The official coronation ceremony actually started when the game clock hit 0:00 after the fourth quarter.
In my mind, Percy Harvin kicked off the Seattle Seahawks' Superbowl coronation by taking the opening kickoff of the 2nd half 87 yards in twelve seconds for a touchdown. I was pretty damn confident going into halftime with Seattle already up 22-0. For most of the second half of the season, I've viewed the Seahawks magic number each game as 21. If Seattle can score more than 21 points in any fashion, their defense has been playing at such an elite level that Seattle could beat anyone, including the Broncos.
Of course, I had no earthly idea the Seahawks' magic number in Superbowl XLVIII was actually 9, but after Percy Harvin did what he does best to begin the 2nd half, I went from confident to unequivocally sure.
The Seattle Seahawks were going to win the Superbowl.
Just like I did after the NFC Championship Game, I'll be breaking down the explosive plays from the Superbowl. Like last time, to highlight the leverage of each play, I've included the Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA) of each play.
I've also added a third stat, which I call the Expected Points Differential (EPD). EPD simply is the difference between the EPA before the play (accounting down, distance, score, time, etc.) and after the play. WPA is listed as a change in the percent chance of a Seahawks victory. As always, all stats come from Pro Football Reference.
Let's get explosive!
2-7-SEA 39 (14:08 1st Quarter) P. Harvin left end for 30 yards (D. Ihenacho).
WPA: +6.8% EPA: 3.51 EPD: +2.31
Lord have mercy! It's Percy! - Richard Sherman
Following the Denver Broncos' first-play safety, Seattle not only received 2 points but also excellent field position following the free kick. After a short 3 yard gain by Marshawn Lynch, Seattle comes out in 11 personnel with Percy Harvin lined up as the Z receiver to the right.
Harvin comes into motion prior to the snap. Champ Bailey is working the slot against Jermaine Kearse but instead comes in on a run blitz at the snap. Russell Okung down-blocks to his right at the snap, leaving DT Terrance Knighton unblocked, ostensibly by design. Knighton's assignment seems to solely be Russell Wilson and the bootlegs he's so fond of, because Pot Roast has absolutely no idea Harvin has the football. Even Breno Giaccomini does his part to sell the run-fake to Lynch by sealing off the "playside" defensive end.
By the way, I almost forgot: Percy Harvin is fast.
3-5-DEN 43 (3:45 1st Quarter) R. Wilson pass complete deep left to D. Baldwin for 37 yards (C. Bailey).
WPA: +11.1% EPA: 5.83 EPD: +4.01
Good route, boy. - Champ Bailey
One of the reasons why I love this play so much is that Percy Harvin is lined up as the tailback next to Russell Wilson in the backfield. Harvin's ability as a force-multiplier means the Seattle offense can run tons of different plays out of this formation and Denver has to account for many of them.
Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are split out left with Baldwin in the slot and Champ Bailey lined up against Baldwin. At the snap, Baldwin slowly creeps up to Bailey, almost as if he is going to run block for Percy. Bailey has his eyes in the backfield but doesn't notice Golden Tate coming across on a slant right to him. At the last moment, Baldwin crosses underneath Tate's route and breaks out into his own sideline route.
Bailey can only put on the jets and hope to catch Baldwin before he gets into the endzone. Russell Wilson also gets a solid pocket on this critical third down, giving him plenty of time to loft an accurate ball into Doug's hands.
1-10-DEN 37 (0:59 1st Quarter) P. Harvin left end for 15 yards (M. Adams).
WPA: +2.4% EPA: 4.11 EPD: +0.99
Here we go. Percy. - Terry McAulay
Seattle's first play from scrimmage following Kam Chancellor's interception of Peyton Manning. Not only is the formation similar to the first Harvin sweep, it's the exact same formation as the first Harvin sweep. Denver was a little more ready for the sweep this time but when you're dealing with Percy Harvin's speed, being ready for it means you give up 15 yards instead of 30.
In case you folks were unaware, Percy Harvin is a fast man.
3-9-DEN 41 (7:40 2nd Quarter) P. Manning pass complete short middle to W. Welker for 16 yards (W. Thurmond).
WPA: -4.2% EPA: 2.72 EPD: +2.22
Let's go. Get open on time here. - Peyton Manning
Contrary to popular belief, Denver actually ran a few explosive plays of their own in this game (five, actually). Denver comes out on this play in their standard 11 personnel formation. The always-gritty Wes Welker is lined up in the slot with nickle corner Walter Thurmond lined up opposite him.
Thurmond gets a solid jam of Welker at the snap and is able to provide fairly tight coverage as Welker goes down-field. Welker is able to gain separation by adjusting his route to the left sideline, taking him across the field. Right before Chris Clemons takes him down, Peyton Manning is able to get rid of the football to Welker in stride. Manning is a future Hall-of-Famer and will make a few of those throws at some point.
