Setting the Edge: Denver “O” vs. Seattle “D”
Breaking down the matchups when Denver has the ball, Ben Stockwell points out the edges.
Setting the Edge: Denver “O” vs. Seattle “D”
If the Seattle offense vs the Denver defense is an under-rated undercard then the matchup of the Denver offense vs the Seattle defense is the main event that everyone is trying to overhype.
In reality you probably can’t overhype this encounter.
It’s the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense. A matchup between the game’s premier quarterback in a historic season and the defense best setup to stop his charge.
Concluding our look at who has the edge in Super Bowl XLVIII here’s our breakdown of the matchup between a record-setting Denver offense and a Seattle defense that reveals very few weaknesses. This matchup may not decide the destiny of the Vince Lombardi Trophy by itself but it will certainly go a long way toward doing so.
The running game for the Broncos is all about maintaining balance and using pre-snap reads to make sure they are running the ball in favorable situations and against favorable fronts. In terms of yards per carry they are an average inside rush offense, but their success rate (50.4%) is in the league’s Top 10 and those pre-snap adjustments keep them out of bad plays. Only 13.6% of their inside carries resulted in a loss or tackle for no gain, only five teams had a lower percentage of their inside runs shutdown at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Their offensive line and pre-snap adjustments will need to be at their best against one of the best inside run defenses in the entire league. Teams tended to stay away from the Seahawks’ inside run defense for good reason with Seattle surrendering just 3.4 yards per carry on rushes aimed between the tackles (fourth lowest in the league).
The Seahawks get to ball-carriers quickly and don’t miss many tackles or let up yards after contact. In one of many matchups of strength on strength the Seahawks are one of the league’s best at making tackles at and behind the line of scrimmage with nearly a quarter of the inside runs they face resulting in no gain or a loss for the opposing offense.
Key Player – Manuel Ramirez: A pleasant surprise at center this season Ramirez has, however, been prone to Jekyll-and-Hyde performances as a run blocker. That has continued into the playoffs and up against Brandon Mebane Denver needs him to perform more as he did against San Diego (+3.7) rather than against New England (-2.5).
The Broncos pick their moments to run the ball and they do so with particular effect when looking to run outside. Only 37.9% of their rushes are aimed outside of the tackles but their 4.6 yards per carry average is among the league’s best with the work they do before contact (2.5 yards per carry) of particular importance.
As with their running inside, the work their backs do after contact and in terms of breaking tackle is nothing special, so making their blocks to the edge and controlling opposing defenders is pivotal. Again pre-snap adjustments see them stay out of bad plays with less than one in five outside carries resulting in no gain or worse, just outside the league’s Top 10.
Running to the edge is one area that teams can and have had success against a Seattle defense that, in terms of yards per carry and success rate allowed, is outside of the league’s Top 20 defenses. While their inside run defense will be strength on strength in terms of trying to get stops around the line of scrimmage, Seattle isn’t quite as strong to the edge.
One run concept that has caused the Seahawks some trouble in the regular season has been when teams pull an offensive lineman from the playside to lead a run to the outside (5.8 yards per carry allowed). Whether with a pitch or a handoff, the Seahawks haven’t fared well against a concept that the Broncos run often (29.2% of outside carries) and to good effect themselves (5.5 yards per carry).
Key Player – Red Bryant: Running outside, especially when pulling linemen around, means getting a good seal on the likes of Bryant on the edge. If the Broncos can do that, they can have success. If Bryant disrupts the edge and delays pulling linemen, Denver will have trouble running anywhere.
Pass Rush vs Pass Protection
Another mouthwatering matchup of strength on strength as one of the league’s best and most varied pass rushes squares off with one of the league’s top pass protecting units. However, this could be a merely hypothetical matchup if Peyton Manning’s speedy release, even when going against press coverage, is able to render the Seahawks’ pass rush a non-factor.
Only two teams (Jacksonville and the Giants) have forced Peyton to hold the ball on average 2.5 seconds or more before releasing a pass this season. On the other side of the matchup only Arizona (across two games) averaged a release time of less than 2.5 seconds against the Seahawks’ defense. Preseason is rarely a great indicator of anything, but on 16 attempts Manning averaged a release time of 2.9 seconds against the Seahawks (2.6 if you remove one long-developing throw away).
If they can keep the ball in Manning’s hands long enough to get the pass rush going, they’ll still have another uphill battle against the likes of Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin on the right side who have surrendered just 46 pressures between them all season. Going up against the duo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril who create space for each other to wreak havoc in the quarterback’s face figures to be one of the most interesting battles (again, if we get to see it develop) in this game.
On the opposite side, Chris Clark and Zane Beadles aren’t up to the same level, though up against an out of sorts Chris Clemons you’d expect Clark to hold his own as he has all season in place of Ryan Clady. Beadles may be the pressure point that Seattle looks to exploit (possibly by flipping Bennett over to that side on occasion) having surrendered a team-high 44 pressures this season.
Key Player – Michael Bennett: If the defense can keep the ball in Manning’s hands, Bennett will get the chance to shine. A devastating threat inside and outside, Bennett creates pressure for the defense and space for the likes of Avril to their own damage.
Click to Page 2 to see how the Denver passing game matches up with Seattle’s pass D…
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.