Superbowl XLVIII Explosive Opponent Preview: The Denver Broncos

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It's three hours of football for all the NFL marbles. Let's delve into the big play numbers of Seattle's Super opponent.

I was sitting on the couch of my best friend from high school, my head in my hands. I was absolutely stupefied. I couldn't believe we were losing this game...THE game. And we weren't just losing it, either. It was equal parts being given away and taken from us by the guys on the field not wearing pads.

The Seattle Seahawks went on to lose Superbowl XL and the demons of that loss of the team's only Superbowl appearance have haunted myself and this region ever since.

As hard as I've tried throughout the years and indeed, much of this season, I can't quite seem to be able to exorcise the demons. I finally thought, watching the San Diego Chargers qualify for the playoffs over the Steelers thanks in large part to a blown call by Bill Leavy's crew, that the circle of karma hand been completed and justice finally had been wrought.

I was wrong.

With the Seahawks earning their second Superbowl appearance, B-roll after B-roll of that game from 2006 was played and I felt a familiar gnashing of teeth.

I wasn't quite over the loss just yet.

But there's hope. Hope in form of Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Earl Thomas, Pete Carroll and nearly 50 other men who don the College Navy, Action Green and Wolf Grey for a living. There's hope for final closure for myself (if not an entire fanbase) and hope for final, ultimate victory.

The only obstacle is the Denver Broncos. Let's see what's in our way.

The Denver Offense

Week

Opponent


Ex. Run

Ex. Pass

Total

1

vs. BAL

0

10

11

2

at NYG

3

6

8

3

vs. OAK

3

5

8

4

vs. PHI

2

2

4

5

at DAL

3

10

13

6

vs. JAX

2

6

8

7

at IND

1

10

11

8

vs. WAS

0

6

6

9

BYE

10

at SD

1

5

6

11

vs. KC

0

6

6

12

at NE

6

2

8

13

at KC

4

9

13

14

vs. TEN

5

7

12

15

vs. SD

0

4

4

16

at HOU

3

8

11

17

at OAK

1

4

5

Divisional

vs. SD

1

4

5

Conf Champ

vs. NE

1

11

12

Season Totals


36

115

151

Avg. per game

2.00

6.39

8.39

The Denver Broncos, in case you somehow were not aware, have a historic offense in terms of raw production. Their 606 points scored during the regular season set a new NFL record (though not all those points came from offensive production). They employ a quarterback you may have heard of, Peyton Manning, who set new records for passing touchdowns and passing yardage in a season.

While the Broncos were certainly the most efficient and successful offense in the league this season (1st in DVOA) they were not the most explosive offense this season; that distinction belongs to Philadelphia. Denver wasn't even the most explosive passing offense in the NFL; that distinction belongs to Detroit. However, that doesn't mean the Broncos don't have an explosive, elite passing game (hint: they do).

Including the post-season, Denver has racked up 151 total explosive plays this season, averaging about 8 per contest. They have seven games with 10 or more big plays and zero with 3 or less. Denver was close to only making 3 big plays twice: in Week 4 against the Eagles and in their Week 15 loss the Chargers.

2013 Regular Season NFL Rankings

Total Explosive Plays: Ranked 3rd

Explosive Passes: Ranked 4th

Explosive Runs: Tied with Tennessee for 14th

Player

Passing




Rushing




Receiving



Plays

Yards

TDs

Y/PA

Plays

Yards

Y/C

TDs

Plays

Yards

Y/C

TDs

Peyton Manning

114

3136

19

27.5





Brock Osweiler

1 19 0 19.0

1

21

21.0

0

Knowshon Moreno





19

354

18.6

2

8 205 25.6 1

Montee Ball





11

195

17.7

0

1 31 31 0

Ronnie Hillman





4

63

15.8

0

2

36

18

0

David Bruton





1

35

35

0

Eric Decker









31

873

28.2

5

Demaryius Thomas









29

965

33.3

7

Wes Welker









20

430

21.5

1

Julius Thomas









19

493

25.9

4

Andre Caldwell









4

99

24.6

1

Jacob Tamme









1

23

23

0












In looking at the Broncos individual play makers, we see that Manning is adept at spreading the wealth to his 5 different weapons. Eric Decker just barely edges out Demaryius Thomas, as both have shown their abilities to stretch defenses vertically all season. The boss-man Danny gives some great insights on the Broncos' receivers here.

Moreno and the Broncos' running game is explosive in its own right, though more as a compliment to Peyton Manning and a formidable passing attack. You do see a significant drop-off in production after cycling through Thomas, Decker, Welker, Thomas and Moreno. Andrew Caldwell definitely won't be the reason the Bronocos win, if the do (at least he'd better not be).

2013 Regular Season NFL Rankings

Explosive Passes: Peyton Manning ranked 3rd

Explosive Rushes: Knowshon Moreno tied with 3 other players for 14th

Explosive Receptions: Eric Decker tied with 3 other players for 11th

Result For

Number

Touchdown

64

Field Goal

17

Turnover

9

Punt

18

End of Half

3

Season Total

111

Score Rate

73%

The above chart looks at the results of each of Denver's explosive drives this season and in playoffs. Denver has a ridiculous 64 drives with an explosive play result in a touchdown, the most I've charted yet. That's good for an equally ridiculous 58% touchdown rate. Their overall score-rate (touchdowns and field goals) is 73%, which is right about where you'd like your offense to be in regards to converting explosive plays into scores. My mind is further blown by the explosive turnover-rate for Denver, only eight percent! Rest assured, give up the big play to Peyton Manning and you give him a 3/4 chance at scoring.

