Super Bowl Preview & Pick 2014
After a brief hiatus during the playoffs, we thought we should wrap up with the season with some thoughts on the Super Bowl and give a pick.
Analysts have been quick to point out that this game is a matchup between the number one offense (Denver) and the number one defense (Seattle) in the league. Denver is 1st in offensive DVOA and Seattle is 1st in defensive DVOA. Not surprisingly, many have been critical of how these two teams have achieved these rankings.
Denver’s offense is predicated on “rub” or “pick” routes, which are often technically illegal, but never enough so to be flagged. On the other side, Seattle’s defense is built around a secondary that presses, grabs, and holds on every play, but rarely enough to warrant a flag. Though immensely talented in their own rights, these two teams have truly separated themselves from the rest of the league by mastering the subtlety required in executing these two strategies. It goes without saying, that if the referees decided to start calling the game differently it would have a huge outcome on the game, but there is no reason to believe that that will happen.
Though this game has been billed as a much up between team offense and team defense, the game will ultimately be determined by individual matchups. The most important matchup will be between Peyton Manning versus the Legion of Boom. Manning’s brilliance is in his ability to recognize and take advantage of schematic flaws in an opposing defenses. He achieves this through incessant film study and savant-like play on the field. However, reliance on intellect will be a fatal flaw against Seattle’s secondary because, counter-intuitively, Seattle is too easy to gameplan for. On Seattle’s defense, film analyst legend Greg Cosell had this to say:
They’re more of what we would call an execution defense than a schematic defense. There’s not a lot of mystery to what they do. They’re not difficult to figure out tactically. They’re an execution defense. They have really good players who execute the defense play after play after play at a very, very high level.
As much as Peyton may like to audible it will be next impossible for him to take advantage of a team that does not rely on schemes to win. For Manning to have a prolific day against Seattle, he and his receivers will need to match Seattle in execution. But, even perfect execution may not be enough to beat this defense, as one member of the Legion of Boom could prove to be Manning’s Kryptonite.
By the statistics Richard Sherman doesn’t lead the league in Yards Per Attempt or Yards Per Drop back, but he does lead the league in two essential categories--Interceptions with 8, and Interception rate with 13.8%. Manning is never afraid to challenge a corner. If he thinks you’re beat or he has a favorable matchup, he will let it ride. Unfortunately for Manning, this style plays directly into Sherman’s traps. We fully expect Manning to get baited into some dangerous throws that Sherman may be able to convert into interceptions In a game where possessions matter, an interception could be a death knell. Anecdotally, the second place player in interception rate, Logan Ryan, undercut and intercepted a Manning pass in the regular season on a throw where it looked like Decker had Ryan completely beat to the inside.
Of course, there will be other individuals to watch beside Manning and Sherman. The third most important player in this game will be Terrance Knighton When Jack Del Rio came over from Jacksonville, he made sure to bring Terrance Knighton with him, and for good reason. During the regular season, Knighton posted an above average run stop percentage of 8%, but in the playoffs, that number has been a dominant 17%. Terrance Knighton’s evisceration of future Hall of Famer Logan Mankins and Ryan Wendell in the AFC Championship was key in stopping the league’s hottest rushing attack dead in its tracks. Much like New England, Seattle’s offense is built around run and run-action. If Knighton can dominate Unger the way he dominated Wendell, it could change the entire dynamic of this game.
The final key individual in this game will, of course, be Russell Wilson. In every way, WIlson reminds us of Tom Brady in his early years. He is underrated physically, mobile in the pocket, and exceedingly intelligent. He is ok taking the low risk route to avoid the big turnover. Like early Brady, Wilson has an understanding of complementary football that far exceeds his experience and peers. He manages the game until he is ready to strike and crush your dreams late in the fourth quarter. However, walking the tightrope of being smart and being unnecessarily conservative has proven difficult for Wilson at times. If he manages the game successfully and makes a handful of plays, he should be in a place to win the game in the fourth quarter, but if he is overly conservative and can’t generate first downs early, he may place too much stress on his defense, which would most likely lead to a loss.
Ultimately, this game reminds us a lot of the past decade of college football. Every year, we get a match up between a team from the Big 10, Big 12, or Pac-12, and a team from the SEC, and every year we are told why that non-SEC team is different and has a chance to win. Every year, that team gets dominated by an SEC team that is not only unimaginably physical, but also incredibly fast. In this equation, the NFC West is the SEC. They simply play a different brand of football. We expect Seattle’s defense to generate turnovers, and physically beat up Denver’s offense, while also running the ball effectively on their way to a 24-17 victory.