checking in at 6’1” and 207 pounds, Maxwell doesn’t give up much size to the 6’3” Decker. This is important because Seattle’s defense is predicated on bump-and-run man coverage disrupting receiver routes.
Decker is fully aware of their physicality, as quoted by Patrick Saunders in the Denver Post:
"I think all around, they have the best defense in the NFL and they get after opponents. I think you have to play from the first snap. You have to be physical, because these guys are going to get you at the line, they are going to get you at the top of routes and they will come down to hit you. So you have to make sure you bring it to them as well."
But Decker gets separation off the line as well as any big receiver.
The Seahawks don’t like to blitz very often, so Manning should have the time he needs to survey the field. If Decker can beat Maxwell’s jams at the line and get into his routes, the flow of Denver’s run offense should find him open on at least a few occasions.
While Decker is no stranger to going over the middle, he’s become quite a deep threat with Manning at the helm. He led the league with a 60 percent catch rate on passes thrown 20 or more yards and only DeSean Jackson made more such receptions.
Jacob Stevens at FieldGulls.com details Seattle’s prowess at defending the long ball:
“Seattle has contained the perimeter of the field masterfully this season. They faced a now-somewhat-famous total of 8 attempts to deep middle this year, two of which were completed. That's 1 deep middle pass for every 2 games, and 1 completion for every 8 games.”
But they haven’t necessarily been tested by the best. Nick Shepkowski of CBS Chicago noted that besides playing New Orleans twice at home, the next best passing offense they faced all season was 13th-ranked Arizona.
Decker has been relatively quiet in the Broncos’ two postseason games; recording seven catches for 105 yards and no scores. But with so much attention on Welker’s redemption, Manning’s legacy and the other Broncos weapons, Decker has a chance to be the Deion Branch of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Who do you have as a potential wild card for the big game? Let me know in the comments below.