Russell Wilson,  Peyton Manning

Super Bowl XLVIII Preview: Manning, Wilson to Square Off In Matchup for the Ages

Russell Wilson,  Peyton Manning

No matter what happens in Super Bowl XLVIII,  it will, most likely, go down in the record books as one of the top 10 championship games in NFL history.

QB Peyton Manning shattered many of the league’s passing records this season—throwing for 5,547 yards and producing 55 touchdowns. And the Seahawks continue to impose their will, control the clock and beat teams up with physical play on both sides of the ball. The Legion of Boom has cemented itself as arguably the best secondary in NFL history—shutting down the league’s best passing attacks week after week.

The two No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences came out strong out of the gate and have dominated their competition all season. A stark contrast to previous seasons, being that the last three Super Bowls have featured Wild Card teams that backed into the playoffs and got hot at the right time.

But on Sunday night, we’ll get to see the two best teams in football go toe to toe. And it’ll be the first time a No. 1-ranked offense and No. 1-ranked defense are pitted against each other since the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills met in Super Bowl XXV.

The  uptempo Broncos offense does a good job of staying balanced as Manning mixes in both the run and the pass at the right times.  And their receiving corps can turn a short gain into a big play in the blink of an eye. On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks aggressive, hard-hitting, quick-to-the-ball defenders make their opposition fight for every yard. They’ve given up more than 24 points only once this season (a 34-28 loss in Indianapolis), and the Broncos have scored less than that same number on just one occasion (a 27-20 loss to the Chargers).

Analysts and fans alike can’t help but focus on Manning’s mediocre 11-11 postseason record (0-4 in sub-40 degree temperatures) and the pick-six he threw to Tracy Porter in Super Bowl XLIV. But let’s not forget he had factors working against him—S Rahim Moore blew a coverage in a 2-deep zone, and he was unfortunate to play alongside a lackluster Colts defense that gave up yards like it was their job in the mid-2000s.

The last three Super Bowls have been decided by a total of 13 points, and we’re in for one hell of a show when these two powerhouses battle it out on Sunday. So let’s break the final game of the 2013 NFL season down.

Matchups to watch:

Legion of Boom vs Broncos receiving corps

The Broncos explosive passing offense amassed 337 yards per game on average this year. And for them, it’s all about Manning reading the coverages before the snap and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. But this timing-based offense is predicated on the receivers getting separation and breaking away for yards after the catch, and it won’t be easy against one of the best secondaries of all time.

The Seahawks’ secondary is tough to attack, and they’ll play a lot of Cover 3 to allow their aggressive and physical style of play to disrupt the timing of opposing receivers. They’ll also mix in some Cover 1 robber as well, allowing the rangy S Earl Thomas to trust his instincts and lock down the middle of the field.

And the Legion of Boom can tackle, too—important because Wes Welker and Julius Thomas are No. 1 and No. 3 in the league in yards after catch, with 6.1 and 6.0, respectively.

Richard Sherman vs Demaryius Thomas is a matchup to watch on every snap. After shutting down Michael Crabtree last week, Sherman will be faced with arguably his toughest opponent this season. Sherman loves to put his hands on receivers and gets away with being “grabby”, but the 6’3”, 229-pound “Optimus Prime” welcomes the contact and excels at getting off jams at the line. He’s a quiet guy and lets his play on the field do the talking, while the “mouthy” CB attempts to get in his opponents’ heads and is always looking to prove opposing general managers wrong, being that 23 cornerbacks were drafted before he was (as Doug Farrar pointed out)

Thomas can beat defensive backs over the top for the home run, but can also take a simple bubble screen 80+ yards to the house with his long, powerful strides. The big target finds a way to beat his man and get separation often; and is an excellent blitz-beater due to his ability to quickly explode into the second and third levels of a defense. And unfortunately, the Baltimore Ravens found out the hard way in Week 1, as he made them pay for playing Cover 0 by breaking into the secondary and taking Manning’s record-setting seventh touchdown of the game to the house (see below).

Run

Teams are scared to challenge Seattle’s defensive backs as they’re athletic but also have great size. The Seahawks defense  saw 568 passes attempted against them this year, the sixth-fewest in the league, according to Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart.Their model is re-shaping how NFL teams draft and develop players at the position.

But don’t expect Manning to back down with two weeks to prepare for the big game. Look for him to attack the defense by reading the coverage and audibling at the line to find a favorable matchup. And they’ll likely elect to go with four verticals from time to time, forcing the instinctive Thomas into making a decision very quickly to possibly create a miscommunication in the secondary for a big play.

Oh, and as expected, “Laser Rocket Arm” is downright surgical with an extra week to watch tape and figure out how he’s going to pick his opposition apart.

Matt Birch

About Matt Birch

Matt is the editor-in-chief of The Sports Daily and manages all daily operations for the website. He has been a sports fan since birth, and has written for SB Nation, Bleacher Report, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and other media outlets. He enjoys food, new media and craft beer.

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