Inside the Manning-Seattle D chess match
January, 31, 2014
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Getty ImagesThe Seattle D won't be hard for Peyton Manning to read, but will that matter?Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas' intensity grew Thursday as the Seattle Seahawks completed their final team-wide media session before Super Bowl XLVIII. Thomas sounded ready to walk directly from the podium to the field at MetLife Stadium.
"Any quarterback is a man, just like us," Thomas said. "We have played great quarterbacks before. We faced Tom Brady [in 2012]. Beat him. Drew Brees. Beat him. This is all about us as a defense showing who we are, leaving our mark, and this is a great opportunity, especially on this stage, to play Peyton Manning."
At his best, Manning expertly deciphers the most sophisticated defenses before the snap, allowing the Denver Broncos to select the optimum play or exploit a favorable matchup. No one in the history of the NFL has done it more famously. Manning’s proficiency in this critical area would seem to factor prominently in any game against the NFL's leading defense, but that will not be the case in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks' defense, No. 1 this season in points allowed and expected points added, has regularly made offenses appear foolish without going out of its way to fool them. The Seattle defense has been as straightforward in its on-field approach as Thomas and his defensive teammates have been in their remarks all week. What you see is often what you get: corners typically in press-man coverage, the fleet-of-foot Thomas positioned in center field and the intimidating Kam Chancellor ready to strike nearer the line of scrimmage.
"They are not as much about disguise, that's right," Greg Knapp, the Broncos' quarterbacks coach, affirmed.
That means the chess match between the Broncos' record-setting offense and the Seahawks' top-ranked defense could reduce to something less sophisticated. It won't quite be checkers, but with Seattle much more concerned about execution than masking exotic coverages, Manning's advanced degree in pre-snap reconnaissance might not be as important. While this could diminish one of Manning's most notable advantages, there is some thought Denver's three-receiver offense could steer the Seahawks away from one of their signature strengths.
Who has the edge? Let's hit some of the key angles.