WHO HAS THE EDGE? | BY SPORTSWRITER ARMANDO SALGUERO
When the Broncos pass the football
Denver has the NFL’s No. 1 offense and the passing game is the strength of that yard-churning, scoreboard-lighting machine. Peyton Manning had a record season not because he has one unstoppable wide receiver such as Calvin Johnson, but because he has four good receivers capable of doing damage and Manning does a great job of distributing the football. That’s the reason four Denver receivers — Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker — all caught at least 10 TD passes. The Broncos can stretch the field and work underneath routes. Despite the fact Manning threw an NFL-high 659 times, he was sacked only 18 times because he gets rid of the football very quickly. The Seahawks match up with the NFL’s No. 1 defense, and the strength of that unit is a secondary that was No. 1 in the NFL against the pass. The secondary, nicknamed the Legion of Boom, is led by Richard Sherman, who had eight interceptions in 2013, and safety Earl Thomas, who had five interceptions. EDGE: Denver.
When the Broncos run the football
Knowshon Moreno was almost an afterthought last offseason, but he clung to his roster spot and this season led a solid if unspectacular running attack with 1,038 yards and 10 TDs. Moreno fumbled only once in 241 carries. That ball security is primarily the reason he played ahead of rookie Montee Ball, who had twice as many fumbles in half as many carries. Ball is the most physical runner and the short-yardage bulldozer. The Seahawks are very physical as they play a 4-3 front that morphs into a 3-4 look at times. Seattle cannot afford to move an eighth player into the tackle box to stop the Denver running game. If this becomes necessary, Manning would slice up the secondary throwing the ball. EDGE: Even.
When the Seahawks pass the football
Russell Wilson had a good season, completing 63.1 percent of his passes and posting a 101.2 quarterback rating. But he slumped toward the end of the season and continued that in the playoffs — throwing only one touchdown pass in two games while watching his completion percentage drop five points to 58.1. If Percy Harvin is able to play as expected — he sustained a concussion early in the divisional round game — he adds a dynamic player to the passing attack. The Broncos defense is weakened with the loss of best cover corner Chris Harris and the loss of premier pass rusher Von Miller — both out with knee injuries. Veteran Champ Bailey, 35 years old and in his 15th NFL season, will start for Harris as he did in the AFC title game. He will likely match up with Harvin when Seattle goes to three-receiver sets. EDGE: Even.
When the Seahawks run the football
Seattle’s offensive prowess comes in running the football downhill behind cowbell running back Marshawn Lynch. He gets the football practically every running down and if he’s effective, then Seattle’s play-action and rollout pass game becomes effective. The unknown variable in the Seahawks run game is Wilson, who can turn a bad play into a big gainer, as he did in the AFC title game when he ran for 51 yards against San Francisco. Wilson can run out of the pistol formation but also often takes off on called passes when he doesn’t find receivers downfield or is pressured in the pocket. The strength of the Denver defense is the ability to stop the run. It shut down a hot New England running game with relative ease. It’s easy to root for the Broncos’ run defense because it is led by lineman Terrence Knighton, whose nickname is Pot Roast. And who doesn’t like pot roast? EDGE: Seattle.
The Broncos led the NFL in field-goal percentage, which would be a big deal if it weren’t that Seattle was second. Neither team was exceptional in stopping kick returns, but the Broncos were the worst in the NFL. The Seahawks also were excellent in punt coverage. Last year’s Super Bowl saw the winner get a big play on a kickoff-return TD. In eight crucial special-teams categories, the Seahawks ranked higher in five during the 2013 regular season. Add to that Seattle’s possible although not confirmed use of Harvin on kickoff or punt returns, and the advantage swings in the Seahawks’ direction. EDGE: Seattle.
John Fox has been here before with the Carolina Panthers and Pete Carroll has not. But Carroll knows about winning title games, because he did that at USC. Both men have the trust of their players. Both men are respected leaders. Both men keep their teams loose, which is vital in championship circumstances. Both men use tools to motivate their players. And, perhaps most importantly, both have experienced and outstanding staffs. EDGE: Even.