If you thought the 49ers were the biggest rivals in Seattle Seahawks history, then you probably don’t know much about the team prior to 2002. After playing their inaugural season in the NFC West in 1976, the Seahawks switched conferences and joined the Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos in the AFC West where they remained until the beginning of the 2002 season.
Between 1977 and 2001, The Seahawks and the Broncos played each other 50 times in the regular season, but have met only three times since – 2002, 2006 and 2010 (they have played preseason games each of the last two seasons). In those 53 total regular season games, the Broncos hold a 33-18 edge and are 1-0 in the playoffs. In my lifetime, the Seahawks have only beaten the Broncos 11 times in 33 games.
Of all the teams and all the games the Seahawks have played throughout their 38-year history, 31 teams and 619 games to be exact, the Seahawks have the worst winning percentage against the Broncos – 34.6 percent. Seahawks fans hated the Broncos since before it became cool to hate the Niners.
But these Broncos are a far different team than the Broncos of yesteryear – the John Elway-Mike Shanahan Broncos (those were the ones I despised anyway). Okay well I guess John Elway is still with the Broncos, he’s just the president now, not the quarterback.
So who then comprises the 2013 Broncos? Who are the eight different players who caught receiving touchdowns this season? You may have heard of Von Miller or Champ Bailey, but are there any other players on the defense you should know about? Let me try and answer as many questions you have about the roster right……. now.
Starter: Peyton Manning
Backup: Brock Osweiler
I think it’s safe to say Peyton Manning is one of the biggest sports celebrities in the country right now. He’s been in the league since he was 22 and is about to complete his 16th season. He’s had four neck surgeries since 2010, has two soldered-together vertabrae in his neck, and missed the entire 2011 season following neck surgery, nearly costing him his career. This year, though, he’s been insanely good. Setting records for passing yards (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55) in a season.
What to watch for: During the 2013 postseason, Peyton Manning has not been sacked, nor hit. During the AFC Championship, Manning was able to throw for 400 yards against the Patriots, largely because of his protection in the pocket. No matter how good the Seahawks secondary is, Manning will excel if he avoids pressure. I’d expect a lot of short, quick throws early to slow the Hawks pass rush a bit.
Starter: Knowshon Moreno
Backup: Montee Ball
Entering last season, Knowshon Moreno was on nobody’s radar when it came to naming a feature back in Denver – he played in only 7 games in 2011. Willis McGahee was the starter and Ronnie Hillman was the upstart rookie out of San Diego State. Then, McGahee broke his leg, Hillman underperformed and the former-first-round-pick Moreno had his opportunity. Since taking over as the starter in week 12 last year, Moreno has carried the ball 318 times for 1,721 yards in 25 games and caught 85 passes for 758 yards, scoring 17 total touchdowns. Against the Patriots early this year, Moreno had the game of his career, rushing 37 times for 224 yards and one touchdown, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and yet his long run of the game was only 18 yards.
What to watch for: Despite Moreno’s first 1,000-yard rushing season, I think the key man out of the backfield will be the NCAA career leader in rushing touchdowns, Monte Ball. After his 37-carry effort on November 24, Moreno has only carried the ball more than 15 times once and Ball has reached double digit carries in five of the seven games while having only three such games in the first 11 games of the season. Why is this important? Because despite Ball averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season, he lost fumbles in the second and third games of the season and again against the Patriots, nearly costing his team the game. If Ball gets double digit touches, look for the Seahawks defense to aggressively try and force a fumble.
Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker
Backups: Andre Caldwell, Trindon Holiday
This is by far the most talented position group on the Denver Broncos. Thomas, Decker and Welker combined to catch 252 passes for 3,496 yards and 35 touchdowns. In fact, there were only two games all season (week 11 against the Chiefs and week 15 vs. the Chargers) in which Thomas, Decker and Welker were all held out of the end zone. Otherwise, at least one of the three has a touchdown catch in every game and there were six games in which one or more had multiple touchdowns.
What to watch for: The Broncos excel in short passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage including the dreaded “pick play” where two receivers run crossing routes with one receivers goal to “accidentally” block the other receiver’s defender. During the Patriots game, Wes Welker took out Aqib Talib, NE’s best pass defender, on a pick play. Aside from watching out for the pick play, if the Seahawks can successfully shut down this trio, they still have to look out for Andre Caldwell who caught two touchdowns in the loss to San Diego when the other receivers were shut out of the endzone.
Starter: Julius Thomas
Backups: Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen
If the wide receiver position is the most talented on the Broncos, the tight end position is the most dangerous. Denver converted 46% of third downs in the regular season and better than 60% in the post season. The big reason why is the 6’5″, 250 lb. Julius Thomas. It’s Thomas who I believe will have the biggest impact on this game. During the regular season, he caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the postseason, he’s been kept out of the endzone but has hauled in 14 passes for 161 yards.
