By Bernie Miklasz St. Louis Post-Dispatch
NEW YORK — Saturday night, the word out of Las Vegas was that 66 percent of the late money was coming in on the Denver Broncos, who are a 21/2-point favorite over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII tonight.
I’ve been waffling on my annual Super Bowl pick all week, tormented by doubt and indecision. I was strong on Seattle throughout the NFC playoffs, but started to talk myself into a Denver victory.
Blame that on Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who is tight with Denver QB Peyton Manning and Broncos’ offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
I figured that no offense — not even one led by the great Manning, could conquer a vicious, boldly confident Seattle defense that’s been clamping down on quarterbacks and receivers all season. I have immense respect for Manning, who might be the best that ever played the position. But Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary plays a style that makes for a difficult matchup for the Broncos.
And then the devious Faulk began dropping hints, busting more moves than he displayed when spinning and slicing through defenses as the all-purpose dynamo for the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf.
Faulk indicated that He Knows Things.
In an interview with a Seattle-based football blog, No. 28 offered some intriguing insider analysis. Adding a twist, Faulk name-checked new Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who put together the New Orleans strategy that gave Manning trouble in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints upset Manning’s Indianapolis Colts 31-17.
“In the one Super Bowl that Peyton Manning lost, Gregg Williams explained what he had to do to beat Peyton,” Faulk said. “They called different game plans for the first, second and third quarters. On third down in the first quarter, they were more combination coverages. Second quarter they played more zone. Third quarter, they played more man. And in the fourth quarter, he was like, ‘I called a little bit of everything.’ That’s kind of what it took. So for it to be a blowout the other direction, it would have to be a damned good game plan against No. 18.
“And understand that I know (the Seahawks) have a relentless pass rush. They rotate around eight guys in. But it’s going to take an act of a miracle for it be one-sided their way.”
It will be a “miracle” for the Seahawks to have things their way? Really? Well, what does Marshall know? He wouldn’t give it up.
“I just know, and I wish I could say how much I know,” Faulk said. “(Denver’s) offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, is a good friend of mine, and I just know how much they’ve put into (preparing for) Seattle and this defense, and how much they respect Seattle and this defense.”
So Faulk is fired up by Denver’s game plan. And that messes with my mind. Seattle’s defense pretty much led the league in everything this season. The Seahawks gave up the fewest points (14.4 per game), fewest touchdowns from scrimmage (20), fewest yards. They were ranked No. 1 in interceptions (28), total takeaways (39) and red-zone defense. Opponent quarterbacks managed a lousy, league-poorest 63.4 passer rating against Seattle.
On the other side of this throw-down is a Denver offense that set the NFL record for most points (606) in a 16-game season. Manning iced defenses for single-season records in touchdown passes (55) and passing yards (5,477.) The Broncos have an underrated rushing attack, and they were the best in the league at converting red-zone chances into touchdowns.
Something’s gotta give. That’s why this is such an enticing matchup. Extreme offense. Extreme defense. It should be a fascinating evening at MetLife Stadium.
“We want to go out there and perform just like he (Manning) wants to go out there and perform,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “And I think these are the two best teams in the NFL — and maybe the best quarterback in maybe NFL history.
“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for both sides, and I think that’s what makes the game so big. That’s what makes the game so fun.”
In the modern NFL, does offense rule the new world? Or will the Seahawks make a stand to reaffirm the old-world notion that defense wins championships?
I agree with something that St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Strauss wrote on STLtoday.com the other day: Denver has more ways to beat you. That’s true. And I think Manning will put up enough points to make Seattle feel pressure.
There are so many theories that conceivably apply to this encounter, but here’s mine: this game will be largely determined by the play of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
Seattle averaged 28.3 points per game in its first 12 games this season. But over the last six games (including two in the NFC playoffs) that scoring average has dipped to 20.5 points. The Seahawks have such a tenacious and dependable defense, they’ve pulled back on offense. They don’t want to take chances that could lead to mistakes and costly turnovers.
Seattle has played too conservatively in recent weeks. That’s fine when you’re going up against, say, Kellen Clemens and the St. Louis offense. But more offensive freedom is required to generate the points necessary to outscore a Peyton Manning offense. Seattle has been so cautious in its passing game that defenses are jamming the line to impede the Seahawks’ bruiser running back, Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks can ease the obstruction around Lynch by freeing their second-year quarterback and entrusting Wilson to make plays. Wilson is a winner; his coaches have to game-plan, or adjust, accordingly.
Faulk got me to give a longer look to Denver, and I was tempted to switch my pick to Manning and the Broncos. Defense does win championships. And that will happen in Super Bowl XLVIII as long as the Seahawks remember that they have to bring an offense.
Seattle 27, Denver 24.