The Denver Defense

Week

Opponent


Ex. Run Alwd

Ex. Pass Alwd

Total

1

vs. BAL

2

7

9

2

at NYG

0

6

6

3

vs. OAK

1

9

10

4

vs. PHI

3

7

10

5

at DAL

1

11

12

6

vs. JAX

1

7

8

7

at IND

1

5

6

8

vs. WAS

3

2

5

9

BYE

10

at SD

1

5

6

11

vs. KC

3

7

10

12

at NE

1

3

4

13

at KC

6

8

14

14

vs. TEN

2

4

6

15

vs. SD

3

3

6

16

at HOU

1

4

5

17

at OAK

0

4

4

Divisional

vs. SD

1

7

8

Conf. Champ

vs. NE

0

7

8

Season Totals



30

106

136

Avg. per game

1.67

5.89

7.56

Denver's offense gets most of the billing in any match-up and with a transcendent quarterback like Manning on the squad, why wouldn't that be the case? The Broncos defense, by contrast is decidedly below-average at preventing the big play, having surrendered 136 total big plays this season, playoffs included. The vast majority of these big plays come from the passing game, which further highlights a suspect Denver secondary (especially those safeties) ready and waiting to be exploited by Russell Wilson, Golden Tate and Percy Harvin.

On the flip side, Denver has show a stoutness against the run this season and that has translated into just-above-average explosive rushing numbers. Big Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton has received much analyst attention the past two weeks and for good reason: the big nose tackle is an excellent disruptor basing his game off pocket penetration rather than solely space-eating.

Travis Williams has an excellent breakdown of Denver's defense player-by-player here.

2013 Regular Season NFL Rankings

Total Explosive Plays Allowed: Ranked 23rd

Explosive Passes Allowed: Tied with Minnesota for 28th

Explosive Rushes Allowed: Ranked 13th

Result Vs.

Number

Touchdown

40

Field Goal

15

Turnover

14

Punt

22

End of Half

2

Season Total

93

Score Rate

59%

The Denver defense sports a very good explosive drive score-rate of 59% on 93 explosive drives faced. Their touchdown rate of 43% is also solid. The most surprising number to me is the amount of explosive drives the Denver defense faced that ended in punts (22). While that large number of punts forced is due in large part to the explosive ineptitude of the Kansas City Chiefs, it is still a testament to the Broncos "bend-but-don't-break" big play defense.

Last Week (Sorta)

The Seahawks vanquished their hated rivals in the NFC Championship Game, but they didn't make it easy. I had predicted an explosive-play advantage for Seattle by a nine to six margin; that ended up not being the case. San Francisco out-gained the Seahawks in total big plays 8-4. The 49ers came out with a gameplan that heavily featured designed quarterback runs by Colin Kaepernick, which seemed to take the Seattle defense off-guard at times and his athleticism made the defense pay.

I went to the film room and broke down several of the 49ers' and Seahawks' explosive plays here.

The Verdict

So...how to stop Peyton Manning, you ask?

Well, if I knew that, I would already be halfway to Vegas by now.

The Seattle defense seems to be a unit uniquely equipped to at least slow down if not stop the Denver offense. Seattle's Cover 3 and Earl Thomas' inhuman ability to cover the field helps shut down the big pass play. The Seahawks' penchant for tackling and "outhitting the opponent every play" limits big plays through the short passes and yards after the catch (Seattle also leads the NFL in YAC allowed). Seattle dares you play the odds by perfectly executing short runs and short passes every play for 10-plus plays to score. While Denver has the horses (so to speak) to do this, the odds say those type of long scoring drives may only happen at most 3 out of every 10 drives; don't forget that some of those scores may only be field goals instead of touchdowns.

I believe one player on the Seattle defense that can be a huge impact is one that I oddly haven't heard much about these past two weeks: one Brandon Mebane. "Bane" is having a career year so far, showing new-found prowess at collapsing the pocket from the interior on standard downs, either stuffing runs or creating interior pressure and putting the opponent's offense behind schedule. Mebane will be critical in creating pressure on 1st and 2nd down when Manning inevitably audibles out of running plays into short passing plays. If Brandon Mebane takes up residence in the Denver backfield through most of this game, that gives Seattle the clear advantage.

Despite all this, you can only keep a future Hall-of-Famer down for so long. Peyton Manning will get his, to the tune of 5 big pass plays. The Seattle defense should, and will, shut down the Denver running game, only allowing 2 explosive runs.

On offense, I believe we finally see the Russell Wilson circa Week 13. Wilson has had to hoe a road filled with some very excellent pass defenses since his hot-streak abated; Wilson should "find" his form again (which really never left). The Seattle offensive line has been hurt and harried for much of the season but to their credit, they have been playing much better in the playoffs, both as road-graders and pass-protectors. I'm confident Tom Cable will have this unit ready to control the Denver defensive line, giving Wilson the time that he needs and Lynch the lanes he relishes.

The 3rd coming of Saint Percival the Harrier should herald more than a few explosive plays: two of his three catches this season have been for big gains and was just shy of a big run in his only hand-off. Harvin will be the swiss-army knife Darrell Bevell needs to showcase the firepower of this finally fully armed and operational offense.

Thanks to Percy, Wilson and a rebounding offensive line, Seattle racks up 4 big running plays and 4 big passing plays, en route to a 26-21 Superbowl XLVIII victory.

Hopefully, finally, that one last demon can be driven off after stewing for the last eight years.

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