3rd downs may decide Super Bowl

Seattle will pit best third-down pass D since 1989 against Peyton Manning

Updated: January 24, 2014, 2:36 PM ET
By Scott Kacsmar | Football Outsiders

Seattle SeahawksMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsRichard Sherman and the Seahawks have been unreal in third-down situations.

Every Super Bowl winner needs a key stop on defense at some point during a postseason run. Getting a stop on third down remains the most common way of ending an offensive possession in the NFL and it should be a big factor for both teams in Super Bowl XLVIII. While the team that converts at a higher rate on third down is only 7-7 in the past 14 Super Bowls, these games often swing on one or two crucial third-down situations.

Fans of the Seahawks should understand this very well. In Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger converted a third-and-28 -- the longest third-down conversion in Super Bowl history -- with a 37-yard pass to Hines Ward. The Steelers went on to score a touchdown and never trailed again. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception on third-and-18 in the fourth quarter and the Steelers put the game away with another score.

Broncos QB Peyton Manning is also familiar with big third downs. With a 10-3 lead in Super Bowl XLIV against New Orleans, he watched Pierre Garcon drop a critical pass on third-and-4, setting in motion events that led to Manning not throwing another pass until the third quarter, after the Saints used a surprise onside kick to take the lead. In the fourth quarter, Manning's third-and-5 pass with the Colts down 24-17 was intercepted and returned 74 yards for a game-clinching touchdown by Tracy Porter.

In 2014, Manning will look for redemption against a historically stingy Seattle pass defense. Meanwhile, the Denver pass defense has been the worst in the league on third down, setting up a Super Bowl that would seem to favor the Seahawks in crucial situations, but let's break down the tape and numbers to see who really has the advantage.

Scott Kacsmar

Football Outsiders
Scott Kacsmar is an Assistant Editor at Football Outsiders.