Super Bowl 48, Seahawks vs. Broncos: A closer look at the statistics

Christian Petersen

The latest prediction for the Seahawks' next game.

A Retrospect

The Seahawks are going to the Superb Owl. Readers probably already know this. For those who don't know the Seahawks are going to the Superb Owl, it's true! For those readers who knew this after the game ended, please forgive my bit of repetitive excitement. The Seahawks are going to the Superb Owl! Despite the fact that I always thought the Seahawks were the best team in the league, I never thought the Championship Game was a particularly likely scenario - there are just too many moving pieces to predict the Superb Owl with any certainty. However, before we move on, we should take a look back and see how the Seahawks made it this far.

The NFC Championship game was everything we could have hoped for. It was tense, it was dramatic, it was thrilling, and it gave us athletic talents we rarely get to see. I would say it was a pleasure to watch, but that would be a lie. I spent far too much time in a frantic cooking frenzy to say this game was a pleasure to watch.

From the get-go the Seahawks seemed determined to make the contest close. Starting with Russell's strange opening play and finishing with a historic Seattle moment. The game featured venomous hits, lead changes and ultimately a masterful fourth quarter by the Seahawks.

While San Francisco played well behind Colin Kaepernick's runs in the first half, their success on offense was fool's gold. The runs that buttressed the offense crumbled as the Seahawks sharpened their focus and with Frank Gore being shut down, the game was decisively up to Colin Kaepernick. Fortunately for Seahawks fans, we've seen what happens when Kaepernick is the deciding factor against the Seattle defense. Kaepernick is a good player and he should only get better, but for now, it's difficult to watch Kaepernick struggle against Seattle's defense and call him an elite quarterback.

This next section allows readers to assess how well my predictions have played out. As always, this post will rely heavily on stats (all stats through week 20-ish), mostly from Football Outsiders. You can read more here.

On to the recap!

Where my predictions were right!

  • The 49ers offensive line would struggle to open holes for Frank Gore.

  • Vernon Davis would be held to around 30 yards.

  • Michael Crabtree would finish with around 40 yards.

  • Ditto for Boldin.

  • Colin Kaepernick would have around 150 yards passing, one TD, and a few turnovers.

  • One receiver would have a great day and a number of others would finish with around 40 yards, and a TD somewhere among the bunch.

  • The Score line would be around 23 - 10

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Gore would be ineffective and finish with around 60 yards.

  • The running game would be successful for Seattle, and finish with around 75 yards.

  • San Fran would sack Russell a few times and allow him to rush for around 20 yards.

Somewhere in between.

  • Oddly, nothing here this week. Bound to happen eventually, I guess.

At a Glance

What a matchup. The number one defense against the number one offense. The best passing attack the league has ever seen against one of the best secondaries the league has ever seen. An exciting new quarterback vs one of (if not) the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. There are so many great story lines that I certainly can't describe them all, much less think of them. This is the Super Bowl. The stakes don't get any higher, and if you aren't excited out of your mind, then I don't know what to tell you because you're clearly not a football fan.

The Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos' Offense

I'm tempted to just say,  "They're really good," and call it a day, but I feel like Peyton Manning might get mad at me and I don't want that. Can you imagine how much influence Peyton has? Considering all the endorsements he's signed onto over the years, he could blacklist you from potentially half of America's businesses. Sorry, I digress.

To begin, I would suggest you take a look at Danny's great article on Denver's weapons.

You back? Good, now let's get down to some stats. Seeing as the passing offense is Denver's main focus, we'll start there. Denver ranks 1st (Whoa, who knew!?) in passing DVOA. They finished the season at about 60%, which is just absurd. For context, Seattle - which has a good passing offense - finished with around 28%. Another example is New Orleans, which finished with around 36%. Their rushing offense ranked 10th, and, their offense remains good after post season play, ranking 3rd at about 30%.

There's no getting around it. Their offense is a leviathan. Even if a defense effectively slows the passing offense, the rushing offense is still good enough to score points.  However, slowing down that passing offense is ludicrously difficult. They simply have too many weapons. Want to take away the deep throws? Denver will throw underneath to Julius Thomas and Wes Welker. Take away deep, and short routes? Denver will hit the intermediate routes.

It's a truly great offense that the Seahawks should be excited to face off against.

