Yesterday, Walter Jones was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 25 players were named as finalists for induction this year and it is quite the accomplishment to get voted in the first year your name is on the ballot. Jones is regarded by many as the best left tackle to ever play the game. His offseason training program is legendary. Big Walt would hold out and miss training camp each year, choosing to stay home and push around Escalades. Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see that the man probably felt he could prepare better for the season on his own rather than enduring training camp. I am sure the Seahawks’ brass didn’t particularly like it, but it’s impossible to argue with the results. Jones started all 180 games during his 13-year career, protecting the blind side of various Seahawks' quarterbacks during that time. In all, he took part in 5,703 offensive snaps and was called for holding nine times. To put that in a better perspective, every 633 pass attempts, he drew a flag for getting too much jersey. If you do the math, that’s .0016 percent of the snaps he was involved in. He allowed a sack every 248 passing attempts, or .004 percent of the time. He went to the Pro Bowl nine times and was named to the All-Pro team six times. Immediately upon his retirement, the Seahawks retired his No. 71 jersey, becoming only the third Seahawk to earn that honor (Steve Largent and Cortez Kennedy are the other two). Offensive linemen often don’t get the praise they deserve, but Jones was as dominating of a player as there was in the game in his prime. If you need proof, check out this highlight montage. Congratulations and thank you, Big Walt. In my mind, you’re the greatest Seahawk of all-time.
In less than five hours, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will play in Super Bowl XLVIII (that’s 48, for you guys that don’t like roman numerals). The past two weeks have been chalked full of the NFL media’s narratives.
Peyton Manning and his quest for a second Super Bowl ring. Champ Bailey, one of the best cornerbacks to ever roam a secondary, trying to win his first to put a perfect ending on an illustrious 15-year career. John Elway, the iconic Bronco who won two Super Bowls during his brilliant career in Denver and his continued success in the front office—the man who successfully recruited Manning and surrounded him with an insane amount of talent. John Fox and his up and down season with his health and reports that he will earn a $1M bonus if the Broncos win the Super Bowl.
Russell Wilson, the second-year quarterback who has defied the odds while embarking on one of the most impressive starts to a career that a quarterback has ever had while reaching the pinnacle of his profession and remembering his dad who is no longer here to witness his biggest moment. Richard Sherman and the post fallout from his explosive tirade following the NFC Championship. Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to fully engage the media. Pete Carroll and his NFL coaching redemption. Derrick Coleman overcoming some pretty major obstacles and doing probably the coolest thing during the past week.
Over the past two weeks, these players and their stories have come into focus. It’s what will draw more than 100 million viewers to their big screens today as they celebrate what is essentially a national holiday.
Two old AFC West rivals. Two No. 1 seeds. The No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense. Strength against strength. Goliath versus Goliath.
In seven hours, these narratives can be put to bed. In seven hours, the only thing left will be the 106 men who comprise the best football teams in the world.
And probably some pretty cool Super Bowl commercials.
As a Seahawks fan, it’s hard to not be a little biased. When I look at these two teams, I see a paradox. When you think of two teams that couldn’t be more different than each other like the Seahawks and Broncos are, it makes it very hard to predict an outcome.
The Broncos boast the most prolific offense in NFL history, piloted by arguably the greatest quarterback to ever line up behind center. Manning shattered single-season records for most passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55). Five Broncos’ players amassed more than 10 touchdowns from scrimmage this year. Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11) and Wes Welker (10) provide Manning a plethora of weapons to choose from that give opposing defenses fits. In all, the Broncos scored 606 points this season, besting the 589 points scored by the 2007 New England Patriots. Their passing game is their strength and Manning is going to throw the ball a lot.
By the numbers and the eye test, the Seahawks have the most dominant and intimidating defense in the league. In the offensive environment of today’s NFL, it’s simply not easy to play elite-level defense, but that’s exactly what the Seahawks accomplished this season. They became the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the NFL in points allowed (14.4), yards allowed (273.6), and takeaways (39) Deion Sanders, a man that obviously has a little bit of knowledge on the subject boldly stated that the Seahawks had the best secondary ever. Chase Stuart at Football Perspective dissected the Seahawks’ pass defense here and concluded it is the second best unit since 1970. They led the league with 28 interceptions. They allowed a paltry 172 passing yards per game. The Seahawks are fast up front and they are relentless in their attacking pursuit. They run a 4-3 base defense with 3-4 personnel and Carroll looks for every way imaginable to play up to the strength of his players. They did struggle containing San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the NFC Championship Game, but allowed just 31 yards on 16 carries (1.9 YPC) to 49ers’ running backs.
