02/01/2014 09:30 AM
Here are the 10 trends in Super Bowl XLVIII.
1. Is turnover ratio the key to victory? Despite three fumbles in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, Seattle coach Pete Carroll was pleased the Seahawks had a plus-2 turnover ratio. Denver coach John Fox is also a defensive specialist who knows the value of winning the turnover battle. Every Thursday, Carroll posts the numbers of the meaning of turnovers. He calls it Turnover Thursday. During the 2013 regular season, a plus-1 turnover ratio translated into a 70.1 percent chance of winning. Teams with a plus-2 turnover ratio won 56 of 67 games, an 83.6 percentage. Teams at plus-3 were 21-1. The Seahawks led the league in turnover ratio at plus-20. Carroll has built a defense that gets sacks and turnovers. It has been the signature part of his defensive philosophy for decades. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson does a great job protecting the football, but sometimes that comes at a price. Carroll instructs him to be extra conservative in certain games. That causes him to throw a pass away instead of risking an interception. Thus, if Super Bowl XLVIII becomes a high-scoring game, the Broncos would have a decided edge.
2. Broncos win "Next Man Up" award: Although the Seahawks won the NFC despite injuries to Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Brandon Browner and others, the Broncos were even more resilient. They lost left tackle Ryan Clady and five defensive starters. The Seahawks had missed starts at cornerback, but they ended up getting better coverage when Byron Maxwell got the chance to start. The Broncos outdid the Seahawks in that regard. Unknown Chris Clark stepped in for Clady and did well. Manny Ramirez entered the season as the team's No. 3 center. Once J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen were injured, Ramirez played at a near Pro Bowl level. Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe, Rahim Moore and Chris Harris were lost for the season. Despite that, the Broncos' defense was respectable. Fox and Carroll have well-coached teams that have depth. They needed it this year.
3. Figuring out the formations: The Seahawks' defense is reasonably simple. The Seahawks play predominantly man. They also play some two-deep safety. The Broncos run one of the most complex offenses in football. To have any chance at success, the Seahawks have had to spend two weeks studying tendencies and figuring out alignments. In the old Peyton Manning days in Indianapolis, Reggie Wayne lined up on the left and Marvin Harrison lined up on the right. Manning rarely changed the equation. In Denver, Manning varies the alignments of his pass-catchers. Damaryius Thomas would be the ideal receiver to run down the left side of the field against Maxwell, but he could also make a few plays on the right of the field against Richard Sherman. Tight end Julius Thomas estimates he runs only 20 percent of his plays out of the normal tight end position. He could be flexed out and used in the slot. Wes Welker works the slot, which has allowed Eric Decker to move to the outside. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said that the key to figuring out the Broncos is communication and that the Seahawks communicate well. They will need to do that.
4. Pot Roast and Beast Mode: Fox said Wednesday a 30-pound weight loss has allowed 335-pound defensive tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton to be more fluid and become a great run-stopper. Over the past four games, the Broncos have allowed only 280 yards on 80 carries. To stop the Seahawks, the Broncos' run defense has to stop Marshawn Lynch, who had 249 yards on 50 carries in the Seahawks' two playoff wins. The Seahawks run a zone-blocking scheme. Expect them to use 321-pound plus James Carpenter at left guard. They will need size to meet size.
5. The evolution of Julius Thomas: It's hard to believe Thomas was an unknown entering the season. His emergence has helped Manning have the greatest season for a quarterback in NFL history. Thomas caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. Thanks to Thomas, Manning has never had this many weapons to use. Thomas plays the Dallas Clark role and more. Manning moves him into different parts of the formation to find favorable matchups. From the Seahawks' standpoint, Carroll would like to use either linebacker K.J. Wright or safety Kam Chancellor to cover Thomas, but depending on the formation, Thomas could draw a slot cornerback or maybe even Sherman.
6. Weather not that big a factor: The cold-weather forecast was supposed to affect Manning and the Broncos more than the Seahawks. Why? Manning's numbers do drop in cold temperatures, while the Seahawks are built for the cold because they run the ball and play tough defense. But the Broncos and the NFL got a break. The bad weather hit last week and the forecast is actually pretty good. Temperatures are supposed to be in the high 40s during the day and around 42 at game time. If there is precipitation, it is expected to be more rain than snow. The coldest Super Bowl was Super Bowl VI in New Orleans when it was 39 degrees at kickoff at Tulane Stadium. The only Super Bowl played in rainy conditions was Manning's lone Super Bowl win in Miami. The scary part about that game was the eight turnovers. As mentioned above, the Seahawks usually win the turnover battle.
7. Tackling the key: Because Manning doesn't have a deep arm anymore, he will try to move his passing offense with shorter, smart passes and crossing routes and bunch formations. For that to work against the Seahawks, pass-catchers will have to break tackles and get yards after the catch. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Broncos are the best in football in YAC. The Broncos averaged 5.6 yards after catch in the regular season. They had 2,583 yards after 461 receptions. The Seahawks' defense was No. 1 in defending yards after catch. The Seahawks allowed only 1,275 yards after the catch while the Broncos ranked 23rd giving up 1,939 yards after receptions That could help the Seahawks if they can get Harvin, Golden Tate and others into matchups against the Broncos' secondary.
8. Legion of Boom against Legion of Veterans: With three Pro Bowlers, the Seahawks' secondary is considered the best in football. For the Broncos, keeping the secondary healthy has been a struggle. Cornerback Champ Bailey missed 11 regular-season games. He had only 20 passes thrown against him in the regular season. Eleven were caught. Harris did a great job replacing Bailey, but he blew out an ACL during the playoffs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is 27 and did well this season. Only 24 of 63 passes were completed against him. It was a little surprising he talked about retiring earlier this week if the Broncos win the Super Bowl. With no contract for next season, DRC figures to be posturing for a deal. Because the Seahawks use a lot of three-receiver sets, the game could come down to how well Tate, Harvin and Doug Baldwin do against Denver's three corners. Bailey has been working more in the slot against three-receiver sets with DRC and Tony Carter working on the outside.
9. A little-told story by zone-blocking teams: Zone-blocking teams, such as the Seahawks, have had difficulty at times. The biggest example of that was the drop-off we saw with the Houston Texans. Much of their failure had to do with the injuries to halfbacks Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Offensive line coaches around the league, though, are complaining about defensive holding and its impact on running games. Line coaches say defensive linemen are getting away with too much holding. The Seahawks are concerned about that. The trend around the league is to have a defensive lineman grab the first pulling blocker and bring him to the ground or yank him out of his path. Officials aren't calling many of those holds. If the Broncos can get away from a few grabs, it could disrupt the Seahawks' running attack.
10. Omaha and the Legion of Verbiage: No quarterback uses more calls and fake calls than Manning. His antics along the line confuse defenses and put his pass-catchers in position to make plays. What's interesting is the constant challenge to come up with new words. Manning is big on phrases and words from movies. His offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, is two years younger than the 37-year-old Manning and is on the same page with many of Manning's references. For example, they try to come up with words and phrases from the movie "Stripes." The challenge is getting the younger receivers to follow along. Young receivers may not know "Stripes." Manning and Gase text each other all the time with different ideas as they prepare for games. Receivers and tight ends do the same. Manning may be old-school, but he's up to date on technology.
Check out the NFL Blitz tomorrow for the pick on the big game!!!