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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/2/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Denver’s D, Seattle offense may be telling part of game

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The weather, the quarterbacks, the match-ups, the coaches… it has all been examined. So, who is going to win today between Seattle and Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII?

To figure that out we have to first know Roman numerals. It is 48. Also, we have to examine the weather, the quarterbacks, the matchups, and the coaches. Ad nauseam, it would appear.

In the midst of our polar vortex, it looks like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will get lucky. Game-time temperature is expected to be in the 40s — imagine if this game had been played outdoors in New Jersey a week ago! — with any precipitation figuring to be rain, not snow.

Maybe we don’t need to dwell on Peyton Manning’s cold-weather history. His career record is 3-7 when it is below the freezing mark at kickoff. Under 40 degrees it is 8-11 with diminished numbers in both completion percentage and yardage and with an increase in interceptions.

More recent history, though, is a game in week 14 of this season, when Tennessee visited Denver and it was 18 degrees. Peyton was 39 of 59 for 397 yards and four touchdowns and then took a jab at his Doppler-radar critics.

“Whoever wrote that narrative can shove it where the sun don’t shine,” Manning said.

That’s probably pretty good advice, regardless of the sun’s position today, especially with Manning sporting the greatest production numbers of his long career.

Goodell got lucky. If it is in the 40s at kickoff it won’t even be the coldest ever. Super Bowl VI in New Orleans was 39 degrees.

There have been three Super Bowls that started with temperatures below 50 and all have been in the south — New Orleans and Houston in the pre-dome era — so there are no guarantees as to location.

Playing a Super Bowl in the New York City metro area in early February was tempting fate. There will be no Ice Bowl, ala the 1967 NFC championship game in Green Bay, with its nearly minus-50 wind chills. Rain and wind could still affect performance. We shall see.

Quarterbacks who have excelled for bad-weather franchises are quick to point out they had a running game to lean on — Bart Starr had Thunder and Lightning, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor; Ben Roethlisberger had The Bus, Jerome Bettis; the best Cleveland teams had Jim Brown, to name just a few — so we have to look hard at Marshawn Lynch’s potential impact for Seattle today.

Coming off a third straight 1,200-yard-plus season, he has to keep the Seahawks’ offense on the field and Manning off of it for Seattle to have a reasonable chance.

With Manning on the field, we’re talking about the first NFL team to ever score 600-plus points in a season. The Broncos averaged a record 37.9 points per game.

On the flip side, the league’s eight previous highest-scoring teams all failed to either reach or win the Super Bowl. We all remember the 2007 Patriots, who averaged 36.8 points per game and posted a 16-0 regular season, being upset by the Giants and held to a mere 14 points in Super Bowl XLII. A couple years ago, the Packers and Saints both averaged more than 34 points and neither made it to the NFC title game.

Maybe defense does win championships and, of course, this Super Bowl is all about Seattle’s No. 1-ranked D against the Broncos’ No. 1 offense.

Manning and his four-headed monster of a receiving corps, all interchangeable and movable and a frustrating challenge for any defense, has redefined the short game and relies on yards after catches. A tight end who hardly anyone had heard of entering the season, Julius Thomas, has 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. Then there are wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker with Wes Welker slashing out of the slot.

Seattle has a tremendous secondary, despite an uncomplicated and pretty basic approach and is No. 1 in limiting yards after catches. The Seahawks are certainly capable of frustrating Manning and keeping the score in check.

So we seem no closer to picking a winner than we were at the start.

Maybe we’re focusing on the wrong offense vs. the wrong defense. Just maybe it will be Denver’s defense, or the Seahawk offense, that provides the difference.

In that case, we’ll take the Broncos.

The Denver front seven, headed by surprisingly-mobile tackle Terrance Knighton at 335 pounds and linebacker Danny Trevathan, can head an eight-man-in-the-box effort against Lynch. That would put the game in quarterback Russell Wilson’s hands against a secondary buoyed by Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey.

If this is a 24-21 type game, the Seahawks can and just might win.

If Denver can somewhat neutralize Lynch and the Seattle ground game and Wilson has to do the rest, we’ll take Manning.

Let’s try Denver, 34-24.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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