By Steve Silverman
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There’s been a lot of talk about legacy in this Super Bowl, and most of it pertains to Peyton Manning.
That’s been the case throughout the postseason, as Manning has supposedly been playing for his place in football history.
First, he had to overcome his “ordinary” playoff record in the Broncos’ divisional playoff win over the San Diego Chargers. Then he had to face down the tag team of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the AFC Championship game. Now he gets a chance to become a multiple Super Bowl winner. He certainly will enhance his reputation by winning a second Super Bowl (with his second team), but Manning is one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks.
I rank Manning as the No. 2 quarterback in the game’s history, with Joe Montana at the top of the list and Johnny Unitas right behind him. Brady ranks as the No. 4 quarterback, while John Elway edges out Dan Marino for the No. 5 spot.
However, this is a legacy game. The Seattle Seahawks defense is playing for a place as one of the game’s greatest defenses in the Super Bowl era.
The Seahawks have had the dominant defense in the league this year. They had the top-ranked defense in yards allowed, points allowed and in the modern metrics that are used to measure defensive performance. They had key edges over the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers, both of whom had excellent defensive teams.
If the Seahawks can handle Manning and the Broncos, they deserve to be put in the team picture with the great defenses the game has seen.
They will earn a spot at the table (Super Bowl era) with the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1986 New York Giants and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The Seahawks would almost certainly hold down the fourth seat in that grouping, but they would deserve to be there nonetheless.
The Seahawks have depth on the defensive line, power and nastiness from the linebacker position and the most physical and talented secondary that the NFL has seen in decades.
Everybody focuses on Richard Sherman in the secondary because he shocked the American viewing public with his verbal attack on 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree following the Seahawks’ victory in the NFC Championship game.
By now, the full story on Sherman is well known. He is an emotional player who gets caught up in the moment, but he is a brilliant cover corner who can shut down the best receivers in one-on-one coverage. Sherman had eight interceptions, 24 passes defensed and 49 tackles during the regular season, and he will dare Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker or Wes Welker to beat him.
Free safety Earl Thomas may be Sherman’s equal, or close to it. Statistically, Thomas was second on the team with 105 tackles, and he added five interceptions and 13 passes defensed. More than the numbers, Thomas is a smart player who is almost always in the right place at the right time, and delivers concussive blows.
Strong safety Kam Chancellor is another magnificent hitter who can put his imprint on the game with one big shot. He had 99 tackles during the regular season, and also had three interceptions and nine passes defensed.
Byron Maxwell does not get the publicity of his mates in the secondary, but he has the potential to turn the game around as well. He had four interceptions, 17 passes defensed and 24 tackles.
Defensive ends Michael Bennett (8.5 sacks) and Cliff Avril (8.0 sacks) can get around the corner in a heartbeat and put pressure on Manning, while middle linebacker Bobby Wagner had a team-high 120 tackles to go along with 5.0 sacks, eight passes defensed and two interceptions. He may be the most underrated player in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks defense has the same kind of relentlessness that the Bears, Giants and Ravens had in their glory years. There is a lightning-like speed and viciousness that is common to all four teams.
They have made a case to rank with the best of all-time and they can prove it on Sunday.
Just a few years ago, it seemed like the formula for winning required an offense that could light up the scoreboard and a defense that was just ordinary. The Panthers, 49ers and especially the Seahawks have shown that defense is fashionable once again, and that the hardest hitting, nastiest team may be in a position to come away with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
That’s an exciting proposition for those who believe that defense, once again, wins championships.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy.
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