In my opinion, this game will be decided is in each team’s weaker unit.
For the Broncos, it’s their defense, a group that allowed 356 yards per game and was 22nd in the league against the pass. Overall, they finished with the league’s No. 19 overall defense. They are much better against the run, coming in at No. 7 overall (tied with the Seahawks). It's a group missing the talented Von Miller and they will have to step up.
The Seahawks finished the regular season with the No. 17 ranked offense in the league. They are a power run team (No. 4 in rushing offense) that relies heavily on Marshawn Lynch. Carroll is big on ball control and the Seahawks threw the ball only 26.2 times per game on average during the regular season. The 49ers were the only team to throw it less (26.1 attempts per game). Despite that, Wilson finished the season with 26 touchdown passes, 3,357 yards and 8.25 YPA (4th in the NFL) while playing much of the season with a depleted offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson was the unfortunate recipient of the worst pass protection in the league, facing pressure on 46.6 percent of his pass attempts. The Seahawks averaged 26.1 points per game so the potential for points is definitely there against the Broncos’ less than stellar defense, but they have to protect Wilson better.
I could post statistics all day, but this is a game that will not be decided by the past success of both teams. The Seahawks have never seen an offense like this and the Broncos haven’t faced a defense like this. The Seahawks will attack Manning on defense, applying as much pressure as they can and hoping that someone on Denver’s side of the ball misses an assignment. He’s deadly at getting the ball out quickly—2.36 seconds to be exact, which is the fastest time among qualified quarterbacks. It won’t be easy to pressure him, but the Seahawks’ defense has to find a way. I fully expect him to pile up yards, because he’s Peyton Manning and he has more weapons than our military, but he whether it’s fair or not, he has to get the monkey off his back that tells us that he has an 8-11 career record in the playoffs in sub-40 degree weather.
This game comes down to the Seahawks’ offense—a unit that is more talented than many people give them credit for. The Broncos’ defense will have trouble stopping Lynch and putting eight men in the box is not going to work today because Wilson and Co. will shred a Broncos’ secondary that was below average this season. Percy Harvin has mostly been an afterthought this week which was probably to be expected, but the impact that he will have today will be enormous. He has developed a chip on his shoulder and would love nothing more than to quiet his doubters on the biggest stage in football. Even if his presence isn’t felt in the box score, it will be felt on the field and he will open things up for the rest of the offense. Don’t forget the fact that he averaged 35.9 yards per kickoff return last year and nearly took a kick to the house earlier this year against his former team. The Seahawks are a different offense when he is on the field and there is very little video on how the Seahawks will use him. Don’t be surprised when you see formations with both Lynch and Harvin in the backfield—with a quarterback that can run the read option pretty effectively. Can you say nightmare? Admittedly, I'm not an X's and O's guy, but that sounds like it could potentially cause some problems for the Broncos.
I respect Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and it’s not my intention to underestimate them. What they have done this year on the offensive side of the ball is nothing short of legendary. But when I look at this matchup for Denver, I believe it is going to cause a lot of problems for them. Historically, offensive juggernauts typically do not fare well in the Super Bowl against stout defenses. I mentioned the 2007 Patriots already, a team that ran the table during the regular season and coasted to a Super Bowl showdown with the New York Giants, and we all know how that one turned out. The Buffalo Bills, led by Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, was stifled by the Giants in 1990. The Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. The 49ers and the Miami Dolphins in 1984. The Raiders and Washington Redskins in 1983.
The No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense have met in the Super Bowl four times. The No. 1 defense won three of those matchups. If you believe that history holds relevancy, it’s not a surprise that NFL.com got predictions from their 12 analysts and nine of them picked the Seahawks to win. During the second half of today’s game, it’s going to be cold and possibly very wet. Those are not ideal conditions for a team that relies heavily on passing the football. Factor in the league’s stingiest pass defense—a group mostly made up of ball-hawking opportunists—and Manning better hope that he plays mistake-free football for the full 60 minutes.
I don’t think he will and that’s not a slight against him. Whether he wins this game or not, his legacy is already firmly established. He’s going to play next season and destroy nearly every passing record in the book. Further, I don’t think the Broncos’ defense will be able to slow down a healthy Seahawks’ offense—a group that, quite frankly, is sick and tired of hearing that they’re mediocre. This will be their coming out party.
Seahawks 31, Broncos 21
SB XLVIII MVP:
Percy Harvin finishes with 100+ yards from scrimmage and returns a kickoff for a touchdown.
Rain City Redemption, indeed.
Why not us?
What do you got? Post your predictions below.