By now, hopefully you’ve settled into viewing the never-ending parade of Super Bowl coverage. Well, here comes the float in that parade, the five most important matchups between the Broncos and the Seahawks that will go a long way towards determining who wins Super Bowl XLVIII.
MARSHAWN LYNCH VS. DENVER RUSH DEFENSE
Lynch has been the motor that makes the Seattle offense go all season long, and nothing is going to change in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks need Lynch to be their workhorse back that gets 20 to 25 carries and not only softens up the defense to help break long runs in the second half, but also to open up things for Russell Wilson and the passing game. On the other side, the Denver defense has done a great job against the rush the past two weeks, which has been a driving force in the Broncos winning their two postseason games. The Broncos have good size on their defensive front, led by Terrance Knighton, who played great against the Patriots, and they’ve also moved linebacker Paris Lenon into the starting lineup to give that unit size and physicality as well. Both Lynch and the Denver front-seven have played well this postseason, and both will need to come up big for their teams in the Super Bowl, in what should be a compelling and critical matchup.
DEMARYIUS THOMAS VS. RICHARD SHERMAN
The Broncos have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL while Seattle’s secondary is one of the best in the league, but the matchup everyone wants to see is Thomas vs. Sherman. Thomas is as big and physical as any other wide receiver in the league, and he’s earned Peyton Manning’s trust over the past two seasons, so Manning won’t be afraid to throw in his direction, even if Sherman is the cornerback matched up against him, which he most likely will be for the entire game. The Broncos have plenty of other passing targets to go to if Thomas can’t get open against Sherman, but things will be much easier for them if Thomas becomes a factor in the game, and it’ll be Sherman’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
SEATTLE PASS RUSH VS. DENVER OFFENSIVE LINE
Despite several key injuries this year, including Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed the entire season, the Denver offensive line has held up well all season, and kept Manning healthy and on his feet, although the Seattle pass rush will be one of the best they’ve faced all season. The Seattle front four is great at getting pressure on the quarterback, even without linebackers blitzing, and they’re even better because they have a great secondary behind them that keeps receivers covered and forces quarterbacks to hold the ball longer. The Denver offensive line will have to hold strong for one more game, because they can’t allow a team with Seattle’s secondary to get pressure on Manning with just a four-man rush.
SEATTLE PASS RUSH VS. PEYTON MANNING
It’s not just the Denver offensive line that the Seahawks will have to get past, it’s also Manning himself. Manning is one of the best in football at getting the ball out quickly, and if he sees that that the Seahawks are getting a strong push up front, he’ll be able to make the adjustment and ensure the ball is out of his hand before the pass rush gets to him. Manning is also masterful at pre-snap reads and will be able to call for the right protection that gives him the time he needs to deliver the ball. If the Seahawks need to start blitzing to get pressure on Manning quicker, he’ll be able to counter against a defense that has fewer players in pass coverage. Manning, with plenty of help from his offensive line, has done a great job at avoiding pressure and the getting the ball out on time all season, and the Seahawks will have to find a way to disrupt his and throw his timing off.
RUSSELL WILSON VS. JACK DEL RIO
The Denver defense has suffered a lot of injuries this season, especially with their best past pass rusher in Von Miller and their best cornerback in Chris Harris both going down within the past month, but Jack Del Rio has done a great job of holding the unit together, as the Denver defense is just as responsible for the team’s two postseason wins as the offense. Seattle should get something positive from its running game, but at some point Wilson will have to make a play, and with two weeks of preparation for a defensive coordinator like Del Rio, that’s not going to be easy for Wilson to do, especially since he’s had a rather uneven performance over the past month or so, while the Broncos are coming into their own on defense, even with all of their injuries. Despite how impressive he’s been over the past two years, Wilson is still a young quarterback on a big stage, and at some point he’s going to have to outperform the defensive scheme that Del Rio throws at him.