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Dublin: 4°C Tuesday 26 January 2021

The Redzone: Broncos will have to rip up the playbook to beat the Seahawks

Seattle’s defence is too good for the Denver to make this a shootout.

The Vince Lombardi trophy is up for grabs on Sunday night.
The Vince Lombardi trophy is up for grabs on Sunday night.
Image: Charlie Riedel/AP/Press Association Images

THE MOST ENJOYABLE time I’ve ever had in sports was as offensive coordinator when Tullamore Phoenix won their second Irish American Football League DV8s championship and one moment in particular stands out above all the others.

During a game against Drogheda Lightning, we were reduced to our third string quarterback after injuries put our starter and backup out of the game in the third quarter. It was a level game at the time and every fibre of my being was telling me to hand the ball off to our running back; at that time the best in the league.

However, I decided that was exactly what my opposite number would want me to do and so, although we lined up in a run formation, we ran play action and our quarterback found a wide open wide receiver in the endzone after the defence completely bit on the run.

There’s a reason for this story and it’s that, if Denver are to win Super Bowl XLVIII, they are not going to be able to rely on just Peyton Manning. Instead they’ll have to dive into the playbook and do what few expect them to do on Sunday, run the football.

Despite all the touchdowns they scored through the air this season, Denver has a ground game that can threaten a Seattle defence that ranked joint seventh in the league this season, alongside the Broncos. However, while Denver have given up just 64.5 yards per game (ypg) on the ground in the playoffs, Seattle’s  rush defence has regressed, averaging 134.5 ypg in the postseason.

On offence, Denver have increased the number of times they run the football from 28 attempts per game during the season to 31 in the playoffs and the number of yards per game from 117 to 120. However, far more importantly than either of those stats is the fact that, in the postseason, the Broncos increased the number of first downs they made on the ground per game by 33%

To beat the Seattle defence on the ground though, Denver will have to change yet another habit. Per Pro Football Focus, when running the football, the Broncos ran over 62% of their plays up the middle. Do that and Seattle will eat up Knowshon Moreno or whoever is running the ball.

However, when attacked outside the tackles, the Seahawks are much more vulnerable as, despite being the league’s top-ranked defence, they are ranked outside the top twenty in ypg when teams rush the outside. With Denver averaging 5.5 yards per carry when running outside themselves, they must take full advantage if they are to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy in the early hours of Monday morning.

imageMarshawn Lynch (24) in full Beast Mode.
Image: Elaine Thompson/AP/Press

For the Seahawks to win, they just need to continue what they’ve been doing all year, mixing an elite running game with a mixture of short and intermediate passes. Indeed, this season, Seattle gained an average of 11 yards every time they attempted an intermediate pass. That’s a first down every play.

It helps that Seattle’s receivers don’t drop the ball when they’re targeted on plays of 10-20 yards, putting the ball on the ground just twice this season. Golden Tate could be key to the Seahawks’ passing attack. Averaging nearly eight yards after completing every catch, if Tate and Percy Harvin can confuse Dominique Rodgers-Comartie and Champ Bailey with their route running, they will create space for their team’s most potent weapon, Marshawn Lynch.

The Seattle running back continues to make an argument for him to be called the league’s best and is the only player to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.

One big battle — literally — on Sunday will be between Lynch and Denver nose-tackle Terrance ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton. For a man who weighs 24 stone, Knighton is among the NFL’s best nose-tackles and when he’s on the field, the Broncos allow just 2.9 yards per run, compared to 3.7 when he’s not. Again, that doesn’t seem like a huge amount but it’s the difference between a first down on every set of downs and not.

Like the Broncos though, the Seahawks will look to rush outside, where Lynch has forced 13 missed tackles on just 22 attempts this postseason. If Knighton and the Denver defence don’t make their first tackle — and the first man up misses for them more than 20% of the time — they will be punished heavily.


Peyton Manning is too smart a quarterback to think he can best Seattle’s infamous Legion of Boom by sticking to the high-flying offence that has helped Denver reach this far and you can almost guarantee that he won’t target Richard Sherman at all during the Super Bowl. Of course, he’ll still throw the ball but that’s not where this game will be won and lost.

As so often is the case, this game will be decided in the trenches and whichever teams wins the battle on the ground, wins the game. As such, it will probably be a low-scoring Super Bowl. With than in mind, I’m going for a Seattle win with fewer than 35 points total scored.

Disagree? Of course you do. Let us know why in the comments below.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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