So who's the best pass defense Denver's faced this year? On paper it belongs to the 2-14 Houston Texans, who were 3rd in the league with 189 yards allowed. Manning torched them for 400 yards in Week 16. Something about averaging only 17.2 points per game keeps most teams from needing throw much.
Okay, second best passing defense? 7-9 New York Giants, who were #10 in the league with 223.3 yards per game. Denver's division opponents were #25 Kansas City, #28 Oakland and #29 San Diego. They faced none of the elite defenses in the league this year.
Numbers don't always tell the truth, right Houston? So let's cast them aside and ask who really gave Denver a tough time this year. By far it was New England in Week 12 . Peyton threw for only 150 yards in the overtime loss. Aqib Talib led the defense, but as usual it was great game-planning by Bill Belichick that hampered Manning. Denver's four uncharacteristic turnovers hurt, too.
Denver has not seen a defensive backfield like Seattle's. Not the size, speed or smarts. So who's covering who in the Super Bowl? Saying that this guy will match up against that guy is over-simplifying things, but it's the best way to analyze the situation.
Richard Sherman vs. Demaryius Thomas
Our biggest mouth has no fear of shadowing the opponent's best receiver. He erased Anquan Boldin in Week 2 and he's been eliminating people ever since. Both players are 6-3. Sherman is giving up about 30 pounds of weight, but I haven't seen anyone outmuscle him this year. Thomas will make some plays, but Manning likes to make the easy throw. He'll find a better matchup than Sherman versus anyone.
Byron Maxwell vs. Eric Decker
Maxwell has gone from “the guy replacing Brandon Browner” to “the guy who made us forget Brandon Browner”. Seattle's defense is better without Browner, anyway. Quicker with less attitude and fewer penalties, although ESPN's David Fleming makes a good argument why great defenses get flagged and still win. Maxwell (6-1, 207) is giving up a little size to Decker (6-3, 214) but he's been making big plays ever since Browner's suspension gave him the opportunity. He has 10 passes defensed and 4 interceptions in the last 6 games.
Walter Thurmond vs. Wes Welker
Thurmond's back from suspension at just the right time. I'm not truly sure how Pete Carroll will play it, but Thurmond's the most logical matchup against the Slot Machine. His 5-ll height matches up better with the 5-9 Welker. I also expect Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright to float around the middle and discourage passes to Welker. He's a tricky guy to cover, no matter what, but having Thurmond or Jeremy Lane as third and fourth corners is luxurious depth.
Kam Chancellor vs. Julius Thomas
Remember that shot Kam put on Vernon Davis last year? Vernon doesn't. Remember those big games Jimmy Graham had against the Seahawks? Me neither. That linebacker Seattle has playing strong safety will not make it easy on Julius, who's a good football player having a great season thanks to Manning's accuracy. Peyton hits good players in the hands, in stride, and lets them get seperior numbers. Nothing against some of the solid professionals Manning has made into superstars in his career, but it's a fact. Chancellor plus Seattle's linebackers will allow very little space for Julius.
Earl Thomas vs. Colorado
Earl's watching tape right now, worming his way into Peyton's brain. Manning will get his completions, but Thomas will make sure run-after-catch is limited. He'll separate the ball from the Bronco on some occasions, too. He's been swift and decisive reacting to the ball all year. Sunday will be no different.
K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner vs. Knowshon Moreno
Manning will be checking down to Moreno. It will be up to Seattle's linebackers and linemen to sniff out screens before they turn into big plays. The Seahawks are studying the Bronco's tricks. Their hustle is unmatched. I think they slip some blockers and blow up some passes to the flats.
We can't forget about that guy. He's good for a deep bomb now and then in four receiver sets. He'd start on most teams. Denver's just too deep.
Seattle's pass rush vs. Denver's line
Denver's offensive line has kept Manning quite clean lately. Peyton helps them out by unloading the ball quickly. The key for Seattle will be playing tight, effective man-to-man coverage, freeing up the front seven to blitz and stunt. If you can make Manning uncomfortable, you can beat him. If he stays in rhythm and has space around his feet, he'll dissect you like a frog.
So what did 86 say?
Eventually, I said I like our chances. Denver hasn't seen a defensive backfield as big, fast, smart and deep as Seattle's. Manning picked apart New England after Aqib Talib got hurt. The Seahawks have five or six DBs of his caliber. Denver hasn't faced linebackers as quick as Wright, Wagner and Bruce Irvin. Manning will have his toughest day of the year. He'll get his yards, though. He'll put the ball in the end-zone, but not as often as he'd like.
If Seattle's offense can control the ball, run well and win time of possession, Denver will be fighting uphill.
I like the Seahawks' chances in bad weather, too. But that's another story. Blow, winds, blow.