It almost seems silly to spend much time recapping one of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever. But we have six months until we get to watch another NFL game, so I think we can spend one more day recapping the 2013 season. One housekeeping note: Football Perspective isn’t going anywhere. Just like last year, we’ll be publishing a post every day of the offseason. So be sure to check back daily! Freelance articles are also welcome, so just send me an e-mail if you’d be interested in contributing to the site.
There were some great recaps published in the immediate hours after the Super Bowl, including summaries from Bill Barnwell and Mike Tanier, a Super Bowl edition of Audibles at the Line from Football Outsiders, Ben Stockwell’s Refocused recap at Pro Football Focus, an analytic take from Advanced NFL Stats, the gut-punching summaries from Douglas Lee and T.J. Johnson at It’s All Over, Fat Man!, and the elated Danny Kelly and Jacson Bevens from FieldGulls.
So with 24 hours to sleep on things, here are my thoughts on how any why Seattle produced a Super Bowl blowout.
The Seattle Defense vs. The Denver Offense
I wrote a lot about Super Bowl XLVIII, but by far the most anticipated subplot was seeing Peyton Manning against Richard Sherman and the Seattle pass defense. In my Super Bowl preview, I encouraged readers to watch the YAC: No quarterback gained more yards on yards after the catch in the regular season than Manning. On a per-catch basis, Denver receivers averaged 5.75 yards after the catch according to NFLGSIS, but Seattle led the league in YAC/Catch allowed at 4.1. The Seahawks press coverage and sure tackling seemed like a bad matchup for Denver, and it was: according to Pro Football Focus, Denver receivers gained just 3.7 yards after the catch per reception in the Super Bowl.
That’s just part of the biggest story, of course, which is how one of the greatest pass defenses in NFL history — and one of the greatest defenses in NFL history — played like it on the biggest stage. Cliff Avril (5 hurries, 2 hits according to PFF) was remarkable in the first half, dominating the Broncos offensive line and forcing both Manning interceptions. Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Smith were the recipients of both Manning picks, and both had strong all-around games, too. Richard Sherman was quiet, but Manning and the Broncos largely avoided him, which means his impact was felt.
As for the Broncos offense? Peyton Manning is the easy target, of course, and he struggled. But no offensive player wearing orange had a good game on Sunday. On the offensive line, Manuel Ramirez and Orlando Franklin in particular had terrible games, while Julius Thomas and Eric Decker were all but invisible.
Manning’s numbers were not good — he averaged 4.18 ANY/A — and even that overstates his level of production. With the deep Seattle defensive line and a dominant secondary, the Broncos offense was stuck in neutral for most of the game. The Broncos were unable to stretch the field vertically, and Seattle did the two things every defense tries to do against Manning: pressure him without blitzing and limit the yards after the catch. Whether that’s a blueprint any other team can follow remains to be seen, but the guess is “no.”
The Seattle Offense and Special Teams Outclassed Denver
As lopsided as the Seattle defense vs. the Denver offense matchup turned out to be, that was only part of the reason for the blowout victory. Percy Harvin had a big impact on the game, in the way Seattle envisioned he would when John Schneider traded a first round pick (and more) for him last April. In addition to his kickoff return touchdown to start the second half, we finally saw a glimpse of Harvin’s impact on offense. On the team’s second play from scrimmage, Harvin took a jet sweep 30 yards for a first down, and his presence seemed to open up the field for the rest of the Seahawks.
Russell Wilson played well even if he was not necessarily asked to do all that much: he finished with a 9.84 ANY/A, and his receivers had very good games. The underrated Doug Baldwin was the star with 5 catches for 66 yards and a score on 5 targets, while Jermaine Kearse was right behind him with a 4/65/1 line. Marshawn Lynch was pretty quiet — the Denver run defense was the only one of nine units to win their battle against Seattle — but it didn’t seem to matter very much.
Where They Go From Here
Pete Carroll’s team is well-positioned for a long run of success. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had a shaky end to the season, but he called a good game in the Super Bowl and has proven himself as a strong coordinator. Seattle almost certainly would have lost defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but the Seahawks run to the Super Bowl prevented him from leaving for a head coaching job. That’s a big win for Seattle, especially after having lost Gus Bradley a year ago.
