Sports Out West

Super Bowl XLVIII: Four key matchups for the Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman holds up the George Halas Trophy after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Super Bowl XLVII is full of matchups pairing strength against strength. By several metrics, the Denver Broncos have the best offense in the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks have the top defense. Such a matchup has occurred five times in Super Bowl history with the top defense compiling a 4-1 record, but that matters little come Sunday.

A paring of such elite units brings several interesting individual matchups all over the field. Here are four individual battles the Seahawks will need to win to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Seattle.

Richard Sherman / Byron Maxwell vs. Demaryius Thomas

Peyton Manning has a number of dangerous targets to get the ball to. Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas are all more than capable of burning any defense. Despite the relatively even distribution, Manning’s favorite target in his two seasons in Denver has been Demaryius Thomas, who has over 90 receptions and 1,400 yards in each of the past two years.

Unlike most teams around the league, the Seahawks keep their cornerbacks on the same side of the field rather than matching their best corner up against the best opposing receiver for the entire game. That means both Sherman and Maxwell will have snaps covering Thomas.

The Seahawks built their secondary around big, physical cornerbacks to counteract receivers like Thomas. Sherman called Thomas “as strong as they come” in his MMQB article for Sports Illustrated. If anyone can slow Thomas down it might be the Seahawks, but it will be a major challenge and one of the keys to the game either way.   

Percy Harvin vs. Broncos’ pass defense

As strange as it is heading into the final game of the season, anything Harvin gives the Seahawks is a bonus at this point. Despite playing just a game and a half the entire year, Harvin says he is ready to go on Sunday. 

We might not have a totally clear picture of Harvin’s role in the Seattle offense, but we do know that he is an explosive player that has a chance to make a big play every time he touches the ball. Since Harvin is so versatile and the Seahawks will try to get him the ball in any way possible, he could see matchups against cornerbacks, safeties or linebackers over the course of the game.

Denver has lost starters at all of those positions due to injury, meaning adding Harvin to the mix with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin could help stretch the Broncos’ defense thin. Not surprisingly, Denver is second in the NFL in passing plays of at least 20 yards with 46, but Seattle isn’t that far behind with 38 such plays. If Harvin can help even that up a bit, the Seahawks will have a good chance of winning.

 Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril vs. Broncos’ offensive line

Manning was just about impossible to get to during the season, as he was sacked on just 2.9 percent of his dropbacks, best in the NFL. A big reason why is that the Broncos use quick passes so efficiently, and Football Outsiders had Denver’s line ranked as the best in the NFL at pass protection and No. 8 in run blocking.

The Seahawks with the best chance to beat the Broncos’ line and put at least some pressure on Manning are Bennett and Avril, both speedy rushers off the edge. They might not be able to put up big sack numbers, but just hurrying or hitting Manning will go a long way towards slowing down Denver’s rhythmic offense.

Seahawks’ guards vs. Terrance Knighton

On the other side, Russell Wilson has been sacked on 9.5 percent on his dropbacks this year, worst in the NFL. Wilson took an absolute beating against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game while getting hit on over half of his dropbacks but was still able to do enough to get the win.

Denver had some success getting to Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, and the New England Patriots have a much better offensive line than the Seahawks do. One of the most important plays of the game came on a fourth down on Denver’s 29 in the third quarter when Knighton came free up the middle to sack Brady.  

Knighton wasn’t Denver’s most prolific pass rusher during the regular season – that would be Shaun Phillips – but he might have the most advantageous matchup for the Broncos. Paul McQuistan and James Carpenter will presumably split time at left guard if Michael Bowie is again inactive, and both have struggled at times. The offensive line has been the weak link for the Seahawks this year, and will need to step up for Seattle to win its first championship.

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

 

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Nathaniel Reeves

Nathaniel Reeves is a journalism student at the University of Washington, currently covering sports for The UW Daily in addition to Sports Out West. He has been closely following Seattle sports his entire life.