Posted January 22, 2014

Does D still win titles? Theory will be put to test as No. 1 offense faces No. 1 defense

AFC West, Denver Broncos, NFC West, Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVIII
This will be just the fifth Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL merger to feature the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 1 scoring defense.

This will be just the fifth Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL merger to feature the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 1 scoring defense. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

The NFL seems to be challenging the long-held notion that “defense wins championships.” Recent seasons have delivered an explosion of points, with more and more offenses spreading the field for various purposes and implementing up-tempo attacks.

And then there are the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle’s offense (though it slumped down the stretch) was plenty respectable, with a No. 8 finish in points scored during the regular season. The defense simply took it to another level in allowing just 231 points over 16 games — 10 fewer than Carolina, 41 fewer than San Francisco and at least 70 fewer than any other team in the league.

The Seahawks will carry the defense banner into the Super Bowl, where the league’s most potent offense awaits.

This is just the fifth Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL merger to pit the No. 1 scoring offense against the No. 1 scoring defense. It’s been advantage defense, thus far, with wins by the 1990 Giants, ’84 49ers and ’78 Steelers. Only the 1989 49ers, led by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice (and boasting the No. 3 defense themselves), have bucked the trend, beating the Broncos 55-10.

Denver’s offense in 2013 scored 164 more regular-season points than the loaded 49ers attack. That stat alone emphasizes which direction the league has trended over the past couple decades. Peyton Manning and Co., though, have not seen a defense even close to the likes of what the Seahawks bring to the table; vice versa for Seattle.

But the Broncos were tested during the regular season, with mixed results. They played seven of their 16 games against defenses that finished ranked No. 12 or better in points allowed, and posted a 4-3 record. The mark improves to 6-3 if you take into account playoff wins over San Diego (No. 11 defense) and New England (No. 10). The stingiest defense that Denver faced all season was Kansas City’s, which allowed 305 points — the fifth-best number, but one that sat nearly five points per game higher than Seattle’s effort.

In the second game versus Kansas City, a 35-28 win that all but sealed the division for Denver, Manning fired five touchdown passes and finished with 403 yards through the air.

“I think he [Manning] showed people why he’s so great,” Decker said after the game. “How we run our offense, we’re very versatile as far as going inside, outside, left, right, whatever it may be. Fortunately I had some play calls and took advantage of the opportunities I got.”

Statistics aside, the Kansas City defense may be the closest mirror to Seattle’s D that Denver has seen first-hand this season. The Chiefs featured an aggressive linebacking group, led off the edge by Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Inside, nose tackle Dontari Poe commanded heavy attention, while the secondary revolved around versatile safety Eric Berry and a veteran cornerback duo of Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith.

The Broncos managed to keep Manning upright in both games with Kansas City — the Chiefs recorded zero sacks, despite a combined 75 pass attempts from Manning — and Manning then took advantage of the defensive weaknesses. Specifically, he targeted rookie Marcus Cooper, firing 13 passes his way in the first meeting and another 11 in that seven-point victory.

Richard Sherman’s presence on one side of the field in the Super Bowl, matched up with either Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker, likely will encourage Manning to look elsewhere. So, Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and Jeremy Lane could be the difference-makers should Seattle hold the line.

The closest comparison Seattle can draw from in prepping for the Broncos lies in the New Orleans offense. Seattle twice shut down Drew Brees through the air — the Seahawks scored a 34-7 win over the Saints during the regular season and a 23-15 wild-card round rematch victory. That said, New Orleans’ talented offense did not even come close to matching the Broncos point-for-point during the regular season. No one did.

Denver scored 606 points in its 16 regular-season games; Chicago’s offense was second-most prolific, at 445 points. The Saints, No. 10 overall, came in at 414.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” said headline-stealing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman of the Broncos, according to the Seattle Times. “They’re an unbelievable, record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s as tough as it gets. That’s as tough a game as you can get in the Super Bowl.”

Seattle actually faced the three worst offenses (Tampa Bay, Houston and Jacksonville) during the regular season, plus drew a boatload of offenses in the middle of the pack. Opposing offenses did manage to find some success running on the Seahawks, who allowed 100 or more yards on the ground 11 times and finished behind six other defenses in overall rushing yards allowed.

