I did this same exercise with the Broncos back on Thursday, and it’s a way for me to organize some final thoughts before making a prediction that’s sure to fail tomorrow (Rob Pizzola already did that…the prediction part, not the failure part yet).
The more I think about this game, and read about this game, and write about this game, I keep coming back to two simple yet fundamental facts: moving the ball with any consistency through the air against the Seahawks is impossible, and the pass defenses Peyton Manning has torched this season have been of a significantly lesser caliber.
Let’s go exploring.
1. Minimal movement
Arm flailing and pre-snap jibber jabber have been staples of the Peyton Manning experience throughout his career (related: can we let the “OMAHA” craze die? He’s been doing it forever, and so has Eli, and so has Tom Brady, because it’s one of the oldest audibles in football and was even in Remember the Titans). Much of the gesturing is likely fake and means nothing, and just as much means a lot. In the hurry up offense that the Broncos run often, he’s frequently given two plays to choose from at the line of scrimmage, a decision he makes after reading the defense.
That’s where the problem could start Sunday. There’s not much to read with the Seahawks, because with so much strength at each position they primarily stay in their base 4-3 alignment, with minimal blitzing. Since their front seven is so ridiculously deep they’re confident in their ability to get pressure with just a four-man rush.
That’s crucial, because Manning thrives under pressure, excelling at the game of “where’s Waldo” which ensues when extra rushers are sent. He can identify the open receiver quickly and get him the ball just as fast, which has resulted in ballooning numbers. As Pat Kirwan noted, throughout this season including the playoffs teams sent more than four rushers after Manning 200 times, which resulted in just five sacks, and under that pressure he threw 14 of his 55 touchdown passes.
The ability to stay with the base defense while getting pressure with the front four without giving Manning an opportunity to read and react to extra rushers is vital. The Seahawks can do that.
2. A healthy Harvin means happy Seahawks
Yes, we’re all fully aware that Percy Harvin breaks often. That said, if you’re going to toss around the “injury prone” tag, do it in reference to his troublesome hip. There wasn’t much he could do about getting clocked repeatedly in the divisional round against the Saints.
About that game: even though he left for the last time late in the second quarter and missed a series earlier, Harvin was featured often for a guy who was just returning again from a major. At that point the Seahawks had taken 23 offensive snaps, and Harvin was featured on five of them. That included a handoff for nine yards, a 16-yard catch and run on the typical Harvin quick hit, and a deep target down the sideline that ultimately ended in his departure. He’s highly versatile with his 107 career carries, and he can line up and be effective from anywhere.
Despite the extremely minimal sample size we have to work with while assessing Harvin’s first season in Seattle, he’s looked explosive in those fleeting flashes of health. Of his four catches this season, two of them have been of the chunky variety and went for over 15 yards, and his lone kick return — something he’ll be doing tomorrow night — was a 58-yarder.
Harvin has repeatedly said all week that he’s fine, healthy, and ready to be a boss. Even if we think he’s slightly lying and he’s operating at, say, 75 percent, the Broncos secondary will struggle mightily to match his speed, especially on crossing routes. Chris Harris is gone along with Rahim Moore, and if he slides over into the slot Champ Bailey can’t keep up with Harvin. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has a better chance, but then speed on the outside in the form of Golden Tate is also left exposed.
Though we haven’t seen much of it yet, Harvin changes the dynamic of this Seahawks offense drastically.
3. No chunks for you
Prior to the insanity of Super Bowl week when Marshawn Lynch saying nothing meant something (and in simpler times when Richard Sherman was a thug), I dove into the many impressive and scary numbers associated with this Seahawks defense. Those numbers get even more daunting when we remember that as absurd offensively as the Broncos were, including the playoffs 10 of the pass defenses they faced were ranked 25th or worse.
But to me the number that still pops out the most is this one: 30. That’s how many passes of 20 yards or more the Seahawks allowed during the regular season. A close second is 5.8, which is the average yards per attempt this ridiculous secondary permitted.
Chunks just aren’t there to be found against this defense, one that’s held Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham to a combined 24 yards during the playoffs, and over two games against Drew Brees he was limited to just 456 total passing yards after averaging 322.6 per game throughout the season.
Between Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, and Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos have weapons with plenty of ability to create after the catch, and to play the short game if that’s all they’re given. But if they’re behind because of the aforementioned Harvin factor or Marshawn Lynch shredding a battered defense, moving the ball quickly downfield will become a problem fast.