WHY THE BRONCOS WILL WIN: From Manning’s steady arm to Prater’s record-setting foot, Denver boasts scores of pick-your-poison talent
Denver was walloped 40-10 by Seattle in the NFL preseason, with Ronnie Hillman fumbling, Montee Ball stumbling and Peyton Manning grumbling.
The Broncos are a much different team now, one that should return to Colorado on Tuesday for a victory parade clutching their third Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Chewed out by boss John Elway after that spectacle in Seattle last summer, the Broncos responded with a season for the ages, scoring more points than any team in NFL history (606) with Manning throwing for more touchdowns (55) and yards (5,447) than anyone ever had.
They’re not always the prettiest of passes, as Seahawks star talker and cornerback Richard Sherman pointed out, but Manning’s always won with his brain, not his arm.
Manning didn’t disagree with Sherman’s assessment that he “throws ducks.”
“I do throw ducks,” he said. “I throw for a lot of yards and TD ducks, so I’m actually quite proud of it.”
Manning’s “Duck Dynasty” consists of an unprecedented five players who caught 60 or more passes and scored 10 or more touchdowns: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno.
This could be the difference Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where the forecast isn’t for weather as frigid as so many feared.
The Broncos boast enough pick-your-poison talent in their five-receiver sets to befuddle even the stingiest of secondaries like Seattle’s. Including the playoffs, Manning has thrown for an astonishing 59 touchdowns this season.
“I think they had a heck of a season,” Sherman said. “I don’t know if they’re going to score 59 touchdowns in one game. I think that would be a record, too. … We’ve got our own accolades and awards and none of it means anything when you get between those lines.”
No, what matters is execution, and Manning has had his team on a no-nonsense mission for months and he’s only ratcheted up his focus and his dogged determination during preparations for the biggest game of his stellar career.
Manning is the only player in this game who’s won a Super Bowl, and his top target Sunday could even be Jacob Tamme or Bubba Caldwell. He doesn’t discriminate, he distributes. He doesn’t often get duped. He deciphers. He doesn’t force passes, he finds the best matchup.
And he’s got time to do it because the Broncos added size and strength to the middle of their line with the addition of right guard Louis Vasquez (6-foot-5, 335 pounds), which moved Manny Ramirez (6-foot-3, 320) to centre next to left guard Zane Beadles (6-foot-4, 305).
They gave Manning the room to step into all those throws, and he’s also quick enough in his recognition and release to usually avoid the edge rushers who might get past tackles Chris Clark or Orlando Franklin.
The line’s also opened enough holes for Knowshon Moreno to capitalize on soft underneath coverages to amass 1,761 yards from scrimmage, rendering Ball a fresh-legged cohort and Hillman an afterthought.
Ball famously whiffed on Seahawks blitzing linebacker Bobby Wagner in the preseason and Manning had to peel himself off the ground. That ruined his chances of winning the starting job in the Broncos backfield. And Hillman’s fumble at the goal line in that game, which Brandon Browner returned 106 yards for a Seattle score, opened the door for Moreno to become the featured back.
Moreno picked up the blitzes and the first downs all season, providing balance to the Broncos’ aerial fireworks.
Even though star left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season with a foot injury in September, Manning’s jersey hardly needed the laundry, as he was sacked an average of just 1.11 times a game, the lowest takedown rate of any quarterback who started all of his team’s games.
Even when they stall, they don’t usually have to call upon Britton Colquitt, who’s punted just once in the past month, because the Broncos have the strongest, most accurate long-range kicker in football, Matt Prater, who kicked a record 64-yarder in icy conditions in Denver last month.
Prater’s 170 points have helped Manning’s prolific offence make up for a defence that lost Von Miller and four other starters but came together down the stretch behind backups and Elway’s free agent jackpot of Terrance Knighton, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips, Paris Lenon and Jeremy Mincey.
Defensive back Champ Bailey missed much of the season with a foot injury, but he’s coming off his best game and playing in his first Super Bowl in his 15-year career.
“Things do take time, and I finally got with the right group of guys,” he said. -- AS
WHY THE SEAHAWKS WILL WIN: Seattle’s defence inside the 20-yard line is a suffocating force, leaving Denver to settle for mere field goals
In the midst of being reclusive for most of the week leading up to his first Super Bowl, running back Marshawn Lynch spoke a truth about his Seattle Seahawks.
What they might lack with a roster void of Super Bowl experience, they make up for with an attitude and approach head coach Pete Carroll has instilled from the moment he landed in Seattle.
“I stay ready,” Lynch said. “So there ain’t no getting ready.”
If there is an overbearing quality Carroll has produced in his four NFL seasons in charge of the Seahawks, it’s a continuous trend of always being competitive. They don’t get blown out. They don’t get overwhelmed. They don’t succumb in the moment. They treat each week as an individual, singular event.
The Seahawks are trained to operate in this manner and it’s why even against Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, even against the most prolific, pass-happy offence in NFL history, Carroll’s team will not be astounded by what they walk into Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
“You don’t see nervousness in guys’ eyes,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You don’t see guys acting any different than they would on any other day or any other week of the season. They’re going out there and following the same routine as they have all season long. You just get the sense that guys are comfortable in the situation and comfortable in the moment because you don’t really think about the moment.”
Seattle’s been on this stage once before, eight years ago, with a completely different style of team that was unable to match the physicality of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thing is, this version of the Seahawks looks awfully familiar to that Steelers team.
Ben Roethlisberger was in his second season as the Steelers quarterback, just like Russell Wilson is with Seattle. Roethlisberger was less of a passer at that time because the Steelers had a running game led by Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis that was in the top five in the NFL during the regular season. The Steelers also had a defence that was No. 4 in the league during the regular season.
It might be a painful comparison for Seattle fans, but the similarities are notable.
Wilson can win the game with his arm if needed, but Lynch and the running game is always Seattle’s priority. The Seahawks defence was the best in the NFL in scoring, total yards allowed and turnovers forced. They are unlike anything Manning and the Broncos have seen this season.
Denver faced only two teams all season with defences that finished ranked in the top 10 when the regular season concluded.
“This is something that we’ve been looking forward to. Us being the No. 1 defence, them being the No. 1 offence, I think it’s fitting,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “It’s our time to prove why we’re the No. 1 defence.”
Also not to be overlooked is the Seattle red zone defence that was the best in the NFL. It’s inevitable Manning will move Denver’s offence. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history because he’s been able to find quick solutions to problems defences present.
But those drives that he converted into 55 touchdown passes during the regular season will be far more difficult to achieve against the Seahawks. The Seahawks allowed 36 red zone drives during the regular season and touchdowns on only 13 of those possessions. The 132 red-zone points allowed by Seattle is the fewest by any team since 2006.
“They pretty much just line up, and say, ‘Hey we are better than you, and we’re going to beat you,’” Denver receiver Wes Welker said. “They do a great job [in different] situations, and getting pressure on the quarterback.”
That is where this game will be won.
The Denver defence Wilson and Lynch will face is not on the same scale as San Francisco’s, which gave the Seahawks trouble in the NFC championship game – and that’s without mentioning the availability of receiver Percy Harvin and what that could add to Seattle’s offence.
Meanwhile, it’s unrealistic to think Seattle will be able to stop Manning. Thinking otherwise is foolish. But while Manning will be able to lead some drives, Seattle’s defence inside the 20-yard line is suffocating. They will force Denver to settle for field goals.
Ultimately, the strength of the Seahawks is greater than the strength of the Broncos. -- TB