SB XLVIII Q&A: Manning and beyond

SB XLVIII Q&A: Manning and beyond

By John Clayton | ESPN.com

 

 

 

OriginallyPublished: January 19, 2014Denver QB is the No. 1 story, especially with difficultweather a distinct possibilityWho’s No. 1? In Super Bowl XLVIII, aces are wild.The DenverBroncos had the No. 1 offense in the regular season. The Seattle Seahawkshad the No. 1 defense. Both teams were the No. 1 seeds in their conferences.And the No. 1 story is Peyton Manning,returning to the Super Bowl for the third time and trying to earn his secondring. For the NFL, it doesn’t get any better than that.In the big picture, it’s also an amazing shift. About four years ago, theAFC West and NFC West were the two worst divisions in the league. John Elway, whomade the Broncos a Super Bowl contender as a player, has proved to be equallysuccessful as a front-office executive.He signed Manning, produced 13 regular-season wins in two consecutive yearsand now is hoping to get another ring.Pete Carroll completely turned around the Seahawks, modeling the rebuild onhis restoration of USC into a national power. He’s going for his first SuperBowl win as a coach.Here are the 10 most important questions for Super Bowl XLVIII. {{more}}1. Which team will be affected most by the New York-New Jerseyweather? The hype during the next two weeks will be the weather andhow it affects Manning. Cold weather does have a negative effect on Manning.Early forecasts indicate it will be around 37 degrees with a low of 19. Snow isalso in the forecast.During his career, Manning has had 15 regular-season games in temperaturesbelow 40. His career 65.5 percent completion percentage drops to 63.7 and hehas 14 interceptions in those 15 games. Things have gotten worse in theplayoffs. He is a 56.4 percent passer in cold postseason games. The scarynumber is the interceptions. He has nine picks in playoff games where thetemperature is less than 40 degrees.Another alarming stat is his yards per attempt in those games . Thecold air will affect his throws more now that he’s older. His passes wobble alot more than they did in his younger days. The Seahawks shouldn’t be tooaffected. They are a team built to win with a ground attack and a greatdefense.2. How will officiating affect the Super Bowl? Neither teamshould have any complaints in this one. Terry McAulay lets players play anddoesn’t litter the field with flags. He officiated the Seahawks-New OrleansSaints divisional-round game in Seattle. In that game, his crew called 15penalties, 14 of which were accepted.The umpire will be Carl Paganelli, which should warn both teams to becareful about offensive holding. Paganelli called two holding penalties each onthe Saints and Seahawks.Both teams should be able to get away with aggressive man-to-man coverage.Steve Freeman is the back judge. He did the Carolina-San Franciscodivisional-round game. There was only one defensive pass interference penaltyin that game. Officials are allowing extra grabbing by defensive backs. Aclassic example was how Patriots safety Devin McCourtymauled Broncos tight end Julius Thomason a pass from the 10-yard line in the first quarter of the AFC ChampionshipGame.In 10 playoff games, only seven defensive pass interferences have beencalled. This should benefit the Seahawks, who play as aggressive man coverageas there is in football.3. What are the injury situations? Denver running back Knowshon Morenosuffered a chest injury Sunday against the Patriots. Coach John Fox didn’tsound too panicked about it. Of course, injuries have been a story for theBroncos all season. Five defensive starters and left tackle Ryan Clady havebeen lost for the season. By winning 13 regular-season games and advancing tothe Super Bowl, the Broncos showed how resilient and well-coached they are.The Seahawks hope to have wide receiver Percy Harvinavailable for the Super Bowl and there is a decent chance he will be. Harvinwas scratched Sunday because of a concussion. Carroll said Harvin should clearconcussion protocol by midweek and should be able to practice. Defensive tackleMichaelBennett and wide receiver Doug Baldwinwere banged up Sunday but continued playing. The Seahawks should be in goodshape for the game.4. What will be the Broncos’ offensive strategy? Broncosoffensive coordinator Adam Gase came up with a great game plan to beat thePatriots. The Patriots have a physical group of cornerbacks who play man. Gasemixed in a lot of crossing patterns and stacked formations to counter that.”If you are running all straight and vertical routes down the field,that’s tough,” Manning said.What was effective about the Broncos’ offensive game plan was how it woredown Patriots defensive players. The Pats started six defensive starters whowere in their first or second seasons. This was the Patriots’ first road gamein the playoffs since 2006. The altitude was a weapon for the Broncos becausePats players could wear down, and they did.Denver ran 71 plays, one below its average, but the Broncos held the ballfor more than 35 minutes. Manning needed only eight drives to win the game, andfive of those drives went for eight plays