3-5-DEN 38 (2:49 2nd Quarter) P. Manning pass complete deep left to D. Thomas for 19 yards (B. Maxwell).
WPA: -1.3% EPA: 2.72 EPD: +2.16
Hey, we're the best damn offense to ever play this game...alright, we gotta start doing it, baby. - Wes Welker
The Broncos are furiously trying to get on the board before halftime following Malcolm Smith's 67 yard interception return for a touchdown. Denver comes out in a very interesting formation, one Stephen White refers to in his Notebook as "The Oopty Oop".
Denver comes out with a X and Z receiver split out wide but with a trips bunch set in the slot. Demaryius Thomas is lined up as the X across from Byron Maxwell. Seattle gets great interior pressure up the middle by Clinton McDonald but it's not enough to alter Manning's throw.
Thomas turns himself around to catch the well-thrown back-shoulder fade by using his right arm on Maxwell's inside shoulder. This gives Thomas the necessary space to go up and grab the fade. Maxwell tries to execute a punch-out from over the top of Thomas but is a tad late. A helluva throw and a helluva catch.
1-10-SEA 8 (10:38 3rd Quarter) M. Lynch right guard for 18 yards (M. Adams, D. Ihenacho).
WPA: 0.0% EPA: 0.67 EPD: +1.05
Is it alright if we score some more points? - Marshawn Lynch
Tom Cable decided to employ more six OL looks about halfway through the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco with much success. Early in the 3rd quarter and in what was probably their worst field position all day, Seattle added in Alvin Bailey as a de facto 6th lineman, though he lined up off the line as a 2nd tight end next to Zach Miller.
At the snap, the line washes the Broncos' defensive line to the right sideline. Nate Irving is left unblocked on the backside but bites just long enough on Wilson's bootleg fake to open up a wide C gap cut-back lane. Shaun Phillips looks as though he beats Zach Miller's block en route to a tackle for a loss on Lynch but Miller recovers and takes Phillips out of the play. Lynch makes a pretty cut back into the open lane and runs his way to his best carry of the game.
1-10-SEA 44 (6:08 3rd Quarter) P. Manning pass complete deep left to D. Thomas for 23 yards (B. Maxwell). D. Thomas fumbles (B. Maxwell), recovered by M. Smith at SEA 20 and returned 7 yards (J. Thomas). Penalty on O. Franklin: Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards.
WPA: +0.1% EPA: -1.73 EPD: -4.38
What you do when you be yourself and do that, that's...that's impact, bro. Man, you're great. I'm just a fan. I love watching. - Earl Thomas
Demaryius Thomas is lined up in the trips bunch set on the right of the formation. Manning runs a play-action fake at the snap, which draws Bobby Wagner in. Before Wagner can cover and get back into his zone drop, Thomas is already behind him on his crossing route.
Maxwell, who had been covering Julius Thomas on the outside, comes up to make the tackle but not before channeling his inner Peanut Tillman and punching the ball out, which Superbowl MVP Malcolm Smith recovers. When you can't fully limit explosive plays, then make it all about the ball.
2-9-DEN 42 (3:58 3rd Quarter) R. Wilson pass complete deep right to R. Lockette for 19 yards (D. Rodgers-Cromartie).
WPA: 0.0% EPA: 4.04 EPD: +1.73
Go get your mind tuned in. Let's go be world champions. - Russell Wilson
From here on out, every single play in the Superbowl had zero leverage on the win probability. In fact, Maxwell's forced fumble changed Seattle's win probability from 99.9% to 100%. However, these big plays that follow still had value with regard to the expected points they generated. Also, try telling Ricardo Lockette that his 19 yard catch in the Superbowl had no value.
Seattle again comes out with their 6 offensive lineman package with Alvin Bailey but this time Bailey is declared ineligible and Seattle is in 11 personnel. The play-action fake for Lynch is well-executed and gives Wilson a clean pocket to throw from. As an aside, I'm very pleased Wilson had a clean pocket the majority of the game.
Lockette is lined up against DRC, who gives Lockette tight coverage but doesn't attempt to jam him at the line. With a clean release off the line, Lockette uses his speed to make DRC pay, then makes a clean catch for the big play. Also, major props to Lockette for a fresh first-down celebration with his dust-off-adjust-the-tie look.
1-10-DEN 23 (3:11 3rd Quarter) R. Wilson pass complete short right to J. Kearse for 23 yards, touchdown.
WPA: 0.0% EPA: 7 EPD: +3.96
I think we missed about four tackles on that one - John Fox
On the play immediately after Lockette's catch, Seattle goes into a five wides look, with Kearse lined up wide right. Kearse runs a simple slant route. Golden Tate is the slot receiver by Kearse and his go route vacates space underneath for Kearse to maneuver.
Once Kearse makes the catch, the rest is all him.