Denver can run with Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, but its record-setting offense is built around Manning and his receivers. The Saints actually tried to come out of their element with a run-heavy approach in their playoff game against Seattle, only to reverse course after falling behind by 16.

“We’re going to try to stay as balanced as we can,” Moreno said ahead of his team’s playoff meeting with the Patriots. The Broncos wound up running for 107 yards and passing for 400 in that win. “Pass the ball when they’re giving it to us and try to run.”

Taking the ball out of Manning’s hands figures to be Plan B for the Broncos. That means the approach will not be all that different than it was for the other No. 1 offenses in their Super Bowl showdowns against No. 1 defenses.

The quarterbacks of the No. 1 offenses in the four such prior Super Bowls: Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Roger Staubach. Montana fired five touchdown passes in taking his ’89 San Francisco team past an overmatched Denver squad; Kelly and Staubach each attempted 30 passes in their losses; Marino took to the air 50 times in the 1984 loss.

What does all that history mean for this season’s matchup? Nothing. And yet, there’s still no getting around just how historic this matchup is, as Denver’s incredible offense lines up against Seattle’s dynamic defense.

More than ever, the NFL has shifted toward a philosophy that championship teams can be built from the offense out. The Seahawks will try to strike another blow — the fourth in five No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense Super Bowls — for the tried and true belief that defense comes first.

105 comments
JOHN140
JOHN140

If defense can still win titles then the NFL will change the rules next year to make sure it never happens gain.

RAR
RAR

The biggest challenge facing Seattle is that it will be very difficult for their D to do all the situational substitutions to which they're accustomed. PM will run the no-huddle on virtually every play, denying the opportunity for subs and giving him plenty of time to decide who on the other side of the ball will be the next pawn.

JPG
JPG

Denver Broncos will prove to everyone that they are paper champions.  Team struggles to score 24 and 26 points two games at home in the playoffs against average defenses will have the "BOOM" lowered on them.  Broncos are in for a rude awaking.

Look for Manning to be on the receiving end of several sacks.

And Denver's defense is ailing.  Miller out and Bailey old and recovering from an injury.

It won't be close as Seattle takes this one 31-17.

goodspkr
goodspkr

It should be a great game.  The rules have changed since the last #1 vs #1 to favor the offense.  We will get to see if the old saying, "Defense wins championships" is still in effect. 

Cool
Cool

You can have the top defense in the league but if the opposing QB is able to read the defense and change calls at the line, that gives the offense the advantage.  Is there any doubt that Manning is a genius at reading the defense and making audibles to take advantage?  

My guess is that Wilson will be spending more time looking to the sideline for assistance, end up calling more time outs and find himself scrambling around trying to make unscripted plays.  If he can out run and find some miracle plays the Seahawk's have a shot.   

Danodin
Danodin

It was very clear to me why New England lost this week and the Seahawks did not. After New England got behind they abandoned the running game so LeGarrette Blount could not punish the Broncos defense enough to soften them up for the second half. Pete Carroll remained faithful to his running game and wore down the 49ers sufficiently so that Marshawn could break their backs with that 40 yard td run down the stretch.


This will not be a repeat of the AFC Championship game. However, Peyton Manning will control this game on his side of the ball and will score five times against the Seahawks, whilst Marshawn's offense will only get the pigskin across the goal line three times:


Broncos 27

Seahawks 21

Hello1813
Hello1813

Denver is at a disadvantage since the game is outdoors and in New York.  Seattle will contain them enough and win the game on offense running the ball and dominating time of possession.  I'd like to see Peyton win it, but just don't think Denver's defense can step up.  Seattle wins 23-16 is my prediction.

PurpleCity52
PurpleCity52

Seattle has no one with SB experience Denver has a few and without the 12th man the experience will come into play. The #1 defense and offense was for regular season, this is a whole new story. I just hope the lights don't go out again!

pickle
pickle

Uh, what about last season? Even if Denver wins, I still think in general defense wins championships. Or I should say defense + good QB play wins championships. The past decade almost every SB winner had their QB step up his game in the postseason. Both Giants victories would have been impossible without their defense or without Eli making clutch plays.

