NFL Denver Broncos

Super Bowl 2014: 10 Denver Broncos Who Must Step Up

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Super Bowl XLVIII: 10 Denver Broncos Who Must Step Up

peyton manning
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl is set and it will be the two best teams in the NFL squaring off in the Meadowlands on February 2 for football’s biggest prize. The Denver Broncos will bring the best offense in the league (and possibly in the history of football) to face the Seattle Seahawks and their No. 1 ranked defense. It is a clash of styles that should make for some serious fireworks when the two teams square off on Super Bowl Sunday.

For Denver, their challenge is two-fold. Not only do they have to get their offense on track against a stifling and physical defense, they also must slow down the punishing running game of the Seahawks to keep Seattle from building offensive momentum. They will need the best effort from everyone on their roster with some key contributors stepping up and playing their best game of the season. It is the biggest stage that any of these players will play on and the Broncos will need some guys to shine to come away with the Lombardi Trophy.

Obviously, Peyton Manning in the key to their offense and everything they want to do. But nobody is worried about Manning being unprepared for this game. The record-setting quarterback understands the opportunity ahead of him and will bring his best game to New York in two weeks. But to get Manning his second ring and really cement him as one of the greatest of all time, he will need some help from his friends.

So as we ramp up for what should be a great Super Bowl matchup on February 2, here are 10 Denver Broncos who must step up to bring the Super Bowl back to Mile High.

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10. Duke Ihenacho

duke ihenacho
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Duke Ihenacho has come a long way this season after spending 2012 on the practice squad for Denver. He finished third on the team in tackles this season with 73 takedowns, including two tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Ihenacho was a key piece of the defense this season, particularly in coming up against the run and making tackles. If Marshawn Lynch breaks through to open field, it will be up to Ihenacho to bring him down and prevent a game-breaking run like he had in the NFC Championship.

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9. Robert Ayers/Shaun Phillips

robert ayers
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

The Denver pass rush has lost some major components this season due to injury but the duo of Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips has been there to pick up some of the slack. Together, they combined for 15.5 sacks during the regular season and have three sacks in two games during the playoffs. They will be charged with applying pressure to Russell Wilson, which will be a challenge considering the young quarterbacks incredible elusiveness in the pocket. The pressure will be on Ayers and Phillips to bring Wilson down and not allow him to scramble around and make big plays down the field.

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8. Champ Bailey

champ bailey
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Champ Bailey, a future Hall-of-Famer, will be playing in his first Super Bowl this year and will be counted on in a major way. With Chris Harris going down in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, Bailey stepped back into the starting lineup for the first time since injuring his foot in the preseason for the AFC Championship. He’s played well during Denver’s playoff run, but he will need to be great in the Super Bowl. Seattle has athletic receivers who are constantly working to get open, particularly when Wilson starts scrambling. Bailey will be counted on to stick on a receiver for much longer than normal to keep the Seahawks from breaking a big play over the top. And if he can contribute a big turnover to help seal a victory, that would be a perfect capper for his first trip to the Super Bowl.

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7. Wes Welker

wes welker
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Wes Welker was brought to Denver to provide that extra push for the offense to get them to the Super Bowl. While he has been a reliable target during the playoff run with 10 catches in two games, Welker has amassed just 76 yards and one touchdown. His longest play since returning from concussion was a 16-yard catch in the AFC Championship. Welker needs to provide a bit more production out of the slot to create matchup issues for Seattle’s physical man-to-man coverage. If he can get loose a few time and provide some big plays, it could loosen things up in the Seattle secondary and open the door for Manning to hit some big plays down the field.

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6. Knowshon Moreno

knowshon moreno
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

A huge reason that the Denver offense has been able to set so many records this season has been the balance in the offense provided by Knowshon Moreno in the running game. His ability to pick up chunks of yards on the ground, including a 28 yard run in the AFC Championship on 3rd and long, helps take the pressure off of Manning and the passing game and forces teams to play honest. Seattle has an excellent run defense, so yards will be hard to come by. But if Moreno can get something going in the running game, it will provide a huge boost to the Denver offense.

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5. Orlando Franklin/Chris Clark

orlando franklin
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle defense has been built to pressure the quarterback this season so Denver must be especially concerned with protecting Manning in the pocket. They showed what they can do in the AFC Championship when they provide a clean pocket for their quarterback but they will have an entirely new challenge with the Seahawks defensive ends. That puts the pressure on tackles Orlando Franklin and Chris Clark to play their best game of the year and keep the Seattle pass rush from getting to Manning. If they can provide another clean pocket, Denver can get things going.

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4. Paris Lenon/Wesley Woodyard

wesley woodyard
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Against the power-running game of Seattle, the middle linebacker position becomes so important when stopping Lynch as he stretches plays to the sideline or makes his cut up to the second level. So far in the 2013 playoffs, Denver has not gotten much from their inside linebacker duo of Paris Lenon and Wesley Woodyard. The pair has combined for just six tackles in two games this postseason and will need to bring more to the table during the Super Bowl. If they can’t make plays in the running game or help contain Wilson on the scramble, the Denver defense will be in for a long day.

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3. Trindon Holliday

trindon holliday
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Trindon Holliday is a spark-plug in the return game with the speed to break open a game with a huge return at any time. But during the playoffs, Denver has taken Holliday out of the mix a bit by replacing him on punt returns due to Holliday’s issues with ball security this season. He’s still the man on kick returns and will have opportunities to run some back in the Super Bowl. So often, big games like this are decided on special teams. If Holliday can provide that spark for Denver, it could make all the difference in this Super Bowl.

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2. Terrance Knighton

terrance knighton
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

The Denver defense showed up to play in the AFC Championship and Terrance Knighton was right there in the middle of it all to set the tone for the run defense. He was consistently getting penetration in the backfield, disrupting the blocking and the path of the running back, clogging up holes to allow someone else on the defense to get the tackles for minimal gain when he didn’t bring the ball-carrier down himself. He will need to have that kind of effort once again in the Super Bowl. So much of Seattle’s offense is predicated on Lynch and the running game. Having Knighton step up and disrupt it will go a long ways in securing a win for the Broncos.

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1. Eric Decker

eric decker
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Richard Sherman is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and will undoubtedly be locked up on Denver’s No. 1 receiver, Demaryius Thomas, to keep him from breaking off a huge play in the passing game. While Manning will still find ways to get Thomas the ball, Denver will need someone else to step up and make plays down the field. Eric Decker has been a solid No. 2 this season across from Thomas and will have to step up his game to take advantage of not drawing Sherman across from him the entire game. The rest of the Seattle secondary is physical and talented, so it won’t be easy, but this is the stage for Decker to step up and prove he’s a difference-maker for the Denver offense.