He does an excellent job shielding the ball and his body after the catch, which allows him to spin out of the first two missed tackles. He then lowers his shoulder right before the next hit, using the defender's momentum against him. That allows him to break the final two tackles on his way to paydirt. Let's not forget the fact that Tony Carter don't want none as Kearse runs into the endzone.
1-10-SEA 36 (0:29 3rd Quarter) P. Manning pass complete short left to W. Welker for 22 yards (E. Thomas).
WPA: 0.0% EPA: 4.65 EPD: +1.47
Just go out there, play with your heart, do your assignment, we'll be just fine. - Wes Welker
Much had been made of the Broncos' proclivity for rub routes going into the Superbowl and they did not attempt to disappoint. Here, we see one of these routes net them a big play. Welker and Eric Decker are lined up tight on the right side, with Thurmond and Richard Sherman lined up opposite. It seems that Sherman diagnoses the routes pre-snap, as he calls off Thurmond's pre-snap motion toward Welker, knowing a rub route is coming.
At the snap, Decker and Welker immediately cross, with Decker running the rub for Welker. Thurmond slightly jostles Sherman but sticks with Welker. However, Welker leads Thurmond directly into a collision with Kam Chancellor and that gives Welker all the space he needs to make an easy catch and turn up-field.
1-10-DEN 34 (12:37 4th Quarter) R. Wilson pass complete deep middle to J. Kearse for 24 yards (T. Carter).
WPA: 0.0% EPA: 4.91 EPD: +1.6
This is our time, let's take it over. - Russell Wilson
Seattle decides to counter Denver with a trips bunch set of their own. Harvin, Kearse and Baldwin make up the bunch set and are split out right tight to the formation. Kearse and Baldwin both run go routes, with Kearse threading the hashmarks and numbers while Baldwin runs along the redline.
Denver appears to be in a Cover 2 and Harvin goes right at the safety to his side by attacking the middle of the field. Any safety in the league would take note if they saw Percy coming right at them. With the safety drawn away, Tony Carter has to split the go routes of Kearse and Baldwin.
When you're covering two receivers, you're really covering no receivers. With a clean pocket, Wilson can pick which go route he throws to; he decides to go with the hometown kid over the homerun throw. Doug can't be too mad though, he does catch a touchdown pass the very next play.
1-10-DEN 28 (11:23 4th Quarter) P. Manning pass complete short middle to D. Thomas for 17 yards (E. Thomas).
WPA: 0.0% EPA: 1.93 EPD: +1.12
Let's go man, let's go get it. - Peyton Manning
Near the end of the game, Joe Buck, in only the way Joe Buck can, told his audience that both Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas had set Superbowl records for completions and catches, respectively. Honestly, I was pretty shocked; the defensive domination I had witnessed up to that point had seemed incongruous with any sort of positive passing records being set against it. But both records really played into the Seahawks' hands: Seattle wanted Manning to make tons of short throws and didn't care if one guy got the lion's share of them.
Welker, Demaryius and Decker are lined up again in a trips bunch set, this time to the left of the formation between the hashmarks and the numbers. Seattle is in a Cover 2 look with Thurmond, Maxwell and Jeremy Lane playing off the bunch set. Thurmond crashes down on Decker at the snap but misjudges the route and Thomas instead runs by him on a slant up the middle. Thurmond readjusts too late and Thomas makes a clean catch and run off the slant route.
1-20-DEN 49 (7:26 4th Quarter) R. Wilson scrambles left for 16 yards (M. Adams).
WPA: 0.0% EPA: 3.25 EPD: +0.93
Attack mode...Keep that sense of urgency. - Russell Wilson
The final explosive play of the Superbowl could have been even bigger. Seattle found itself facing a 1st and 20 after a holding penalty on Zach Miller following a decent run by Robert Turbin (who has the worst running luck in the world, it seems).
Falling behind schedule already, Seattle comes out in a shotgun formation with an empty backfield. Harvin comes in motion left to right pre-snap and moves into the flat as an outlet option for Wilson, which draws a Denver defender down to account for him.
Baldwin, Kearse and Miller all run go routes, similar to Kearse's huge touchdown catch on 4th down against San Francisco. Baldwin streaks down the sideline and has beaten his man to set up a huge play, possibly even another touchdown. The throw never comes, however, as Malik Jackson collapses the pocket from the interior. You can see that Wilson is just about to let the football fly, but instead tucks the ball down and escapes the pocket out of the left B gap, getting himself 16 yards before going out of bounds.
That play perfectly illustrates the type of night the Seahawks were having against Denver: the plays they drew up worked nearly to perfection and when they went as planned, they gained huge chunks of yards or a touchdown. Even when the plays didn't work out perfectly, Seattle was so much more talented and prepared than the Denver Broncos those plays still ended being explosive.
That's when you know you're kicking someone's ass, all the way to your franchise's first ever Superbowl championship.
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