By Brent Stecker
In their weekly roundtable discussion on 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny," John Clayton and Mike Sando of ESPN dissected the Super Bowl matchup of the Seahawks and Broncos, set for next Sunday at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. Among the topics were which team has the most advantages, what the game means for the legacies of Peyton Manning and Pete Carroll, and how the Seahawks should use Percy Harvin.
Below are the highlights.
Against Denver's passing game, the Seahawks have the advantage.
Going down the line of factors that could decide the game, Clayton and Sando agreed that Seattle has more advantages over Denver than the other way around.
To illustrate that point, Clayton looked at the Broncos' AFC Championship win, when it faced a New England team that struggled in the secondary after cornerback Aqib Talib left with an injury. It's doubtful the Broncos offense will have any chance as easy as that to exploit weaknesses in the Seahawks' deep Legion of Boom secondary.
"Last week the Patriots lose Aqib Talib, and they had a young group of cornerbacks that could not cover the (Broncos') four wide receivers and also the tight ends," Clayton said. "Because of that, Peyton was able to control the ball and have eight drives. He won the possession time. Seattle has four cornerbacks that can match up man-to-man against anyone there."
In addition to star receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, Denver makes good use of stud tight end Julius Thomas. The Seahawks have made a habit of shutting down elite tight ends in the postseason, though, as both San Francisco's Vernon Davis and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham can attest.
"They can take (linebacker) K.J. Wright, they can take (safety) Kam Chancellor to cover Julius Thomas. Advantage Seahawks there," Clayton said. "It's a man-to-man matchup that really forces the Broncos to come in with more crossing routes, bunch formation pick plays, and if you want to pick the Seahawks, they're gonna like that. They like being physical with wide receivers."
The Broncos won't want Percy Harvin returning kicks for Seattle.
As Sando pointed out, another advantage the Seahawks will have is on special teams, especially if dynamic wide receiver Percy Harvin, who has recovered from a concussion suffered vs. the Saints on Jan. 12, is back returning kicks.
"Denver's touchback percentage away from the mile high air plummets, and there's a guy named Percy Harvin who could be returning some of those kicks," Sando said.
There's no question that Harvin is one of the best return men in the NFL, with five touchdowns in his five-year career. He also has a 58-yard return to his credit this season, but the caveat is that it was his lone return of the campaign, as lingering soreness in his surgically repaired hip and the concussion kept him from playing all but twice this year. Because of his well-known injury history, Clayton has been a vocal opponent of Seattle using him in the return game, even in the Super Bowl.
"The big grand scheme of things is to get him through the game," Clayton said. "He can't make it through more than 17 plays. And if you have him for only 17 plays, he affects the game more, even if he doesn't get the ball, on offense than he does taking back some kickoff that can get him hurt."
Sando, however, thinks the potential impact Harvin's returns can have is too much for the Seahawks to ignore as they play for a title.
"He has a much better chance of hurting the Broncos with the ball in his hands than hurting himself on any one play, so to me it's a no-brainer that you put him back there and let him impact the game," Sando said. "If you're the Broncos, would you rather have him returning kickoffs or not? The answer's clearly not.
"It's not too much to ask him to effect the game in any way that he possibly can after redshirting his first year in Seattle. We're not talking about Week 3 here, where 'What are you doing? You don't want your wide receiver out here.' … This isn't the big grand scheme of things. This is whatever you can do to win the biggest game, maybe the only chance you'll have to win a Super Bowl."
Pete Carroll's legacy isn't on the line, but Peyton Manning's is.
At 62, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is the second-oldest coach in the NFL, behind only the Giants' Tom Coughlin (67). Next Sunday will mark his first trip to a Super Bowl, despite Seattle being the third team he's coached in the NFL. Despite that, there isn't as much pressure on him to win as there is on the Broncos' Manning, who is regarded as one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks but is dogged by a reputation for not performing in the playoffs, even with one Super Bowl win already under his belt.
"Pete has nothing to lose," Clayton said. "He's already got a national championship in college (with USC). He's already been able to get this franchise to the point where it's in the Super Bowl now (and) could be in the Super Bowl the next couple of years, so he has nothing to lose."
Sando agrees, though he also believes some of the pressure on Manning to be unwarranted.
"I think it's somewhat silly because Peyton Manning's career is great regardless," Sando said. "My view is if he goes out and throws four interceptions and is the reason they lose the game, well yeah it will be a mark against him. But to me, just losing the game shouldn't be a big 'Oh, Peyton can't win the big game.' There (are) so many things that go into it. But that's the reality of it. I do believe that he's the only one really here who's got a major legacy at stake in the game."