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

Broncos win if:

- Knighton and Sly Williams combine for at least 8 tackles within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage. That means Lynch is corralled and it frees up an extra defender in the back 7 to prevent big passes

- Moreno has over 80 total yards from scrimmage. His outstanding pass blocking is a given, but he's the second most valuable player behind Manning and the offense is clicking best when he's effective

-The officials are strict about pass interference. It might not lead to TDs, but the time it takes to get a field goal still hurts Seattle's grind it out O more than Denver's hyperspeed O.

- Manning has over 3 seconds to survey the D. Not every player is Sherman and someone is going to be covered by a LB. With over 3 secs, Manning will find him

MichaelO'Connor
MichaelO'Connor

Denver fans, sorry but the Mojo has already been set in motion. Seattle will win if for no other reason...? They have a former Bill on their roster.


What you say?   Don Beebe, Anton Smith, Jabari Greer, all winners and soon the Beast Lynch. 


Fact is,  after former Bills/Chargers QB Gale Gilbert went to FIVE straight Super Bowls and LOST EACH, Bills players now have good karma (on other teams).

Mark My Words!

Boston has no idea what a curse is like !

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

Seahawks win if:

-The game is within 3 pts in the 4th quarter, then it's been smashmouth the entire game, Lynch gets the ball and that's not Denver's strength

- Wilson converts at least 5 third and long plays. It's crushing and Denver's defense seems to fall into the momentum trap and can't seem to stop the bleeding once it starts

- The officiating is tight against offensive holding. In 3 and 4 receiver sets with an empty backfield, Chris Clark is often on an island. He's scrappy and does anything he can (include hold) to protect his QB

- There is a significant crosswind over 15 mph. Manning is smart enough not to throw against the elements and Seattle defensive backfield, and the run game is forced to shoulder the load

- Manning is injured

big55ed
big55ed

How did that theory work out in SB 35.

bearsbball12
bearsbball12

Seahawks opponents averaged 22.3 PPG in the 192 games that they played that weren't against Seattle, so the Seattle defense held them to about 8 points fewer than the rest of the NFL. Broncos opponents allowed 23.2 PPG in the 192 games they played that weren't against Denver, so the Denver offense scored about 15 PPG more against them than the rest of the NFL. If you take either or both of these into account, you get: Seattle's 14.4 PPG allowed + 15 points for Denver's offense, or Denver's 37.9 PPG scored - 8 points for Seattle's defense. Denver should score about 30 points. Not sure the Seahawks would be able to keep up with that.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

The "irresistible force" meets the "immovable object".   

MarcusClifton
MarcusClifton

How often do you see an elite RB hitting his prime and peeking in the playoffs? 


Lynch has had back to back 100+ rushing games with 3 td's. Everything Lynch did to the 49ers defense was the first of the season for the 49ers to allow. (amount of yards, longest TD run...)


I think Lynch will be the biggest factor in this game. Can Denver's defense stop him. If not, He will not only run all overthem but open up the pass game and Seattle's offense will explode! If Denver can find a way to shut him down without putting 8 or 9 in the box every play, they should win.


Remember, Lynch doesn't run outside and try to break away a big one like Mcoy and Charles whom Denver has faced. He aims his shoulder at you, hits you as hard as he can, grabs you and throws you to the ground and stiff arms you like his arm is a baseball bat. Usually he slow's down at the end of the season, but right now he is going crazy! He gets hit as soon as he gets the ball and breaks five tackles to get 3 yards. What hurts the defense is you can't tackle him with one or two guys. You need half your defense. When that happens, play-action scramble or 20+ yard pass. 


Everyone is talking about Manning verse #1 defense. No idea what will happen. Probably the world with just end cause both are so elite. Couldn't ask for a better match-up. But what decides the game will be Lynch and Denver's ability or inability to stop him.

