Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith came into the playoffs as the most underrated player on the entire defense, and he exists the postseason with a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award after snagging two crucial interceptions in the postseason. His first interception was obviously all Richard Sherman, as the all-world corner did an incredible job to get his left hand on Colin Kaepernick’s pass and tip to Smith for the game-winning pick in the end zone. Smith’s interception in the Super Bowl also came off of a deflection, as Cliff Avril used his incredible explosiveness to beat solid right tackle Orlando Franklin (Avril ate him up for supper and also played a big role in Peyton Manning’s first pick) before deflecting Manning’s pass up into the air. An opportunistic Smith grabbed the pick and hustled down the field for an electrifying pick six.
So it’s possible to say that Smith was simply the benefactor of great luck, and there are plenty of people who believe that he was a poor choice for MVP. After all, Kam Chancellor also had ten tackles, six solo tackles, and a pick. However, Chancellor added another pass defended and had some seemingly more impressive tackles (he knows how to lay big hits, that’s for sure), so he was a popular pick as the snubbed Super Bowl MVP. I wouldn’t argue with Chancellor as an MVP based on his pick, great coverage, and hard-hitting.
But at the same time, it’s important to look at the other things Smith did. He’s a solid, all-around linebacker who gets underrated, because he doesn’t post great numbers on a defense that is so deep and talented that everyone spread the wealth. Smith’s overshadowed by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, but he really came into his own this past season and entrenched himself as one of the most consistent players on the team’s front seven. He certainly was consistent last night, as Advanced NFL Stats gave him nine “successful” plays, meaning that he was a part of nine plays that can be attributed as a success to the defense. He also finished with an EPA (expected points added, not a certain government agency) of 14.6, which was only surpassed by Russell Wilson.
Cliff Avril is another guy squarely in the SB MVP discussion, and, again, he was involved in the interceptions that Smith and Chancellor picked up. There is no doubt that Avril is one of the fastest and most athletic DEs in the NFL, and his burst as a pass rusher makes him a deadly weapon. He was certainly deadly yesterday, and he led all Seahawks defenders in WPA (.12 compared to .10 and .09 for Chancellor and Smith respectively). Avril finished with two passes defended and two QB hits, and he had the fullest stat sheet of any Seahawks defender.
A big honorable mention goes to shutdown corner Richard Sherman, who didn’t need much safety help en route to dominating Eric Decker, who finished with just one reception for six yards on five targets (a paltry 1.2 yards per target). That performance was especially important, since Decker is easily the Broncos best downfield threat and would have been the team’s best hope at breaking free for a big pass downfield.
In my view, though, Russell Wilson should have won the MVP, and I was incredibly impressed by his performance yesterday. His defense crushed it, but it was mostly him running the show on offense with the Seahawks run blocking not allowing Marshawn Lynch to get much going. But of course, the Seahawks commitment to the running game significantly aided Wilson, who was especially deadly on play-action passes.
The numbers don’t lie (unlike in his subpar NFCCG performance) here, though, as he completed 72% of his passes for 206 yards and a total of 8.2 yards per attempt. Wilson had a QB Rating of 123.1, an ESPN TQBR of 88.1, and an additional 26 rushing yards on three carries. He threw some incredibly crisp passes over the intermediate zones of the field, decisively beating Peyton Manning in the quick-passing department. It’s very easy to underrate Wilson’s accuracy, but there’s no doubt that he’s one of the top ten most accurate QBs in the NFL right now. He looked more composed than usual in the pocket, so the big stage definitely didn’t affect him (another stupid pre-Super Bowl talking point debunked). Wilson finished with a 0.17 WPA, a 15.o EPA, and two-thirds of his total plays were deemed as “successful” for the offense (based on down and distance). The WPA and EPA totals led everyone in this game, so there’s no doubt in my mind that Wilson’s highly efficient game should have netted him the MVP. By the way, check out his throw on the run to Golden Tate on the left sideline, his near-TD to Jermaine Kearse, and his pass to Ricardo Lockette as examples of some great passing from Wilson on Sunday night.