“The key,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “is we need to move [Manning], get him off his spot so he has to move and adjust. When he’s in rhythm and solidly in the pocket — which he is a great majority of the time — then you’re really dealing with the best he has to offer.”
Seattle’s defense ranked No. 1 in several categories, including yards allowed (273.6), points allowed (14.4), passer rating (63.5), interceptions (28) and total takeaways (37). It ranked eighth in sacks (44), but the pressure generated by a line rotation that’s seven deep was a key component this season. The top two in sacks — ends Michael Bennett (8 ½) and Cliff Avril (8) — were signed as free agents before the season.
“We feel like we can pressure anybody,” Bennett said. “So, yeah, I feel like I can get to [Manning]. I wouldn’t be playing in this game [if I didn’t].”
Jams and rub routes
Talk of physical matchups normally is limited to line play and those closer to the ball. But this game features Seattle’s big, strong defensive backs against a hard-nosed Denver receiving corps that is well-schooled running rub routes from bunched-up receiver sets while tiptoeing and sometimes crossing the line between legal contact and illegal pick plays.
“I think the main thing is not to go into it trying to pick,” said Wes Welker, the former Patriots receiver who was accused by Patriots coach Bill Belichick of intentionally injuring cornerback Aqib Talib in the AFC title game.
“You go into it trying to run your route and do what you’ve done for all these years. I think the key things are just running your route the way you’re supposed to run it and it works out for the best usually.”
Seattle’s cornerbacks can play press coverage but also excel in zone coverages that aren’t as vulnerable to rub routes. As for Denver’s potential X-factor, tight end Julius Thomas, well, he’ll be covered a lot by Kam Chancellor, a 6-3, 232-pound safety who helped shut down two of the league’s best tight ends — New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis — in the playoffs.
“A lot of teams play multiple schemes, and it’s kind of like disguised,” Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “The way I see these guys is, they don’t play a whole bunch of stuff, but they play it about as good as you want to play a defense. Their execution is off the charts. They play their three-deep zone and man-to-man as good as you want it designed.”
In other words, Manning won’t see anything he hasn’t already anticipated. It’s just a matter of protection, rhythm and whether those fluttering ducks will land in the right set of hands.
“I still remember the first day I was throwing with Peyton,” receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “It wasn’t the prettiest ball, but it was always in the right spot and it was easy to catch. It’s like catching tissue paper. It’s so easy to catch, it really doesn’t matter if it’s a spiral or wobbly. I never had a quarterback like that before.”
Julius Thomas also doesn’t mind the term “ducks.”
“Whichever animal or word you want to use to describe Peyton’s passes, I’ll take them every day,” he said. “Whether that be duck, goose or cat passes, I’ll continue taking them.”
Chancellor agreed with Sherman’s analysis before pausing, smiling and using three words to clarify his stance while trying not to tick off a living NFL legend whose 16th season has been his best :
“Accurate, successful ducks.”