Joe R2
Joe R2

"I hate defense"


-Rog God

MarcusClifton
MarcusClifton

So excited. Been hoping for this Super bowl since week two. When Seattle massacred the 49ers at home an Denver had it's insane offense for the second straight week.

davidhd
davidhd

Denver fans don't appear to have ever seen the Seahawks play, judging from the comments. Everyone is going to talk about stopping Peyton, but Seattle doesn't have to stop him every play, just enough to win the game. San Diego almost did that, and Seattle is WAY better than the Chargers, at every position except, arguably, quarterback and wide receiver. 


I think the real key will be Denver's defense against Seattle's offense. Wilson doesn't have big numbers because he doesn't throw as much as Peyton, but he had a rating over 100 again this season, and he can make all of the throws. Marshawn Lynch is a better back than any that Denver has faced, and he is coming off of a 100 yard game against San Fran, and could go off against Denver unless the Broncos play out of their minds. Peyton can't throw for 400 yards if doesn't have the ball, and Seattle is capable of sustaining long drives against teams with much better defense than what Denver normally plays.


Whatever happens, don't expect a blowout. Seattle hasn't lost by more than 7 points since 2011, and it has beaten the Patriots, Packers, Falcons, Chargers, 49ers, Saints, and many other teams with great offenses during that time. 


I'm not saying Seattle will win, but it wouldn't be a major upset if it did.  This will be, by far, its biggest test of the season, but it will be a much better game than many of you appear to think. 

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

@JPG You probably want to watch the games before commenting. God forbid you make a fool out of yourself.

David9
David9

@JPGI disagree with you. The Broncos handily defeated their postseason opponents. Both games were dominant performances. Manning is on fire right now.

RAR
RAR

@JPG"...struggles to score 24 and 26 points..."??? You obviously didn't watch those games. The Denver offense didn't struggle at all -- they simply turned the tables on two excellent offenses and played ball control. They won't have to do that against Seattle with its average offense.

goodspkr
goodspkr

@Hello1813I think you may have the points Seattle can score, but I don't think anyone can hold the Broncos to 16 points.

Voiceover310
Voiceover310

@Hello1813 Running the ball?? Have you looked up how many rushing yards the Denver D has given up in the playoffs so far?? 

lacslyer
lacslyer

@pickle Exactly. Not sure what Chris Burke is smoking, but for over the past decade the team that won the Super Bowl had at the very least a very good defense, if not one of the best of that season all but one or two times. One of those times though was Manning against the top Bears defense, so we'll see what happens here. 

MichaelO'Connor
MichaelO'Connor

" Knighton and Sly Williams combine for at least 8 tackles within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage. "


Lynch will carry both for at least 5 yards. Your D is suspect!

pickle
pickle

@bearsbball12 What you have written seems logical but I just don't think Denver scores 30 against Seattle. I think they will win, but that D is scary. My guess is 23-20 Denver.

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

@bearsbball12 I love the analytical approach also. Unfortunately due to the single elimination format, football is the most momentum driven teamsport of all. Otherwise how would some of these 5 and 6 playoff seeds win Superbowls? 

I would weight your analysis more on the last 5-6 games. That is when playcalling, weather, injuries, personnel packages have the greatest correlation trends to the next game.

Blargh
Blargh

@bearsbball12 I like and respect that you're using stats to analyze this, it warms my heart to see it.  Wish others would do this.  I think Seattle's defense is a tad more dynamic than what we're seeing on paper, however, and they match up absurdly well to Denver's strengths.

betolara1980
betolara1980

@MarcusClifton "Remember, Lynch doesn't run outside and try to break away a big one like Mcoy and Charles whom Denver has faced."  

Denver's defense biggest strength is against runs to the inside, so they would very much like that.

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

@MarcusClifton Lynch does his damage once a D is worn down from smashmouth ball. If he's getting touches in the 4th quarter, that means the game has stayed smashmouth the entire time. That's bad news for the finesse Broncos because it means the game is close or Seattle is leading.


