The Seattle Seahawks will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII after dispatching the division rival San Francisco 49ers by a score of 23-17 on Sunday night. This will be the second trip to the Super Bowl for the franchise, with their first coming after the 2005 season in which they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now, Seattle will return to the promised land with a very winnable matchup vs. the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium on February 2. Denver boasts the best offense in the NFL with a total of 7,317 yards gained while scoring nearly 35 points per game. The Seahawks counter with the best defense in the league, allowing 4,378 yards and a little over 14 points per game.
It will be very interesting to see how the Seahawks approach Denver defensively. It is never easy to game plan for a quarterback such as Peyton Manning who can and will spread the ball around to many different targets in all areas of the field, all of them with 60 or more catches.
Denver usually lines up with at least three wide receivers on the field, which will likely see Seattle bring out their nickel defense. That would crank up the pressure on Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane, who will likely be tasked with shutting down Wes Welker in the slot.
Seattle plays mostly man-to-man defense, which has been very successful for them. The risk of Manning escaping the pocket is low, which will allow Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith or K.J. Wright to rush or drop into coverage instead of needing to keep an eye on Peyton.
One possibility for Seattle could be using Bruce Irvin at a pass-rushing defensive end role in passing situations. Irvin was converted to weakside linebacker in training camp by Pete Carroll, but with the amount of time that could be spent with five or more defensive backs, it may be wise to add his speed to the defensive line rotation. Denver has only allowed 20 sacks all season which is due in part to their offensive line, but also the smarts of their quarterback to distribute the ball quickly.
The matchup that will be the most interesting will be Kam Chancellor vs. Julius Thomas. Thomas has been one of Manning’s favorite targets, especially in the red zone. Thomas has caught 79 passes for 949 yards and 12 touchdowns this season while the Seahawks defense has only allowed five touchdown receptions by tight ends. Chancellor has neutralized two of the other high-end tight ends recently in Jimmy Graham and more recently Vernon Davis.
Forcing turnovers has been a forte for this Seattle defense, which is leading the league with 43 takeaways; this will be the most important thing that Seattle does. In the three losses by Denver this season, the Broncos have eight turnovers compared to just 20 in their 15 wins.
When Russell Wilson gets the ball, it will be very important for Seattle to hold on to it. The time of possession will be critical for Seattle since Denver likes to run a no-huddle type of offense. Any sustained break for the defense will be very beneficial.
This plays just perfectly with the Seahawks’ offensive strategy of establishing Marshawn Lynch and the running game as a means to control tempo, and will help the team set up those deadly play-action passes. Seattle will attempt to lure Denver into bringing a safety up in run coverage, which will open up the long ball for Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin or even Jermaine Kearse.
When the long-ball attempt comes, it will be even more important for Wilson to make a good throw and for the receivers to not drop the ball. If Seattle can come out and play their style of game mistake-free on both sides of the ball, then they will leave New Jersey with their first Lombardi Trophy.