The Seahawks were the second youngest team in the NFL in 2013, so the outlook is very rosy for 2014. There are some significant players entering free agency – mainly defensive end Michael Bennett, wide receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin — but Seattle will likely keep Bennett and will presumably resign at least one of those receivers. Cornerback may be an issue of need, as Brandon Browner is probably done in Seattle and Walter Thurmond (among others) is a free agent and also one strike away from a year long suspension. Of course, finding diamonds in the rough at cornerback is what Carroll and Schneider do for breakfast.
The core of the team will be back next season, even if players like Sherman (this year), Wilson (next year) and Earl Thomas will be getting massive raises soon. The Seahawks will be the Super Bowl favorite in every book in Vegas for 2014, and for good reason. There’s no reason to think they won’t be very competitive in 2015, too.
That doesn’t mean it will be a quiet offseason for either team. The Seahawks and Broncos are both already up against the 2014 cap, although each team has some easy ways to improve their cap shape. For Seattle, Chris Clemons, Zach Miller, and Sidney Rice will likely be released, but that’s hardly cause for alarm. In Denver, Champ Bailey is a likely cap cut (or restructure), and Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen can be released to save money and cause minimal damage.
But the future in Denver is much cloudier than it is in Seattle, and not just because of how Super Bowl XLVIII unfolded. The Denver defense was hardly a consistent source of success, but Wesley Woodyard, Robert Ayers, Mike Adams, Quentin Jammer, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Shaun Phillips are all free agents. Getting back Von Miller and Rahim Moore will help, but the Broncos simply don’t have much talent on that side of the ball. Cornerback Chris Harris is also restricted free agent, and the Broncos must keep him and hope he recovers from ACL surgery. Remember, Darrelle Revis struggled early in 2013 after his knee surgery, and Revis was a much better player who had his injury three months earlier in the season. As a result, cornerback is a huge need for the Broncos in the offseason, even if Bailey returns (if he does, it could even be at safety).
Absent a stellar draft, the only way the Broncos will be Super Bowl contenders in 2014 is if Manning makes the team one. Of course, Manning’s been doing that for over a decade now with many changing parts. Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker each scored double digit touchdowns and are free agents, but it’s a testament to Manning that the Broncos can lose both players and nobody will expect the offense to miss a beat. Montee Ball and either Ronnie Hillman or C.J. Anderson can handle the load at running back, and the Broncos will either add another wide receiver or simply promote Andre Caldwell. And while losing a couple of skill position players may hurt, the team played nearly the entire season without left tackle Ryan Clady, and his return should help an offensive line that was shaky down the stretch.
The biggest reason Denver will remain a Super Bowl contender is because of a weak AFC — nobody is ready to bank on the Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Chargers, or Chiefs making the Super Bowl, are they? Of course, things can change very quickly in the NFL, and it’s fair to wonder if the Broncos window is nearly closed. A schedule that features the NFC West, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis won’t be easy, which means the margin for error for home field advantage will be very thin. John Fox will return, of course, and like Seattle, the Broncos benefited from making it to New Jersey. Both offensive coordinator: Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are expected to return.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is if Manning, at 38, can do it all again. For the second year in a row, the team had home field, and this year, the weather cooperated. How likely is the team to avoid a cold/windy playoff game next year? Can the return of Miller and Clady be enough to offset all the personnel losses? How far will Manning fall back to earth – after his 2004 season, he again led the NFL in ANY/A but dropped from 9.78 to 8.03, and saw his touchdown total fall from 49 to 28. Some regression is guaranteed, of course, but significant regression and a bad defense could lead to a 10-6 season and an early playoff exit for the Broncos.
Manning and Tom Brady were the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the league this season, and it’s fair to wonder if the Manning/Brady era is over. Manning, Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger have started 11 of the last 13 Super Bowls for the AFC. With Manning and Brady near retirement, and the Steelers organizational struggles of late, the AFC appears more wide open than it has in a very long time.