or more. Gase did a great job ofspreading the field with pass-catchers who were better than the guys whocovered them.5. Is there recent film of these teams going head-to-head?Yes, the teams met in the preseason and the Seahawks had a big edge, winning40-10. The Seahawks jumped out to a 17-7 first-quarter lead. Manning thenstarted moving the ball through the air. He was 11-for-16 for 163 yards and wasgaining momentum.But the Seahawks’ offense tore up the Broncos’ defense. Manning came out ofthe game in the second quarter, trailing 27-7. When Brock Osweilerentered, the game turned into a blowout. He couldn’t do anything againstSeattle’s D.6. What themes will be stressed in this Super Bowl? TheSeahawks are old-school. They run a conservative, run-oriented offense thatfocuses on avoiding turnovers. Manning runs a three-receiver spread offensethat sometimes uses tempo and pace to tire out opponents.The problem facing the Broncos is that it’s hard to tire out the Seahawks’defense. The Seahawks found out late last season that they lacked an adequatepass rush. Starting defensive end Chris Clemonsblew out his knee in the wild-card round and the Seahawks were starved for arush against Atlanta and lost in the final seconds.General manager John Schneider not only added defensive end Cliff Avril,but he added Bennett. That allowed Bruce Irvin tomove to outside linebacker. Now the Seahawks can rotate four pass-rushers. Theyrotate defensive linemen and linebackers. The Seahawks are six to seven playersdeep for quality along the defensive line and at least four deep for qualitylinebackers. At times in the win over San Francisco Sunday, they even used some3-4 alignments.Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, in his first year on the job, hasmade the Seahawks a versatile group on defense. He blitzes more than hispredecessor, Gus Bradley, who is head coach in Jacksonville. Quinn’s successcould earn him a head-coaching position. He’s under consideration for the Cleveland Browns’job. But so is Gase. If the Browns don’t hire a coach before the Super Bowl,one of these two coaches could end up in Cleveland.7. What will be the Broncos’ favorite meal for the Super Bowl?Pot roast. Terrance”Pot Roast” Knighton was signed during the offseason to stuff therun. His presence could be the difference in whether the Broncos win or lose.Knighton not only took away the running attack of the Patriots, but he added apass-rush element.Knighton’s role will be stopping the run and Marshawn Lynch.He has an advantage. Max Unger, theSeahawks’ Pro Bowl center, has battled injuries all season. The Seahawks haveproblems at guard. The guard position is so unsettled, Michael Bowie,who started the divisional-round game against the Saints, was inactive for theNFC Championship Game even though he was healthy.The Seahawks used J.R. Sweezy atright guard and James Carpenter,a first-round disappointment, at left guard. Carpenter shared the position withPaul McQuistan.It’s anyone’s guess who starts at left guard in the Super Bowl.Thanks to Richard Sherman and others, the Seahawks’ secondary has star power and depth.Photo by Lui Kit Wong/Tacoma News Tribune/Getty Images8. How can the Seahawks do better than New England on defense?No team is as deep as the Seahawks in the secondary. Richard Shermanis arguably the game’s best cornerback. Byron Maxwellhas played like a star since replacing the suspended Brandon Browner.WalterThurmond and JeremyLane are excellent covering the slot.Bill Belichick is known for taking away an offense’s best weapon. Aqib Talib isthe Patriots’ best corner, but once he went down in the first half, thePatriots couldn’t stop Manning. The Seahawks can give Manning trouble withcoverages and with the pass rush.9. Which players will be the sleepers? Moreno is a key forthe Broncos. He had only 59 yards on 14 carries in the AFC championship, but hehas the ability to create balance for Manning. With snow possible, the Broncosjust can’t expect to win a one-dimensional passing game.Seattle QB RussellWilson comes into the Super Bowl under the radar. He’s struggled down thestretch, but things opened up for him a little in the NFC Championship Game.After averaging 13.6 completions on 24 attempts for 157.6 yards in theSeahawks’ previous five games, Wilson improved against the 49ers. He was16-of-25 for 215 yards. But the offensive-line blocking was bad so he wassacked four times and had to scramble for his life.Harvin could also be a sleeper. He’s been on the field for only 37 plays,but his speed is incredible. The Seahawks used more three- and four-receiversets against the 49ers than normal. They also used offensive lineman Alvin Baileyas a sixth offensive-line blocker to help with the protection.10. Who will win the Super Bowl? The Seahawks have arguably been the best team infootball all season and I think they can do enough to win the Super Bowl. Theycan’t afford to get into a high-scoring game because they don’t have theoffense to stay with Manning. But they have the ability — particularly in thecold and snow — to slow down Manning. The odds makers believe Denver is aslight favorite.