Blargh
Blargh

@MarcusClifton Great call.  Lynch is a different challenge for Denver, one they haven't seen at all.  Also factor in Harvin's return, and how he demands a man coverage any time he's on the field, and you're going to see some monster holes for Lynch to run.

goodspkr
goodspkr

@davidhdThe way you beat Peyton is you have a shoot out and win or you keep him off the field.  The Patriots in the first game and the Colts did the shoot out.  San Diego kept him off the field in their win.  


I don't think the Hawks can win a shoot out, so their defense needs to shut him down a number of times (3 and out) and the offense needs to control the ball and eat the clock. 

pickle
pickle

@davidhd Some good points. But as a few other people have pointed out Denver also has a much better O-line (significantly better, Seattle's is actually pretty mediocre).


And for the guy who was saying Lynch isn't as good as Jamaal Charles/McCoy etc., I honestly disagree. He will never have the same fantasy numbers as those guys, but I think that is in large part due to Seattle's line. In my opinion he is a top 3 RB.


Either way I agree that it isn't going to be a blowout. Denver to scrape by with a FG, 23-20 is my guess

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@davidhd I disagree that Denver hasn't faced a RB as good as Lynch.  The faced McCoy this year and he's the league leader in yardage for a RB.

scoutxx
scoutxx

@davidhd I've watched every Seattle game, and I can honestly say that they have not faced a team like the Broncos all season. Hawks fans point to Denver's struggles against San Diego, but they don't seem to understand that SD was coached by Denver's ex-O coordinator and the Colts old D coordinator. That level of familiarity added to the fact that the sparklers ALWAYS play Denver hard is why those games were close. 


I take nothing away from Seattle, and I wouldn't be shocked to see them win the SB. I just don't think it'll happen if Denver comes out and plays their A game. Everyone talked about KC's D when it was healthy and #1 in the NFL, but Denver picked them apart. Seattle is a very similar defense, and if there is a weak link, Manning will find it.


I think the main reason I like Denver is because this is the first team I've ever seen in 30+ years of watching the NFL where I actually thought they were so good that it wasn't fair to the other teams. When they are rolling, it's unlike anything I've ever seen.


I think there is a lot of unfamiliarity on both sides. Like you, I don't think Seattle fans have watched too many Denver games this year, either, especially if they think it'll be an easy win. There hasn't been a team all year that's been able to contain Denver other than Denver. Maybe Seattle will be the first. I just don't really think so.

Kingfink1
Kingfink1

@davidhd, thank you. Also, when the Hawks needed to put the game on Wilson's arm last year against Atlanta, who had just slightly better defensive pass numbers than Denver, he went off for like 400 yards. Just watching the Seahawks over the last few games, they've been playing super conservatively. They will have no reason to hold anything back against Denver unless it's close or they're winning, and in such a case it's a moot point anyway. 

I see the Hawks opening the playbook all the way and surprising Denver's defense. I wouldn't declare automatic victory by any means, but when Seattle's offense is clicking, it can be scary.

ToddEgan
ToddEgan

@davidhdMarshawn Lynch is better than LeSean McCoy, Jaamal Charles, and Alfred Morris? All had more total yards than Lynch and a higher YPA. It sounds like it is you who hasn't seen the Broncos play since you don't even know who they have faced.

RAR
RAR

@DiamondMask@bearsbball12:  Now if they only had a QB who could read a defense. Wilson is a small version of Tebow with a better arm.

goodspkr
goodspkr

@Blargh@bearsbball12 You realize the vice a versa also works here.  Denver match up absurdly well to Seattle's strength.  Should be a great game.  

Zeshan
Zeshan

@scoutxx @davidhd I totally respect your analysis. But I'm not convinced that Seattle's D and KC's D are all that similar. Seattle's pass rush is OK. When it's hot, it's devastating (remember during the "Fail Mary" game, Seattle sacked Rodgers *eight* times in the first half alone. But their linebackers are speed players. They can (usually) track down Colin Kaepernick. Seattle's greatest strength is their back field. Their corners are good enough that it frees up their linebackers and at least one safety to attack. Closing up the easy inside routes is going to be devastating on Manning.


