Super Bowl XLVIII Super Concerns: Legitimate & illegitimate

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Two things you should probably be worried about come Sunday, and two things you really shouldn't sweat.

Although numerous seasons of watching the Hawks, M's and Sonics have conditioned me to be a worrying worryhead, this edition of the Seattle Seahawks is doing its best to cure me of such silly sports neuroses. Hopefully you too!

Only twice all year did I wake up on Sunday and tell myself that the Hawks were probably going to lose. Versus the Texans, then again at the Niners. The Hawks didn't even bother to lose both games. They are so rude.

And come Sunday morning, truthfully, I'll have no idea which team will win. But I'm only going to worry about the right things. Therefore, in no particular order, here come two legitimate concerns any Hawks fan should have... as well as two illegitimate ones.

Think of it as a really awkward miniature Cromartie family reunion. (Nobody promised the analogies were going to be any good.)

Concern One: Red zone offense

Let us begin by sitting together at this table.

Red zone stat Denver Seattle
TD % (rank) 72.73 (1) 53.23 (14)
TD %, last 3 games 57.14 25.00 (barf)
Passer rating (rank) 120.7 (1) 92.2 (13)

The unhappy statistics above point toward an supremely efficient red zone offense for Denver, even if it dipped a little against good playoff teams. (The last team to reach a 72 percent TD conversion rate was the 2007 Saints. Before that, the 2003 Chiefs.) Manning, the jerk, got better as his team approached the goal line.

Meanwhile, the Hawks have spent the last three games cultivating a disturbing pattern: they are three times more likely to either kick a field goal or turn the ball over than to score a touchdown in the red zone.

There are bright spots, though. Denver's red zone defense is 26th in the league, while Seattle's is 2nd. More on that in a later post, a compilation of interesting and unique stats discovered during research hours. (Defined as: when the rest of the house is sleeping and I can't sleep because Super Bowl.)

Still, not good omens.

Verdict: Legitimate

Concern Two: Seattle will have a hard time sacking Peyton Manning.

This one is tricky because nobody pressured Manning all year long. Manning "suffered" a sack rate of 2.7 this year -- one out of every 37 dropbacks, best percentage in the league. (Wilson checks in at 9.8, worst in the league, by the way.) As low as that sounds, it's not even that good for Peyton. It's his second-worst mark since 2007. He posted a sort-of-unreal 1.7 rate back in 2009.

Consider that in 2013, Manning was three times as likely to throw a touchdown pass than he was to get sacked. It's unreasonable to expect multiple sacks on Sunday.  "How are we ever going to tackle Peyton?" is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking ourselves, "Since we're not going to take him down, how can we disrupt the Denver offense?"

Pressure and coverage, is how.

"ABC" (Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Chris Clemons) combined for 22 sacks. That's swell. What's better, and more salient, is what you get once you dig one level past the raw sack number:

Sacks QB hits Hurries
Avril 8 13 28
Bennett 9 25 39
Clemons 5 10 28

It might be unrealistic to expect a bunch of sacks on Sunday. But a few hits and hurries will have an impact, and ABC have proved that's as easy as 1-2-3 for them.

The other half of eliciting mistakes from Peyton: great coverage. If only there were a team that featured several gifted, physical, All-Pro-level defensive ba--OH WAIT

Verdict: Illegitimate to expect sacks, as that's not the right way to measure the Seattle DL's performance. Illegitimate to assume that great pressure and consistent coverage will suddenly disappear.

Concern Three: Denver's run defense.

Looks good, even dominant, for stretches at a time. Worrisome? Perhaps.

Yards allowed, first six games: 419. Just less than 70 per game. Not bad.

Yards allowed, last four games: 280. Magic number of 70 reached again.

Obvious overreaction: the Broncos are practically another Niners or Cardinals squad, ready to shut down all our ground assault weapons! Concede! Run away! Eh, not so fast, brave sir Robin. In the eight games in between, Denver's foes averaged 132 yards on the ground.

Overreaction in the opposite direction: whew, so they suck and the concern here is illegitimate! Right? You just hold your horsies. Let's graduate from yards allowed to grown-up stats.

In eighteen games, per FO rankings, Denver faced the No. 1 run-blocking team twice, and the No. 2 team three times, and the No. 3 team twice, and the No. 4 team once as well, just for giggles. Plus the number six team, too, hey, why not. And they still finished ahead of Seattle in advanced statistics, plus tied exactly in traditional (inferior) stats. Another full table looms:

Denver Seattle
FO rush defense rank 8 9
FO sked rank (higher = easier) 24 31
Adv. NFL Stats opp. run EPA/play -0.08 -0.06
Adv. NFL Stats opp. run success rate 61.3 62.0
Total rushing yards allowed 1,626 1,626
Yards/rushing attempt allowed 3.9 3.9

There are probably more stats that show both run defenses to be pretty equal in performance. But you get the point. Denver's defense may well have played from ahead all year long, but their run-stopping is as legit as the Hawks'.

It's not all doom and gloom for Seattle fans, though. Maybe just gloom. The Chiefs ran all over the Broncos -- 303 yards total in two meetings. Just take care to not mention that the Chiefs lost both times.

Verdict: Legitimate!

Concern Four: Earl Thomas' effectiveness and usefulness.

Earl Thomas' elite skill is his unmatched coverage area. But Peyton Manning's noodle arm doesn't take enough deep shots downfield for Thomas to be a factor in the vertical passing game.

Peyton does have a bit of a reputation as a gifted putter who could stand to hit the ball a little harder off the tee. His play in the first 12 weeks of the season underscores that point. But look at what happened to his completions in the final five weeks of the season.

Deep right Deep middle Deep left Deep Stats, total Deep TD/game
Weeks 1-12 10-31 8-13 okay 12-32 30-76, 39.5%, 6 TD 0.5
Weeks 13-17 7-11 8-10 whoa 9-20 24-41, 58.5%, 9 TD 1.8

Peyton's really good at the deep middle pass. As the season wound down, he developed a strong crush on all long passes. He upped his attempts downfield, while raising his completion percentage and connecting for more TD's. Don't let his reputation fool you: he is playing the whole field right now.

There is definitely something there for Earl to take away.

Verdict: Illegitimate

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bonus item! I found a bonus item!

Concern Five: the Chinese calendar.

It's the Year of the Horse. 2014 is the frickin' Year of the Horse. Are you serious.

I prefer to think of it as the Year of the Hoarse. But if you're still worried, let's examine how various mascots performed in "their year."

Tiger

The Cincinnati Bengals failed to appear in the Super Bowl in 1974, 1986, 1998 or 2010.

Sheep

The St. Louis Rams failed to appear in the Super Bowl in 1967, 1979, 1991 or 2013.

Dog

There are no dog mascots in the NFL, somehow.

Dragon

The Barcelona Dragons of the WLAF and NFLEurope are one of the success stories of overseas football. They appeared in four World Bowls, winning one. Ironically, they made the 1999 and 2001 title games, but managed to miss out in 2000, which was, yes, the year of the Dragon. So no data. Except that Jon Kitna was the winning quarterback when Barcelona won the '97 championship. That's data.

Horse

The Colts missed all the relevant Super Bowls: 1978, 1990, 2002 and this one. Ah, but the Broncos. They showed up in '78 and '90. TO LOSE BOTH TIMES. The combined score in Year Of The Horse Super Bowls Involving Horses:

Non-Horses 82

Horses 20

Verdict: Don't mess with the Chinese Calendar.

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