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All eyes are on how Peyton Manning and his offense will fare against Seattle’s top-flight defense. That matchup is so enticing that it's overshadowing the other half of the game.
As they are on the defensive side of the ball, the Seahawks are very much a throwback offense. They receive efficient play from quarterback Russell Wilson and physical running from running back Marshawn Lynch. They were one of a few teams to have more rushing attempts than passing attempts this season. Some of that is from Wilson, who ran the ball 96 times himself, but most of it comes from the discipline play calling of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. That discipline (or patience) was on display against the 49ers in the NFC championship.
Down 10-0 against San Francisco, Seattle didn’t panic and abandon their identity. They remained true to their philosophy and kept feeding Lynch the ball, even though he struggled to sustain big gains throughout much of the first half. However, as the game wore on, Lynch got stronger and San Francisco’s defense showed signs of fatigue. In the first half, Lynch carried the ball 12 times for 33 yards. In the second half, he had 10 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown.
The Broncos do a nice job of stopping the run. They finished the regular-season tied with Seattle for seventh in defending the run, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry. Against New England in the AFC championship, they held the Patriots to 64 yards on 18 carries. Part of what makes their run defense successful is playing from ahead. Teams spend most of the game trying to match Manning on the scoreboard. Opponents attempted 601 passes against Denver in 2013, which was the eighth most in the NFL. The Patriots, for example, threw the ball on nearly 70 percent of their plays in the AFC championship game.
Unlike the Patriots, however, Seattle has the defense to prevent Denver from jumping out to an early lead. Even if the Broncos were to jump on the Seahawks, Bevell has enough confidence in his defense to get key stops. It is unlikely Seattle will divert themselves from running the ball, as a result. In fact, they may attempt to follow the game plan the San Diego Chargers used in their 27-20 week 15 upset over Denver.
The Chargers ran the ball 44 times in that game, while quarterback Philip Rivers attempted just 20 passes. San Diego kept Manning off the field by using their running game to control the clock. The Chargers held the ball over 17 minutes more than Denver did. Because of this fact, they were able to hold Denver to a season-low 20 points.
As we saw against San Francisco, Seattle can still generate big plays in the passing game. Their receiving corps is mediocre, though, so Denver’s secondary shouldn’t have many issues matching up. The x-factor in this equation is slot receiver Percy Harvin. Injuries derailed Harvin’s 2013 season. The Seahawks had hoped he would be healthy for the postseason, but he suffered a concussion against the Saints and did not finish the game. His concussion also kept him from playing in the NFC championship.
Nevertheless, Harvin is one of the most dynamic players in the game. That’s why Seattle traded their first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft to acquire him. He can impact the game as a slot receiver or lineup and take a carry as a running back. He’s also a dangerous return man. Seattle has won 15 games without him, but a luxury like Harvin could give their offense a surprise sparkplug in the biggest game of the year.
The intelligence from Bevell calling the plays, the efficiency from Wilson throwing the ball, and the stamina of Lynch running the ball makes Seattle’s offense an underappreciated element in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Some would say the same about Denver’s defense, especially after a strong performance in the AFC championship, but they were playing an undermanned New England squad. The Seahawks are a different animal. From a physical standpoint, they could be the toughest team Denver has faced all year. Early in the season, Denver survived a shootout with Dallas, but the Cowboys are a finesse team. They played right into Denver’s strength, as you’re not going to win an offensive-oriented game against one of the greatest quarterbacks in history.
That isn't Seattle’s style, though. Instead of utilizing a receiver’s athleticism on the outside, they prefer to grind their opponent into submission utilizing a physical running game.
The Broncos are used to dazzling their way to victory, but they had better bring some grit on Sunday, for Seattle's going to make this a 12-round slugfest.