Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin is interviewed during Media Day for Super Bowl XLIII at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl 2014: Seattle Seahawks Keys to Victory

The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos are two evenly-matched adversaries, and this year’s Super Bowl could easily be another one of those all-time great ones that comes down to close plays. If the game matches the hype that has built up over the past two weeks, then we’re in for a wild finish. It’s difficult not to be extremely pumped for this year’s matchup, and there’s so much more to it than the usual suspects and storylines of Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, and best offense vs. best defense. In an effort to help talk about some of those other storylines,  let’s take a look at some of the Seahawks keys to victory.

Go horizontal as well as vertical

We’re pretty much guaranteed to see the Seattle Seahawks throw the ball deep on the Denver Broncos secondary tonight, because the Seahawks have the league’s most accurate deep passers at their disposal, as well as two wide receivers who averaged over 15.5 yards per reception in the regular season. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Golden Tate are all capable of stretching the field deep, and there’s no doubt that the Broncos will have to watch out for some well-timed jump balls to Kearse, who is trusted heavily by Wilson to come down with those plays. Meanwhile, Baldwin is coming into this game averaging about 11 yards per target, which is simply ridiculous. He’s smart, he can stretch the field deep, and he is as sure-handed as they come. In fact, the Seahawks wide receivers were arguably the most sure-handed in the NFL this season, and it’s another reason why this group is among the most underrated in the NFL.

In addition to stretching the field vertically, I think the Seahawks need to  take a page out of the Denver Broncos playbook and stretch the field horizontally by running some more four-wide sets. They can put Harvin in the slot, Kearse out wide, and then mix and match Tate and Baldwin inside and outside. Per Football Outsiders, the Broncos were the fifth-worst team in the NFL at defending wide receivers greater than No. 2 guys (so 3 and 4 receivers), and their depth at CB took an even bigger hit when Chris Harris Jr. went down in the divisional round. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can shut guys down and Champ Bailey is solid, but the Seahawks have enough power at wide receiver to beat Tony Carter and either Quentin Jammer or Kayvon Webster. I like Webster, but he’s just a rookie and Jammer is a hit-or-miss veteran; this is something to watch for.

We know the Broncos safeties are going to have difficulty if their solid corners get beat, and a key way to beat them is to spread out the field. Another benefit of using more four-wide sets is that it will create more running lanes for Marshawn Lynch, who is their best and most important player on offense; their identity is on the ground.

Use the short routes to set up the long ones

Getting playmakers in space and stretching the field vertically are two tenants of Chip Kelly’s wise offensive approach, and I think the Seattle Seahawks could really help themselves by adhering to Chip’s philosophies. Again, we know that they love to take shots downfield, and they should definitely test the Broncos safeties downfield. But they should also utilize short routes to Golden Tate and Percy Harvin, because both of those smaller wideouts are two of the best in the NFL at generating yards after the catch. A guy with Harvin’s agility and elite speed scares defenses, and the Seahawks need to force the Broncos to allocate significant resources to containing Harvin. Both of those aforementioned wideouts can wreak havoc on screens, and we’ve certainly seen that ability out of both guys on film.

What the Seahawks need to do is get Tate and, especially, Harvin into space in order to generate missed tackles and run plays that are generally safer than deep passes due to the decreased risk of a turnover (I’ll give another reason for doing this in the next section). This, in turn, could cause the Broncos to be more vulnerable to deeper passes, because they could be more inclined to try and “cheat up” in an effort to contain these shorter routes. The shorter routes can help set up the deep routes that the Seahawks love to run, and I would be surprised if we didn’t see a number of screens and short dig/crossing routes run with the likes of Harvin and Tate on the outside.

A mix of short and long passes also keeps the defense off balance, and this is just as crucial to the success of the offense. Peyton Manning is the smartest quarterback in the game, but the Seahawks also have a very shrewd signal-caller in second-year pro Russell Wilson, who is obviously mature beyond his years. On four-wide sets, Wilson can read the defense pre and post-snap and decide whether or not it is best for him to throw a short pass or to go deep. The Seahawks could also choose to stretch the seam with a guy like Tate in the slot and then use Baldwin on a screen to throw off the defense, if they are so inclined.

Blocking up front

In the regular season, the Seattle Seahawks were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to allowing sacks, but it’s important to note that they simply weren’t at full strength on the offensive line for much of the year. When elite left tackle Russell Okung was healthy again, the Seahawks offensive line obviously improved significantly. Michael Bowie is an underrated guy who stepped up when given the chance back when key players were injured, and the ‘Hawks line is good enough to hold up against a Broncos pass rush that was severely weakened when Von Miller- one of the best players in the game- tore his ACL.

That said, the Broncos pass rush isn’t bereft of talent despite the season-ending injury to Miller, because guys like Malik Jackson and Robert Ayers can’t be underrated. Shaun Phillips is the bigger name and has more sacks, and he’s worth watching for due to his playmaking ability. However, he doesn’t put pressure on the quarterback on a consistent basis, while that’s exactly what Jackson has able to do this season. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton makes his name on amazing run defense, but he’s explosive enough to provide a solid pass rushing source for the Broncos defense. I mean, just look at what he did in the AFC Championship Game to reliable left guard Logan Mankins, whipping him for a fourth-down sack of Tom Brady.

The Seahawks will have to do a good job of protecting Russell Wilson tonight, especially since their QB is a whole lot better when his pocket is clean and he can play composed football. He is excellent at scrambling and can make things happen on the run, but it’s clear that consistent pressure really hurts him.

As for the short passes, they will help keep the Broncos pass rush off balance and prevent Jack Del Rio from running as many blitzes. I think the Seahawks line should do fine today, but it’s important for them to win battles at the point of attack as a run blocking unit (the Broncos are the best in the NFL at stopping runs up the middle) to aid Lynch, in addition to protecting the passer.

Tags: Champ Bailey Dominique Rodgers Cromartie Doug Baldwin Golden Tate Jermaine Kearse Malik Jackson Marshawn Lynch Notes And Analysis Percy Harvin Russell Okung Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks Shaun Phillips Super Bowl 2014 Terrance Knighton Tony Carter

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