The Denver Broncos' Defense

This is where the Von Miller injury really hurts. The Denver defense could have really used a phenomenal pass rusher this season. As it stands, Denver ranked 15th at season's end in total defensive DVOA. Starkly average overall, their effectiveness against the run and pass were split somewhat dramatically. Against the pass Denver was ranked just 21st in defensive passing DVOA. In simpler stats, they allowed 4070 yards (27th), 29 TDs (tied for 21st), and an opponent's passer rating of 84.5 (17th).

Had the Denver defense added a pass rusher of Miller's caliber they might have had much more success against the pass - especially considering how many times Denver has held the lead. As it stands, Denver ranks 21st in adjusted sack rate - somewhat below average. This weakness has allowed teams to score on Denver and close large gaps in point differential.

While Denver's pass defense has left much to be desired, the rush defense has been a nice surprise. They rank 9th in rush defense DVOA and for a bit of scale they've allowed the exact same number of rush yards as Seattle (1,626). Considering how often Denver has been in the lead, you might think that their defense would be focusing on the pass - attempting to prevent comebacks. If there is a focus on the pass, then it would also be logical for the defense to give up efficient gains on the ground because the clock is just as much a threat as the players that line up for Denver's defense. The fact that Denver has held up well against the run then, is especially impressive.

Terrance Knighton (Pot Roast) is likely tabbed as the main reason the Denver defense has been so effective against the run. Another name often thrown in the mix is Danny Trevathan, who has turned into a very nice player for Denver. 128 tackles, four forced fumbles, three picks, and a couple of sacks make up his excellent stat line.

Keeping that rush defense in mind, I'm leaning towards calling Denver's defense average. That's not to say their bad, but effective defenses now focus on stopping the pass - something Denver has struggled with all season.

The Seattle Seahawks

At this point, I'm not sure I can say anything particularly new. After adjusting for the win in week 20, Seattle has a total DVOA of 38.6%. Denver's is 33.1%. After you weight more recent games as more important, Seattle rises to 46.4% while Denver slides to 28.2%. That's a pretty significant difference and probably why football outsiders has Seattle at 58.3% odds to win the Superb Owl. That's obviously not a lock, but the guess incorporates their data gathered over a vast period, so I wouldn't overlook it.

Hidden among those totals is that Seattle's defense has been as stout as ever (ranked 1st) and the offense and special teams have held up to their end of the bargain too - 9th and 4th respectively.

After that, I don't know that I have much to say about the Seahawks statistically. Things haven't changed dramatically since the playoffs began. Really, Seattle has a great team and the stats reflect that. However, instead of just moving on, what I'll do is point out a couple things that annoy me.

If you hear that Russell is better "outside the pocket" and that Denver is going to try and force Wilson to stay in the pocket, feel free to roll your eyes. Why? Because outside and inside the pocket is too simple a condition.

Think about it this way, if Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Jermaine Kearse are all covered while Wilson is in the pocket, then running outside inspires uncertainty in the opposing secondary and allows receivers more time and different angles to separate from the defense. By running outside the pocket, Wilson is simply forcing more decisions by the defense, and when a defense is forced into difficult decisions, it will leave players open. Open pass catchers is what makes Russell's passing stats excellent not the arbitrary condition that he's occupying a different space on the field. Of course, people could still argue that Wilson can't see past his line, and then I would recommend you just stop listening.

"Soft teams don't win football games." I'm sure you've heard something like that. Maybe it's flipped so that you hear, "tough teams win football games," instead. The reason statements like these annoy me isn't that they're untrue, maybe they are. Regardless of the accuracy of such statements, what annoys me is that the winning team in a game is often awarded the "tough team" status after their win. If you hear anyone talking about how the winning team was "tougher" on Sunday, remember - the other team would have been "tougher" had they won the game. You know what's really tough? Hindsight bias.

The Matchups

The Denver Broncos' Offense vs The Seattle Seahawks' Defense

The most exciting matchup of the whole contest for sure. I can't wait to see how the teams will play one another. Let's start at the heart of the matter: the lines. Denver's offensive line has been pretty awesome this year, and that's after losing Ryan Clady. With Peyton's quick decision making, the line has only allowed 20 sacks all season. They've also been one of the better run blocking lines ranking above Seattle (8th vs 9th) in offensive adjusted line yards.

On the other side, you have Seattle's defensive line which boasts the 7th best defensive adjusted sack rate and one of the best defenses against the running game. Clearly both lines are among the best in the league and frankly I don't know who is "better," since I'm comparing apples and oranges.

