The top overall offense against the top overall defense, the most anticipated Super Bowl matchup ever turned into the biggest anticlimax in Super Bowl history.
The game could barely have got off to a worse start for the Broncos with Manuel Ramirez firing his shotgun snap over the head of Peyton Manning as he walked to the line of scrimmage to make a pre-snap adjustment and it only got worse from there. Their record setting offense was held in check by a fierce Seattle defense that worked together as a unit with everyone from defensive tackles to safeties ensuring that the Broncos could generate nothing after the catch.
The stifling shutdown play of the defense was paired with big plays, scoring plays, from every single unit on the team. Though the Denver defense had its success against the Seattle running game their tackling let them down especially in the passing game and ensured that the Seahawks were always able to keep edging and driving away from them on the scoreboard. This was as thorough a demolition as we have seen of any team in the league this season, the only disappointment for the Seahawks? No shutout.
Here are just a few of the performances that went into making this one of the most comfortable Super Bowl victories in history and a first Lombardi Trophy for the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Leading the Legion of Boom
The Seahawks’ form defender coming into the Super Bowl was Kam Chancellor and he rounded out a spectacular postseason with a performance that was worthy of winning the Super Bowl MVP award. Leading the defense along with K.J. Wright with three defensive stops, Chancellor led the team effort in cutting off the Denver receivers after the catch preventing them from finding space off of short catches. With a +4.0 grade last night Chancellor finishes the playoffs with a +12.6 overall grade dominating the short area from start to finish. Also notching a tackle on special teams (his sixth of the season) Chancellor collected the first of two interceptions from Peyton Manning, profiting from pressure up front which led to an overthrown pass directly to him over Julius Thomas. He needed no such charity the rest of the game, however, making his presence felt after the catch and with one pass defense against Wes Welker early in the third quarter arriving with perfect timing and physicality to force the incompletion. Chancellor rounds out a spectacular season as our second-highest graded (+18.7) safety finishing third in stops with 40.
Receivers Make Their Mark
In the run up to this game we profiled both the Seattle and Denver receiving corps and it was the less prolific, less-heralded Seahawks receivers who walked away from this game having made the telling plays. While Denver’s receivers struggled to get open and create after the catch against a physical defense the Seattle receivers set the tone in the opposite matchup all game long. Percy Harvin got the group off to a fast start with a 30 yard gain on a jet sweep on the Seahawks’ second snap of the game, the first of two strong gains off the same play. After solid gains in the first half it was Harvin who kick started a second half of memorable plays from Seattle’s receivers by taking a pooch kick off the bounce. Harvin then evaded tacklers before running away from Denver’s coverage unit for a score that all but ended the game as a contest. From there, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse made excellent plays after the catch evading numerous tacklers to snag a score each to put the icing on the Seahawks’ Super Bowl cake.
Timely Pressure Leaves Its Mark
Of the 51 times Peyton Manning dropped back to pass the Seahawks pressured him on one third of those plays, but they made that pressure count time with big plays up front. Of their 20 total pressures they notched four hits and one sack by Chris Clemons with other pressures disrupting Manning even if they didn’t get him on the ground. Off the left edge, Cliff Avril (+3.2) continued his fine playoff form with seven pressures (2 hits, 5 hurries), showing some terrific timing in his most productive game as a Seahawk. On the right side Chris Clemons had been fairly quiet as a pass rusher since Week 8 only recording one hit (Week 10) and one sack (Week 14). Clemens earned his second most productive game of the season here including a strip sack late in the fourth quarter to help ensure the Seahawks never took their foot off the gas. Both Avril and Clemons added batted passes to their productive and well rounded performances.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
Early Control for Knighton Counts for Naught
One of the key matchups highlighted for the Denver run defense against Seattle’s ground game was Terrance Knighton going one-on-one with Max Unger in the middle of the line. Knighton got the upper hand in the battle during the first half, but in the wider context of the game it proved irrelevant unfortunately for Broncos fans. Aside from one cutback run in the third quarter the Broncos offered Lynch no space to run, missing just one tackle and surrendering less than a yard per carry after first contact. At the center of it all Knighton got the better of Unger who couldn’t reverse his poor playoff form with Knighton disrupting runs off right and left shoulder, making a tackle for loss and drawing a hold from the Seahawks’ center. Knighton, however, offered no presence as a pass rusher along with the rest of the Denver defense, this time around held without a pressure for the first time since Week 14 and only the third time this season.
Welker Finds a Favorable Matchup
The Broncos struggled desperately to find a productive matchup in the passing game and to find space to allow their receivers to pick up the chunks of yards after the catch that we are used to seeing. Wes Welker found that favorable matchup against Walter Thurmond collecting 64 of his 86 yards on four catches against the Seahawks’ slot corner. His other seven targets in the game (against Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Clinton McDonald) yielded just 22 yards and only 5 yards after the catch. Against Thurmond he averaged 7 yards after the catch per reception and Thurmond was let up 26 yards on two targets to Demaryius Thomas. This was, however, the only favorable matchup the Broncos found and it came too late to make a telling difference in the outcome of the game.
Absent the Pass Rush
When previewing the matchup of the Seattle offense and the Denver defense I had highlighted Robert Ayers as a key player if we weren’t going to be talking about Von Miller’s absence as being crucial come Monday morning. Well, it’s Monday morning and while Miller’s presence on its own would not have turned last night’s game, the Broncos were glaringly devoid of defensive playmakers in his absence. Ayers notched just one hurry in a defensive effort that yielded just six pressures (all of which were hurries) against a far from water tight Seattle offensive line. The Broncos didn’t effectively defeat blocks when Wilson stayed in the pocket and couldn’t make timely plays in pursuit when he rolled or scrambled out of the pocket. Only Shaun Phillips notched multiple pressures (two hurries, one in pursuit late in garbage time), though he finished the season with nine straight games with a negative pass rush grade.
– Prior to the Super Bowl, Denver’s receivers averaged 6.2 yards after the catch per reception on short passes. Last night the Seahawks held them to just 3.7 and gave up 0 yards after the catch nine times.
– Working as an extra tackle Alvin Bailey played 16 snaps (14 run plays, 2 pass plays) taking his postseason total to 33 plays (28 run, 5 pass).
– Leaving the game early due to injury, Richard Sherman finished the postseason with seven targets (plus one defensive holding penalty) surrendering two completions for 10 yards with two pass defenses.
PFF Game Ball
In a game where the term Most Valuable Player (at least in relation to the NFL’s interpretation) doesn’t accurately describe any individual performance I’m just awarding a PFF game ball here. Facing off against the league’s best offense the destruction was led from the front and from the very start by Kam Chancellor. By continuing his spectacular playoff form Chancellor was the best player on the field in a game where he had plenty of competition for that accolade from his teammates.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben