By Brent Stecker
The prognostication game has been a difficult one as the Seahawks and Broncos have neared Sunday's Super Bowl.
Analysts have known to flip-flop on their picks this week, and it's with good reason – with the No. 1 offense of Denver against the No. 1 defense of Seattle, there are all kinds of subplots that point to one team or the other having the advantage.
To help sort it all out, 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" called in a pair of Super Bowl-experienced experts to give it a closer look Thursday – FOX analyst Brian Billick, who coached the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl XXXV victory, and the NFL Network's Rich Gannon, who quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Here's what Billick and Gannon pinpointed as points of emphasis for each team.
The Seahawks' open-field tackling can neutralize Denver's scoring ability.
Safety Kam Chancellor has been a big part of the Seahawks' strong open-field tackling. (AP)
Billick said there's a lot to like about the Seahawks defense, a statement that carries some weight considering his Ravens defense was considered one of the best of all-time.
"I see a lot of compelling things. I see a team that can put a pressure on you with just a four-man rush," he said. "Most importantly, I think it's gonna be a factor in this game, (is the Seahawks are) a team that tackles well in the open field."
To him, that means they can keep quarterback Peyton Manning and the high-scoring Broncos from frequenting the end zone.
"Peyton Manning's gonna get his connections, and if you give him the right box, he's gonna run the ball," he said. "But instead of knocking off those runs that all of the sudden go 10, 15, 20 yards, or completing the balls where they get the yards after the catch in that regard, they keep that to a 4 and 5 yard gain. They're capable of doing that because (of) their ability and athleticism to tackle in the open field."
Denver can make Seattle pay for 3 and outs.
The Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson have gotten away with short drives and settling for punts this season because of how stout the defense is. But Gannon said that could come back to haunt them against Manning and Co., as the Seahawks can't count on their defense holding the Broncos to the same amount of plays.
"I think if I'm Russell Wilson, and I think he understands this, every possession is absolutely critical," Gannon said. "A 3 and out in this game is not just any old 3 and out. It's another 10 or 12 plays and maybe eight minutes of football for Peyton Manning and that offense."
Pressure with four rushers is the key to stopping Manning.
While Denver's passing game gets most of the attention, running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. (AP)
Simply put, you can't give Manning time to throw. That's evident just from looking at his insane 2013 statistics – 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, 68.3 completion percentage. You also can't sacrifice pass-defenders against him, because, again, the numbers don't lie. And that's why getting pressure on him with just four pass-rushers is important.
"Well go back and look at the team that beat both of those teams in the regular season, Indianapolis," Gannon said. "I had a conversation with Greg Manusky, (Colts) defensive coordinator. He said he really felt like that was the key against Denver in that regular season matchup, to be able to rush and win with four men. You look at how that played out and that really changes everything you could do in the back end."
Gannon doesn't doubt the Seahawks can get pressure with just four rushers, but he also thinks Denver can counter with its unsung running game.
"I think it's gonna be really important ... the ability to be able to run the football," he said. "Knowshon Moreno rushed for over 1,000 yards. They've got this other back they bring in there in Montee Ball, and he had almost 600 yards rushing. I think Denver has to be able to take the edge off a little bit of that pass rush and be able to run the football. I think it's gonna be important, especially early in this game."
Denver needs to stuff the lanes on defense.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is expected to get his usual 25-plus carries, and it's always important for the Seahawks to get him near or past the 100-yard mark. That, coupled with Wilson's well-known ability to scramble and turn near-sacks into positive yardage, puts the pressure on the Broncos' defensive linemen to win the battle at the line.
"That's the job for Denver," Billick said. "They've gotta fill the rush lanes with five and six guys. Not only to get pressure and stop the run, but they can't let Russell Wilson play-action boot and waggle, get those deep drops, expand that pocket. They gotta keep him in the pocket."
Though Wilson has shown skill in throwing from the pocket, most of his big pass plays come after leaving it.
"They can't let (Wilson) step up either. They've gotta keep that tight pocket," Billick said. "If they do and make Russell Wilson throw from there, that would benefit them."