What to watch for: Third down conversions are the name of the game this week and I don’t think there is a quarterback better at converting on third down than Peyton Manning. The reason is that Manning has always had a good rapport with his tight ends. Against the Chargers, Manning to Julius Thomas killed the Chargers on third down. If the Hawks want to win, they have to shut down Manning’s third-down security blankets.
Starters: (LT-LG-C-RG-RT) Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez, Orlando Franklin
I should first clarify that, no, it’s not that Manny Ramirez playing center for the Broncos. Okay moving on. Each of the aforementioned linemen played more than 1000 snaps this season and, combined, they allowed just 11 sacks and 23 hits on the quarterback. During their two playoff games, the Broncos o-line has not allowed a sack nor a hit on Manning. The Seahawks can’t afford to let that happen again.
What to watch for: We all know Manning loves to change the play at the line of scrimmage and this Sunday will be no different. What I’m going to watch then is how the Seahawks defensive line disguises their rush before the snap and then how the Broncos o-line responds after the snap. Last week LT Chris Clark gave up two holding penalties instead of allowing a sack. I’d expect more of the same from all five if Manning is in danger.
Starters: (LDE-DT-NT-RDE) Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton, Shaun Phillips
Backups: Jeremy Mincey, Mitch Unrein, Robert Ayers
As a team, the Broncos had 47 sacks this season (counting six in the playoffs) and 73 percent came from the defensive line with former Charger Shaun Phillips leading the team with 12 sacks. The Broncos d-line doesn’t just excel against the pass, the defense was also the 7th-best in the league against the run, giving up just 3.9 yards per carry. Since allowing 177 yards to the Chargers in week 15, the Broncos have allowed just 70 yards per game since.
What to watch for: Looking at the numbers, the Broncos allow just 2.91 yards up the middle and 2.72 yards per carry off right tackle. The right end though is where they are most vulnerable, allowing 4.24 yards per carry. On the left, it’s 3.77 off left tackle and 3.9 off left end. Based on those numbers, I see the read option and Harvin’s fly sweeps being a big factor for the Seahawks offensively.
Starters: Nate Irving, Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan
Backups: Brandon Marshall, Paris Lenon, Steven Johnson
The biggest name not listed is Von Miller, who recently had ACL reconstruction surgery and is out for the season. Trevathan, who plays on the weak side, led the team in both total tackles, 142, and solo tackles, 99. Not only was he a tackling machine, but he also intercepted three passes, had 10 pass deflections and forced three fumbles.
What to watch for: The best way to stop the read option is to have your defensive ends and linebackers switch roles to confuse the quarterback’s read. If the D-end crashes and Russell Wilson keeps the ball, the linebackers should fold over the top, to the outside, to pick up Wilson. If the defensive ends play up field and Wilson gives to Beast Mode, it’s much easier to block the linebackers to open a running lane up the middle.
Starters: (Corners) Champ Bailey, Dominique Rogers-Cromatie; (Safeties) Duke Ihenacho, Mike Adams
Backups: Quentin Jammer, Kayvon Webster, David Bruton
One big name left out is cornerback Chris Harris, who tore his ACl in the first round of the playoffs and played 1,042 snaps during the regular season, the most of any Broncos defensive player. Like Sherman, Harris excels by shutting down his receiver to the point opposing teams don’t throw his way often. After he went down against the Chargers, though, Keenen Allen broke out with 123 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Jammer.
What to watch for: Bailey used to be the best in the league, but he’s in his 15th season and missed 11 games this season because of a foot injury. Jammer doesn’t like to get physical and is in his 12th season and Rogers-Cromartie has already said he’d contemplate retirement if the Broncos win. This unit is going to be the easiest to exploit and I’d expect the Seahawks to use a lot of play action to keep the secondary guessing.
Kicker: Matt Prater
Punter: Britton Colquitt
Kick Return: Trindon Holliday
Punt Return: Trindon Holliday/Eric Decker
Matt Prater was the only kicker in the league this year who had a better field goal percentage and scored more points than to-the-Hauschka and he also booted an (altitude-aided) NFL-record 64-yard field goal. On kickoffs, Prater had 81 touchbacks but Denver allowed 29.7 yards per return on non-touchbacks. Colquitt has been very consistent this season, averaging 45 yards per punt (66 punts total) with only three touchbacks and 23 punts inside the 20-yard line.
What to watch for: 5’5″ 150lb. Trindon Holliday is potentially a big difference maker in the kicking game as he returned one kick and one punt for a touchdown this year (105 yards and 81 yards respectively). He also had one each last year. He averaged 27.7 yards per kick return this year, had 21 kick returns of 20+ yards and averages 8.5 per punt return. The Seahawks need to win the field position battle and it starts with limiting Hollidays returns.
Is it Sunday yet? #GoHawks