I tend to think Denver's line is going to contain Seattle's pass rush fairly well. They may allow a sack, and a few pressures, but given how effective Peyton has been at getting the ball out, I have a difficult time picturing a dominating defensive performance that's actually probable. That said, I think Denver will have a difficult time running the ball on the Seahawks. Seattle has been up and down this season in rush defense but since the Tampa Bay game, Seattle has played the run very well. While Knowshon Moreno has had an excellent season, I don't think the 10 ranked rushing offense by DVOA will succeed against the 8th ranked rush defense. It's possible, but I don't see it happening.

If Knowshon is struggling to run the ball, then we'll get to see the main event: Peyton and the passing offense vs the Seattle secondary (I'm smushing the line backing corps in with the secondary for this analysis).

Seattle is ranked 3rd in DVOA when playing against tight ends, and in this game they'll be playing against Julius Thomas the 4thnd ranked tight end by DVOA. I'm tempted to bring up stats about how poorly Jimmy Graham has performed against this defense, but Graham was a much more important part of the offense. Thomas, while very good, occupies a much smaller role. Simply put, Seattle's defense will be occupied by other receivers, so shutting down Thomas seems unlikely. He'll certainly have a below average game, but he won't be shut down. Look for 30-40 yards and perhaps a TD.

Outside of Thomas are two of the best wide receivers in the league. Demaryius Thomas ranks 7th in DVOA, and Eric Decker ranks a healthy 13th. If that doesn't sound intimidating, then also consider that those two receivers rank 1st and 4th in DYAR - outsider's stat for overall production. Against #1 WRs Seattle ranks 5th, they rank 7th against #2s, 2nd against other (or commonly, slot) WRs and 2nd against running backs as pass catchers.

Once again, this matchup seems pretty even. I think there's a slight advantage to Denver when they use all their weapons, but I don't know that I would bet on that. Considering how well the Seahawks have defended deep passes this season, I doubt any one receiver is going to have a stellar day, but I wouldn't be surprised to see many of those receivers catching balls in the short or intermediate middle - an area Seattle has struggled with at times. I don't know that I can predict the yards of any individual receivers but I think around 45 yards for a couple and maybe 60 for the last would be accurate. Throw in another TD or two, and you have the receiving stats. Of course, because Manning is not going to eclipse one yard rushing you also have his game - about 250 yards and 2-3 TDs.

I think that Denver's passing game is slightly better than the Seahawks' defense, but there's a whole lot more to winning a game than one offense vs the opposing defense.

The Seattle Seahawks' Offense vs The Denver Broncos' Defense

This is the matchup that is going to garner headlines after the game if the Seahawks win. Frankly, I think that the Seahawks' offense is significantly better than Denver's defense. Adding the dimension of Percy Harvin will only make this gap even larger.

However, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. To begin we should start at the lines again. This matchup is a bit strange, because both teams seem to play strength on strength. Behind "Pot Roast," the Denver line is 3rd in defensive adjusted line yards. That would support their overall run defense DVOA being ranked 5th.

Seattle counters by having the 8th best run blocking line according to adjusted line yards. Further, because Marshawn Lynch is so effective on his own, he brings the overall rush DVOA to seventh. Seattle ranking 7th is obviously worse than Denver ranking 5th when it comes to the rushing matchup, but those numbers are fairly close so I don't know that I can predict too far away from the average. As a Seahawk fan, I'd like to see Lynch run for 160 two TDs and some receiving yards to top it off, but I don't think that's going to happen. In the end, I think Lynch will wind up with around 80 yards (his average).

Staying on the ground, I wonder whether Seattle will up their read-option usage. The read-option is still an effective play, and I would think the read-option would be especially dangerous with a Percy Harvin floating around. Further, the read-option might allow the Seahawks to avoid Pot Roast by opening up cutback lanes. Really, it seems like a win-win proposition. However, all I've heard this week is how Seattle isn't going to change things up for the Superb Owl, so that doesn't seem likely.

Regardless of their intentions for the read-option, however, I think Russell is going to find some open space on Sunday. Against the Raiders, Colts, Washington, and Philadelphia*, the Broncos allowed 5.64 yards per carry. Given those numbers, I wouldn't be surprised to see Wilson rush for around 40 yards. After all, 8 carries is totally in his wheelhouse if he has an average game. Throw in a few runs for the backup backs and some Harvin carries and you have the rushing game - around 130 to 140 yards and a couple TDs.

*I would have included Tennesee, but Jake Locker (Go Huskies!) wasn't playing.

