SBXLVIII: Torpedoed

Sam Monson looks at the perfect storm Denver's offense found themselves facing in Super Bowl XLVIII.

| 3 years ago

SBXLVIII: Torpedoed

SB-manning1Super Bowl XLVIII was a strange mix of by the book and major surprise. The Seahawks were always uniquely capable of shutting down the Denver offense and turning the game into a battle of the other two phases of the game, but from the first snap things went from bad to worse for the Broncos.

The ball sailing over Manning’s head and into the end zone for a safety on the first play was a bad omen in hindsight, and things just snowballed as the game went on. Every time Manning and the Broncos got something going it was derailed by a big turnover or play from Seattle and the gap between the two sides just kept growing wider.

The last two Denver drives before the half were more or less how I expected the Super Bowl to play out when I was doing my preview work during the week. The Seahawks’ defense made Denver work for every gain, but there was yardage to be had, and slowly and steadily they were able to work the ball down the field.

Moving the chains would need to be slow, methodical and painful – and ultimately the demand to execute that well on every snap was always likely to produce a big negative play or a turnover. I always expected the Seahawks to be able to limit Denver to a low score, I just didn’t anticipate every major play falling their way too.

Marshall Faulk put it perfectly after the game by saying that “sometimes the ball bounces the way of the other team and sometimes they make it bounce their way – both things happened in this game.”

Of course, it wasn’t just one turnover, it was turnover after turnover and big play after big play.

But how did they derail one of the greatest offenses that has ever taken the field?

Peyton Manning set a series of single-season records this year and the Broncos scored more points than any team in NFL history, so with his reputation the only logical explanation is that he choked on the big stage, right?


Manning didn’t play well, but he was facing a defense that just happened to be perfectly tailored to throttling the Denver offense.

They may be an all-time great defense anyway, but their specific strengths only magnify their potency when it comes to this Denver offense. While you would fancy their chances of limiting any offense in the league at the moment, their effect on this Broncos unit was more akin to handing them a big bag of Kryptonite. They completely neutralized them.

Recipe for Pressure

SB-manningAs we wrote about in the PFF Super Bowl Preview Week, the Seahawks can bring pressure with the best teams in the league, but they have the ability on the back end to disrupt Manning’s timing in such a way to make it count.

Without that aggressive, physical coverage Manning is able to get rid of the ball and render even the best pass rushes pretty toothless. He was pressured on a league-low 22.7% of his passing snaps this season, and it sure wasn’t because the Denver offensive line is the best unit in football. He knows exactly where to go with the ball when he feels pressure developing and can put it in the air without thinking. The Seahawks were aggressive enough and physical enough in coverage to introduce a hesitance to that sequence of events, buying their pass rush more time to actually affect Manning and force negative plays.

Manning was sacked on just 11% of the plays he was pressured on this season – another league low figure – but the Seahawks got to him with a strip-sack in this game. They also forced the pick-6 with pressure coming from both sides hitting him as he released the ball. In total, his passer rating when he was kept clean was 99.0 but when the Seahawks pressured him it dropped to just 33.1, and they pressured him 147% more than his average game this season without needing to bring the blitz.

All quarterbacks suffer under pressure and Manning is no different, but the problem gets magnified when a team finds a way to get to him because we are so used to seeing him mitigate a pass rush and make his blocking look better than it is. Can’t manage it in this game? Then he must be at fault.


SB-manning3The Denver offense is all about timing, and Peyton Manning is the master of it in the passing game, but he ran into a team with all the tools to disrupt that timing from every angle possible, and he couldn’t overcome that all on his own.

That’s not to say that he didn’t get anything done in the game. The team only scored eight points and that didn’t come until late in the third quarter, but Manning moved the ball reasonably effectively for stretches of the game.

As we showed in this article, the Seattle defense does have soft spots, and Manning hit some of them during the game. The biggest gains the Broncos had all came using those intermediate crossing patterns that put stress on the area between the linebackers and safeties. Julius Thomas, Welker and even Demaryius Thomas once had success on those patterns, but every time Denver put a drive together something happened to torpedo it – a pick-6, a strip-sack, a fumble on a run after the catch play.

This game was the second time in the last twenty years that the two No. 1 seeds met in the Super Bowl, and the first time in twenty years that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense squared off. It was supposed to be the classic matchup of the immovable object against the irresistible force. As it turned out the immovable object flattened the irresistible force, pounding it into submission and leaving it as a smear in the dust.

Peyton Manning was average at best in the game, and he made some major mistakes and bad plays, but he was leading his offense into the teeth of a perfect storm in the shape of this Seattle defense, and in the end there was never any way out.


