Keidel: Manning’s Manifest Destiny?
By Jason Keidel
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As the Super Bowl inches toward the whistle, how do we dissect two teams that are so different, yet equally matched?
It’s essentially understood that both coaches, Pete Carroll and John Fox aren’t direct descendants of Bill Walsh, the brooding genius who will X and O you to death. They rely more on the relationships, on making their players feel like gods for 60 minutes.
The question that once had the world on its tiptoes, was whether the weather made it a de facto home game for one team or another. The assumption was that a windy day would favor Seattle while a warmer, calmer day would benefit Denver’s mile-high passing game.
But now that we know a relatively balmy, 45-degree day will visit us on Super Sunday, we can assume both teams are on a level playing field.
So it’s Denver’s mile-high offense against Seattle’s bedrock defense, the football iteration of irresistible force and immovable object. No number of ‘Omaha!’ chants can change the basic physical brutality that Seattle will bring to the Super Bowl. No disguised blitz will surprise the professorial Peyton Manning.
What will matter most? The fact that Seattle has no players with Super Bowl experience, or their youth and speed and top-ranked defense? Or will the game be won by Denver’s suddenly stout rush defense and Peyton Manning’s blessed right arm?
You’d think since the game is so nerve-shattering, the logical blueprint would be to run the ball and play robust defense.
But here have been 12 thousand-yard rushers on a Super Bowl roster since 2001, and only two rushed for 100 yards on Super Sunday. The two who did, Frank Gore and Thomas Jones, played on the losing team.
14 out of Denver’s 15 wins have been by a touchdown or more. Manning hasn’t been sacked in the postseason, and the Broncos have punted just once.
The Broncos scored 71 touchdowns this season; no other NFL team scored more than 54. Meaning Peyton Manning threw for more scores (55) than any team scored altogether.
And if you think Manning doesn’t know how to play small-ball, look again. During the regular season, Denver’s average touchdown drive was 7 plays over 3 minutes. In their two playoff wins they averaged 12 plays over 7 minutes.
But Seattle is the first team since the 1985 Bears to lead the league in yards allowed, points allowed, and turnovers. RB Marshawn Lynch, progenitor of Beast Mode, has scored six touchdowns in six playoff games, and has averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage.
And if people think Denver TE Julius Thomas will be a secret weapon, consider that the Seahawks held Pro Bowl tight ends Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis to a combined 3 catches for 24 yards in the playoffs. And Marshall Faulk just told Mike Francesa that the younger QB has won 8 of the last 10 games.
So what means more? The point spread first favored Seattle, then swung immediately to Denver, who is currently favored by two points.
It makes sense that this game is a toss-up. You’re basically picking between the bionic athleticism of Seattle’s defense against Peyton’s date with destiny. You may be just as well off picking the team you like more. Or you need a variable.
Like Percy Harvin, who has averaged the second-most yards from scrimmage in the NFL since he entered the league in 2009. If Harvin doesn’t limp off the field in the first half, he could be the difference.
My heart is with Denver, my mind in Seattle.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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