Now that we've gone through the running game, we can move onto the passing game. Unfortunately, I don't feel like I can give very good analysis here because the numbers just don't seem to favor Denver at all. The Denver defense has done good job wrapping up the opponents "#2" receiver, but aside from that positive, Denver ranks in the bottom half of each other target. Most concerning for Denver fans would be their deficiency in defending the other (or slot) receiver. By my count Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin are the most dangerous pass catchers the Seahawks have so to see them defended by the 27th ranked defense against the slot receivers is concerning. What's more, Denver doesn't rank well against the #1 receiver either. Given that another secondary member was just injured for Denver, those stats don't look like they're going to improve either.

Really, it's hard for me to imagine a scenario in which Russell doesn't have a good game either on the ground or through the air. That said, I'll stick with the averages and say Wilson will pass for around 250. Baldwin is going to shine with 80 to 100 yards, Tate and Harvin will catch a few balls for 40 to 50 each and the tight ends will round out the rest. Throw in a couple TDs and you have your passing game box score.

X Factors

Percy Harvin. For what feels like the 20th time now, Percy Harvin can elevate the Seahawk's offense to unseen levels if he's healthy and plays well. I just hope we have the opportunity to see him for more than 21 snaps.

Denver's offensive line. For the most part, Denver's offensive line has been awesome this season. There have been, however, a few series (not full games) where they've struggled. If Seattle can put pressure on Manning consistently, or even goad him into throwing a pick, then I think Seattle's chances improve immensely.

The Weather. Let me make this very clear: temperature doesn't affect games. Wind, snow, and fog does. If the weather becomes nasty on Sunday, then yes, the Seahawks will have the advantage. Just don't expect the weather to have much of an impact.

The Narrative

I did my research, I worked hard, but if I were to sum up this game in one sentence, here's what I would say. Denver's offense has a slight advantage over Seattle's defense, but Seattle has a significant advantage in both offense and special teams. As long as Seattle plays as well as they're capable, those advantages will win the game for Seattle. It's that simple.

As the game plays out, Seattle will start slow as they try and force feed Lynch the ball. Seeing Manning put points up will inspire Carroll to put the ball in Wilson's hands and he'll have a performance reminiscent of his Atlanta playoff game. The defense will tighten and the score margin will tilt in Seattle's favor. The difference between the Atlanta game and this one however, is that the Seattle defense won't end up needing to hold on for one last drive because the Seahawks will already be ahead behind their superior field position and their stellar Super Bowl MVP: Russell, Last Name, Wilson.

Prediction: Seahawks win 34-24

Recap Stats

This section is dedicated to me owning up to my predictions. The predictions are graded on a 10 point scale where 1 is completely wrong and 10 is completely right. As always, if anyone submits their own grades of my predictions I'll include them in the average.

Where my predictions were right!

  • The 49ers offensive line would struggle to open holes for Frank Gore. - 9 - It seemed like he was bottled up all day.

  • Vernon Davis would be held to around 30 yards. - 8 - It was 16 yards, but he wasn't a factor.

  • Michael Crabtree would finish with around 40 yards. - 8 - 52 was a little bit more than I predicted, but not by much.

  • Ditto for Boldin. - 8 - I'm giving myself a bonus point here for being right about them having the same yards, but taking one off for his TD.

  • Colin Kaepernick would have around 150 yards passing, one TD, and a few turnovers. - 10 - I think this may be my first 10 of the whole season.

  • One receiver would have a great day and a number of other would finish with around 40 yards, and a TD somewhere among the bunch. - 7 - The one receiver prediction was off, but I was right about everything else.

  • The Score line would be around 23 - 10 - 7 - The 9ers were slightly better than I gave them credit for.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Gore would be ineffective and finish with around 60 yards. - 2 - Yeah, no. Not even close to 60. He was ineffective though.

  • The running game would be successful for Seattle, and finish with around 75 yards. - 3.5 - Marshawn was great, not just successful.

  • San Fran would sack Russell a few times and allow him to rush for around 20 yards. - 3 - 0 yards, and more than just a few sacks. I wonder what how Wilson would play if he had good protection. Maybe next season.

This Week's Average: 6.55

Total Average: Not Available, sorry!

Last Note: I would just like to thank everyone at fieldgulls for being such a great community. I started coming here when Mora was the coach so I could find other people to complain with, but I found much more. Writing here has been more than a treat, and you all have helped me improve my writing immensely -something I can't thank you for enough. I don't know if I'll write about the Seahawks again next season, but I'll always look back on this season fondly. Thank you fieldgulls readers, it's been a blast.

Go Hawks!

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