Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) at a press conference in advance of Super Bowl XLVIII on the Cornucopia Majesty yacht on the Hudson River. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl 2014: Denver Broncos Keys to Victory

The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are set to play one of the greatest Super Bowls in NFL history if the game itself matches the hype, and I don’t think we’re in for a disappointment. The main focus has always been on the matchup between the league’s best offense and the league’s best defense, and the continued talk of the weather has ensured that the Super Bowl won’t be lacking for storylines. At the same time, though, it’s important to break down the game analytically in addition to having some fun with those storylines. Below are some assorted keys to victory for the Broncos in order to sew up a win over the Seattel Seahawks, and the most important thing about running through the keys isn’t the key itself, but rather the information discussed.

Maintain balance

This Super Bowl probably isn’t going to be a high-scoring affair, and it’s important for both of these teams to maintain balance on offense. We know the Seattle Seahawks are going to run the football and pass about evenly, because the identity of their offense is on the ground with one of the league’s finest workhorse backs in tote. The Broncos have a solid workhorse of their own in Knowshon Moreno, who has amazing blocking in front of him and takes full advantage of softer running lanes created by defenses wisely worried about Peyton Manning‘s ability to shred them through the air. If they have any holes in coverage, Manning will exploit them. This worries defenses, and it helps Moreno in the long run.

But Moreno isn’t the only back who can do plenty of damage on the ground for the Broncos, as rookie Montee Ball has come on strong ever since the stretch of the regular season and finished with an average of 4.5 yards per carry. The Seahawks front seven is excellent, and they have some of the best defensive linemen in the league. Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel will be constant thorns in the side of the Broncos elite offensive line (probably the league’s best), and the Seahawks also have two great run-stuffing ends in Michael Bennett and fan favorite Red Bryant. The Broncos are one of the most efficient teams on the ground based on down and distance, and Adam Gase will need to keep that balance and effectiveness going. It will be interesting to see how many outside vs. inside runs this team attempts, and this game could easily come down to blocking at the point of attack between the Broncos interior OL and the Seahawks DTs.

Can’t get burned

The Broncos entered the season with one of the deepest and most underrated defenses in the NFL, but they’ve suffered a crazy amount of significant injuries on that side of the ball that have put a chokehold on their depth and have caused them to lose crucial top-end starters to season-ending injuries (Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., and Rahim Moore are the three most important). The Broncos are no longer nearly as deep as they used to be at corner, as their top three CBs are now Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Champ Bailey, and Tony Carter. I have no concerns about DRC going forward, and Bailey is usually solid. However, it is possible that Bailey could get burned a few times tonight, and Carter is prone to mistakes as well. It will also be interesting to see how much of Kayvon Webster and Quentin Jammer we’ll see.

Why am I worried about the Broncos corners? Well, they are going to have to be very good out there in order to make up for the safety tandem of Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams in deep coverage. Adams is a quality third safety and Ihenacho is excellent in the box, but Adams isn’t a true FS and Ihenacho is also not someone who can be trusted in deep coverage. The Seahawks are arguably the best team in the NFL at throwing the deep ball, as Russell Wilson has excellent vision and downfield placement, as well as a very good mix of arm strength and accuracy. As we saw in the NFC Championship Game with his big throw to Doug Baldwin, he can cause even good safeties to break down in coverage when the starts scrambling around. Wilson’s scrambling is sometimes a detriment, but it can also hurt the defense vertically.

The Seahawks are probably also going to want to get as many receivers on the field in order to stretch out the Broncos horizontally (this should also help elite back Marshawn Lynch), because the Broncos are very susceptible to No. 3 and 4 receivers. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are very capable vertical threats who need to be keyed in on closely, and Golden Tate is also a willing to go deep.

Use crossing routes, double-moves

It’s obvious that the “Legion of Boom” is excellent, and they don’t have a single weakness when it comes to covering the opposition. Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell are perfectly capable of matching up against either Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker, Kam Chancellor is good enough to shut down top tight ends like Julius Thomas (he’s shut down Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis, and Jimmy Graham this year), Earl Thomas is a monster at free safety, and Walter Thurmond  is a very solid slot corner.

We always talk about how great Peyton Manning is at breaking down defenses with his ridiculous football IQ, and that’s a given. But what goes underrated is the ability of the Broncos pass-catchers to diagnose coverages, because the elite “Four Horsemen” are pretty darn good at that too. The blueprint for stopping Manning and the Broncos is to disguise coverages and blitz packages (contrary to what people think, Manning is weaker when you occasionally overload him with blitzes and keep him guessing in that manner), as well as pressing his wide receivers. Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley did a great job of game-planning against Manning, the “Four Horsemen”, and the Broncos with his overmatched Jacksonville Jaguars team by disrupting the timing of the offense and the receivers through press coverage.

By now, everybody has heard about the Jaguars-Bradley example of somewhat stymieing the Broncos passing attack, and the Jaguars had the bigger corners to do that stuff with. The Seahawks corners are even better than the underrated group led by Alan Ball and Will Blackmon. But one thing that goes unnoticed is the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs tried to do the exact same thing to Broncos in both of their games, but the receivers (most namely Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker) did a killer job of getting off of press coverage in the first game with great route-running. Welker would win almost immediately on crossing routes, DT killed it with double-moves, and then Decker also won on crossing routes (he’s underrated on intermediate targets). In the team’s second meeting with KC, Decker completely burned the Chiefs safeties, who are susceptible in deep coverage, and Thomas also put the Chiefs on burn notice.

But here’s the thing: the Seahawks safeties are much better in coverage than the Chiefs safeties, with Earl Thomas being 100x better than Kendrick Lewis. The Seahawks are also deeper, better, and much more consistent at corner. That said, the Broncos pass-catchers and quarterback haven’t earned their reputation and gaudy stats for no reason, and the whole press coverage concept is fundamentally similar. All of the Broncos top three receivers need to be watched for, especially Welker, who needs to be utilized frequently on routes in the middle of the field. It’s important for Gase and the Broncos to get other guys like Jacob Tamme involved in the middle of the field and use trips and other looks to try and draw out a “key” defender so that Manning can assess who the best read is and find which guys have the best leverage.

This game is going to be very much a mental one for the Broncos, and that’s something Manning excels at. The Broncos wide receivers are smart, versatile, and talent, and the key for this team is confusing the defense in the same way that Dan Quinn will try to confuse the Denver offense.

Tags: Adam Gase Brandon Mebane Byron Maxwell Champ Bailey Demaryius Thomas Denver Broncos Dominique Rodgers Cromartie Doug Baldwin Duke Ihenacho Earl Thomas Eric Decker Golden Tate Jacob Tamme Jermaine Kearse Julius Thomas Knowshon Moreno Louis Vasquez Manny Ramirez Michael Bennett Mike Adams Notes And Analysis Orlando Franklin Peyton Manning Richard Sherman Super Bowl 2014 Tony Carter Tony McDaniel Walter Thurmond Wes Welker

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