Sup Bowl Preview
It’s the Denver Doncos vs. the Seattle SeaHags in the big game tomorrow.
I’m a fan of neither team, obviously. However, I have long despised HorseFace Elway, and I’ve long felt Gayton Manning has been far too fawned over. Add in the fact that I’ve long been a huge ‘SC fan (Fight On !!), and I’ll be rooting for Pete Carroll -- one of the football’s best coaches -- and the SeaHags.
That said, how can the SeaHags pull off this game, against a very veteran, savvy, grizzled crew like Denver? Here’s how:
1. Get Manning out of his comfort zone.
Manning has been far, far too comfortable in this playoffs. He’s not been belted or punished AT ALL, and only rarely, and lightly, even harassed or hurried. This makes Manning all the more effective, and if Carroll has any chance of winning, he has got to take Womaning out of his comfy comfort zone.
How is that done? Here’s how -- you take away the outrageous predictability in a vast number of plays. You see, Manning is the great chess master. He’s sees the field like a grandmaster sees the chessboard. He knows that when he sees a certain defense, then a given pattern or a given receiver MUST be open. As long as you play a vanilla, predictable defense, you’re putty in Manning’s hands.
But that’s just it -- as a defense, you don’t give Manning the comfy luxury of scanning a chessboard. Manning is the exact opposite of Ben, who loves “improvision” and making schoolyard plays out of nothing. Manning, slow and bootfooted as he it, despises that kind of QB’ing. He wants predictability, and the comfy ability to hit his 1st or 2nd option on every play.
I thought Bellichick would rattle & disrupt Manning last week, as he had successfully done to Manning in the past in NE playoff wins over the Dolts. Alas, when Aquib Talib got injured early on, that threw out any chance, as the NE defense had neither the depth, athleticism, or ability to disrupt the Donco offense.
This is where Carroll holds a trump card. He has 2 big, athletic CBs in Dick Sherman and Byron Maxwell. This is a rare CB combo that has the size and athleticism to jam and disrupt “The Thomas Bros.” of Denver and force Manning to improvise, which he is very poor at doing. Safety Kam Chancellor is the Anti Ryan Clark, having good coverage skills and the ability to play the ball instead of, you know, merely watching it like Ryan is fond of doing. This is a defense that is athletic, speedy, and energetic enough to throw off Manning’s timing and thus throw off the entire Donco offense.
Carroll has got to jam receivers, and generate some in-his-face pressure on Manning. Note, I didn’t say anything about sacks. Sacks are fairly meaningless. The key here is simple pressure in the face of Manning, who has no scrambling skills and will quite often get flustered and scattershot once he feels heat and once he gets popped in the mouth. This is another area where Manning is Ben’s opposite. Ben seems to enjoy getting hit and relishes contact. Manning is one of the biggest pansies in NFL history, and will shrivel faster than George Costanza in a swimming pool. For reasons unknown to the entire universe, neither SD nor NE applied a single second of pressure in the face of Manning in Denver’s 2 playoff games. Not one second.
In addition to merely disrupting Manning, the SeaHag defense, which was entirely anti-LeBeau and led the NFL in takeaways, has got to create at least 1 turnover on Sunday nite. This is actually a ballhawking defense quite capable of creating at least 2, but if they can generate at least 1, if gives them a fighting chance. Of course, the more pressure they generate and the more they rattle Manning, the more likely it is the Hawks will generate multiple turnovers. Conversely, if Seattle is going to play a Dick-like softee sit-back defense, they’ll generate no turnovers at all and will hear the scoreboard operator complaining about exhaustion.
2. Use all of Wilson’s skills.
It’s common in big games for coaches to take a young QB and minimize him, by dumbing down a game plan and by inculcating the QB with the mantra of “managing the game” and “taking only what the defense gives you”.
That’s all well and good, but that kind of mindset won’t produce yardage & points, and just as importantly clock-chewing, for the SeaHags to win. Carroll has a wild card in his poker hand, and that is the legs of Russell Wilson. I’m not advocating for Wilson to run the ball 27 times, or to just take off running for the sake of running. No, what I’m saying is that Wilson needs to be able and free to improvise -- much like Ben in the Sup Bowl win over AZ -- by escaping pressure, buying time, and then hitting wide open receivers who can’t be covered after the initial pass rush breaks down. Further, Carroll has got to run some boots and waggles that get Wilson out of the pocket and allow him to have some open room to either run or pass.
If Carroll has any doubts how to implement this, or if he should, he need only go back to a game he coached in January 2006. USC clearly was the better team, but the brest player on the field that nite was Vince Young, who was the difference maker that the SC defense could not stop. Wilson is wise beyond his years, and as long as he doesn’t go all Neil O’Donnell, he can and should be the catalyst that Denver will have trouble containing.
3. Run the ball and chew clock, but don’t go too conservative too early
It’s common in big games, with a young QB and a good ground game (which Seattle has) to go all Larry Czonka and start the game with a ground-pound offensive attack. While Seattle need not go all Warren Moon and throw the ball 28 times the first half, they cannot approach this game with a predictable, overly vanilla 1st half gameplan.
This is where the SeaHags need to exploit a very average Denver defense that is missing its one stud, Von Miller. Yes, I think Marshawn Lynch can go into Beast Mode and rumble over the Donco defense, but more so in the 2nd half. What ya don’t want, is to go all vanilla in the 1st half; chew little clock; and give Manning golden FP and a chance to go up by 17 at the half.
A key here is an unheralded Seattle receiving corps. Their “Fab 5” is probably deeper and better than any 5-deep WR corps in the league, with Dougie Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Goldy Tate, Bryan Walters, and Ric Lockette. This crew reminds me of the 1995 Steeler WR corps (Thigpen, Mills, Hastings, Holliday, and Stewart), which really matured late in the season and caught many opponents a bit by surprise. Add in the ever-dangerous Percy Harvin, who missed time in the playoffs but is slated to play on Sunday. I really like Kearse and would give a month of my yearly salary to have him in the Stillers. TE Zach Miller is hardly a Gronkowski, but he could see a few passes off play-action to gain some tough yardage.
Summary: There you have it. This matchup is eerily similar to the Jan. 2011 Super Bowl, which matched the prolific offense of GB against the supposed “#1 defense” of the Stillers. In that game, Mike Dumblin and Dick LeBeau chose to go with the Softee Sitback, rarely ever applying the slightest ounce of pressure or harassment on Aaron Rodgers. With all day in the pocket and zero harassment, Rodgers had a field day, passing for 304 yards, 3 TDs, and ZERO, repeat ZERO, INTs.
This year’s Sup Bowl matchup is nearly identical, with the #1 offense facing the #1 defense. Let’s see if Carroll is his usually intelligent, savvy self, or let’s see if he lapses into the idiocy of Mike Dumblin and Dick LeBeau. Here’s betting on the former, with the Hags winning, 28-23.
(Still Mill and Stillers.com -- when it comes to the analysis of the Pittsburgh Stillers, no one else comes close….)
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