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam 

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • JaMarcus Russell

    Very good article. For those that say Manning choked, look at each play one at a time and try to find ones in which he made a bad decision, passed it to the wrong guy, or just flat out missed a throw an NFL QB is supposed to make. He wasn’t nearly as bad as popular opinion seems to suggest. On each play, you’d find that the receivers he threw to happened to be the only ones open. Nobody else would have been a good option. He made the right play more often than not. There was literally nothing he could have done. I’m surprised that so many people who claim to have watched the game closely still just look at the final score and cherry pick a couple of plays and deceiving statistics to jump to a conclusion. If you look at each player individually, Manning was actually one of the best offensive players for Denver in the game yesterday.

    • JaMarcus Russell

      Wow I have been quite active on this website today

      • Ironmann

        He missed a few throws yesterday. The Out route to Decker, The short out to Welker. The Terrible Throw to J. Thomas that was picked by Chancellor. I understand if you are a fan of him. But dont say that he was the best offensive player on the field yesterday, he was just as bad or worse than everyone else.

        • JaMarcus Russell

          Saying he was one of the best offensive players isn’t an attempt to say he played well (or at least what we’re all used to seeing out of him), but I instead meant for it to point to how poorly the rest of the team played. Remember, “best” is a relative term. So he could have been one of Denver’s best offensive players yesterday without actually playing well. At the same time, if he wasn’t one of the best, who would you say played better than him on offense?

          • Ironmann

            Welker made plays as did D.Thomas aside from that fumble. To me this game highlighted his play style. He has based his entire style around beating pressure. He will get rid of the ball as quick as possible to avoid pressure. He has never been calm in the pocket while facing pressure and the last two Super Bowls have proven that. Against the Saints when they sent a blitz he throws it right into the chest of Tracy Porter, This game when he sees D-linemen coming at him instead of taking the sack (which he has done all year and basically his career) he tried to make a play which resulted in a batted ball and another Super Bowl pick six.

          • Nick

            Everyone knows the knock on Manning: He plays *HIS* worst in the biggest games. He can put up big numbers and amazing games in the regular season. But once he gets to the post season, he suddenly starts playing worse.

            — The SB this year was Manning’s 5th worst played game this year out of 19.

            — Last year, the divisional game was his 4th worst out of 17.

            — SB in 2009…his 5th worst game out of 19.

            — WC game in 2008…his 3rd worst out of 17.

            These games are what prevent him from being heralded as the GOAT..

        • JaMarcus Russell

          Speaking objectively, it would be hard to argue that, for the most part, he did make the right pass to the right receiver simply because the defense didn’t give him anywhere else to throw it. The first interception was definitely a poor throw, but other than that, there’s not much else he could have possibly done. Regardless of how good/bad his performance was, it definitely wasn’t “worse than everyone else.” (Sorry for the abrasive tone; it’s been a long day)

        • Ben Moore

          All QBs make bad throws at some point in a game. The only question is whether Peyton made more than his share last Sunday.

    • Ben Moore

      Likely true, but we can’t say for sure unless we watched the all-22 game film.

      Only if the TV broadcasts had Madden-style coverage of receivers running their routes (in those pic-in-pic frames).

  • Raiderfan

    I guess you were an easy pick to write this article, as you were the only guy on the entire staff to pick the Seahawks.
    Tell me who is going to win next year, so I can get my vet down early.

  • Chris

    Manning was sacked on %11 of his passing plays this season? That doesn’t sound right, 659 pass attempts x %11 = 72 sacks.

    • PFFSamMonson

      Good spot. Actually meant 11% of the plays he was pressured on. Edited.

  • It about that action, bawse

    Two options for the broncos. 1. blow the team up, start over! 2. Restructure Manning’s contract and hire somebody from the Seahawks organization.

  • [email protected]

    Its all well and good to draft good players, but what the Seahawks really excel at is player development. You cant just stick your rookies at the end of the bench and expect them to get better.

    • Peter Smith

      I don’t want to knock the Seahawks’ ability at player development, but there’s a LOT more to it than that. We don’t just take a random player and make them good. We take players who have exceptional abilities within the thing above their shoulders. They have to have exceptional grades in their drive, desire/fire, willpower, attention to detail, and especially guys who have a chip on their shoulder. Every one of our stars, no matter where they were drafted, or how we acquired them, they all have these attributes. Some NFL players struggle to play up to their talents… we seek out players who make their talents play up to their drive and desire. Its like the Army: be the best you can be. We seek out the guys who have the mentality to actually make that happen. Player development is an afterthought to all of that. If you have a “beast” that’s trapped in a cage (the expectations based on where they were drafted, how they were acquired), they will find a way to develop and be the best they can be, given appropriate coaching.

  • corners

    i can only imagine how bad it would have been if this was a Seattle home game