Defense wins championships, or so we’ve been told.
The age-old axiom will be put to the ultimate test again this weekend when the highest-scoring offense in NFL history collides with what may very well be the best defensive unit assembled in the past decade.
It’s a storyline that won’t go away anytime before kick-off Sunday, and will linger long after the clock hits :00 and will ultimately define this year’s Super Bowl regardless of outcome — so, in short, get used to it.
However, all the statistics and rankings aren’t what make this clash of philosophies so intriguing to fans and football experts alike; rather, it’s the intertwined personalities on both sidelines. And what’s even more beautiful is they don’t necessarily have to play offense for the Broncos and defense for the Seahawks, or go by the names Manning and Sherman.
For example, look at Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, owner of football’s most memorable postseason touchdown run, and Denver’s Danny Trevathan, the team’s defensive leader despite being drafted in the sixth round in 2012. Neither plays on a unit that’s ranked No. 1 in the league, but both men have overcame personal tribulations — on and off the field — to make it the game’s biggest stage and will play a vital role in bringing home a championship to their respective cities.
While Lynch and Trevathan will certainly strike one another Sunday to make the highlights football fans love, the legacy question persists: is it better to have a generation-defining defense or a record-book offense?
Let’s see how the Seahawks’ defense matches up position by position:
Defensive ends: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant
Bennett is having a monstrous season and is undoubtedly the best defensive end the Broncos have faced all season. How many times he and his fellow pass rushers can sack Peyton Manning will dictate the tempo of the game and could limit Denver’s scoring capabilities. Seattle actively pursued Avril, who was a star in the making for the Lions, this past offseason and he wasn’t even a consistent starter for them despite eight sacks and five forced fumbles. Now he is with one-and-a-half sacks and two forced fumbles so far this preseason. I think that says all we need to know about the depth of this unit.
In case you wanted more, the Seahawks run all sorts of different 4-3 fronts — if you want to label them as that, because of Clemons’ versatility on the edge and Bryant’s versatility to move inside. While all four are listed as traditional “defensive ends,” they can all play other positions — a common theme amongst Seattle defenders.
Defensive tackles: Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald, Jordan Hill
Denver’s Terrance Knighton has seen his popularity rise over the last 10 days, and rightfully so, but he’s not the only person who gives the Broncos run defense a slight edge over Seattle’s front seven.
Similar to the pass rushers, the Seahawks big men are extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. McDaniel’s height is something that is rare for a player that wide and that skilled and he’s put it to good use. Similarly, Hill and McDonald are agile, athletic and versatile. Mebane leads the group. In short, there’s plenty of depth here. How these four fair against Denver’s offensive line will be a crucial matchup on Sunday.
Linebackers: KJ Wright, Bobby Wagner (MLB), Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith
Another deep group of athletic players that can do a lot of different things on the field (see: Smith’s interception to close out the NFC Championship). Wagner, a second round pick, is the leader of the unit, but Wright is perhaps the most talented. Irvin is by far the most disruptive of the group, and one of the most underrated Super Bowl story lines heading into Sunday along with Denver’s Paris Lenon. Just thinking about this unit gives me headaches, let’s move on.
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman, Bryon Maxwell, Jeremy Lane
Can Demaryius Thomas beat Richard Sherman consistently enough to force Seattle to change it’s coverage scheme? Perhaps the most important question looming over Sunday match-up between the No. 1 pass offense and the No. 1 pass defense.
How Lane does against Wes Welker will also be huge a factor when it comes to Seattle’s scheme and potentially adapting it during the game. Maxwell has proven himself to be a consistent No. 2 for Seattle since Brandon Browner’s suspension and should be able to limit Manning’s No. 2 option, Eric Decker.
On the other side of the field, no Chris Harris presents a challenge for the Broncos secondary, even though they survived without him against New England.
Safeties: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor
Although Sherman gets the attention, one could present a great case that Earl Thomas is actually Seattle’s best defensive back — and potentially the league’s best overall defensive player. Manning will have a difficult time beating him in the air and his skill players will have an even more difficult time beating him in the open field, where no one is as good as Thomas.
Kam Chancellor, another Pro Bowler in Seattle’s Legion of Boom, isn’t too shabby himself. Denver will find it very difficult to accumulate all those yards after catch they’ve been able to rack up over the year.