With that said, Sherm called Manning the smartest QB in the league (by and far, if I recall). It'll be a smart battle.

bearsbball12
bearsbball12

@Kingfink1 @davidhd You think the Seahawks offense is scary when it's clicking? Wait until you see the Broncos ;) Seriously though, this should be a great game and I'll be really surprised if it's decided by more than 1 possession. Also, don't look now, but Denver's defense has allowed a grand total of 3 points in the first 3 quarters of their first two playoff games. SD and NE were really only able to move the ball in the 4th quarter when they were down by 17 and 20 points respectively, which is when the Broncos started to use softer coverages to avoid getting beaten over the top.

Blargh
Blargh

@ToddEgan @davidhd Better is up for discussion, but Lynch is FAR different than any of those guys you mentioned.  

davidhd
davidhd

@ToddEgan @davidhd I know who they have faced, but the Eagles and Chiefs are both deeply flawed teams. This is a TEAM sport, and Lynch is just part of the equation. Also, both the Eagles and Chiefs had over 150 yards rushing in those games. 

MichaelO'Connor
MichaelO'Connor

Blount was a figment of Belichicks imagination, Lynch is for real.

howboutthis?
howboutthis?

@Zeshan @BroncosSBchamps @davidhd @PhillyPenn       Denver's defense is under-rated. If they stop the run like they did against New England and keep getting Peyton and the Denver offense the ball, Peyton will eventually pick that secondary apart. 28-17 Denver.

Zeshan
Zeshan

@BroncosSBchamps @davidhd @PhillyPenn The O-Line, while easily the weakest link in Seattle's team, is far from horrendous. The worst games Seattle's O-Line played involved at least one (usually two or three) backups. Not saying our O-Line isn't a weakness. But I don't think it's a huge weakness that Denver will be able to exploit a whole lot.


Also, Seahawks receivers are decent to good. If Percy's ready to play, it's as close to a game-changer as we could ask for. Healthy, he is absolutely elite. Yes, the trick is "healthy".

BroncosSBchamps
BroncosSBchamps

@davidhd @PhillyPenn Really? ONLY QB and WR? I'd argue Denver has a better kicker, punter, special teams and offensive line. I mean we only have a top 5 punter (even though he NEVER punts) and the longest field goal holding  kicker, Mr. Automatic in Prater. 


Let's be real here. You have a great defense, ok receivers, a HORRENDOUS offensive line and Wilson. He's good, throws a nice pass, but he won't blow Denver out with his arm. If Denver can slow down Rivers and Brady, they'll be ok with Wilson.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@davidhd @PhillyPenn And you need a lesson in recent NFL history, bud.  


The team with the more productive passing-game almost always wins in today's NFL, provided it isn't coupled with too many turnovers.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@davidhd That's cool.  It won't be a blow out, no way.  But QB and WR are pretty damn important positions to have an advantage at.  I hope it's a good game.  Enjoy.

davidhd
davidhd

@PhillyPenn @davidhd Yeah, it's just basic football. The problem is Denver fans think that Peyton can somehow blow out a team that is better than the Broncos at every position except WR and QB. It shows a lesson in fundamentals is needed.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@davidhd dude, that's as generic as it gets.  If the RB and QB have a good game then they're team will have a chance to win.  Really?  Who didn't know that.

davidhd
davidhd

@ToddEganOkay, I'm sorry. Technically you're right, Lynch is only the third best back your mighty Broncos will have faced, if you only go by this year's stats. The reason I brought it up though, is that Seattle will have a great chance of keeping Manning off the field if Lynch and Wilson do what they are capable of doing, while the Seattle defense does it's typical good job. 

ToddEgan
ToddEgan

you said "Marshawn Lynch is a better back than any that Denver has faced" which is factually untrue. Don't give me this "team game" stuff now. You said Denver hasn't faced a good RB. McCoy has 78 yards rushing. Morris had 93 yards rushing. Charles had 78 and 93 yards in the two games. Don't tell me Denver hasn't faced a good RB. When they did, they won and won plenty big against 2 of the best in the NFL (McCoy and Charles). Your facts and conclusions are both wrong on this front. I'm not saying that Seattle can't win but your reasoning is flawed.