National Football League

Stalter’s Super Bowl XLVIII Notebook

+ From Joe Namath’s false start on the coin flip to the Broncos’ opening play, Super Bowl XLVIII was a mess. It was certainly one of the least competitive title games in NFL history, and when you factor in the expectations for the matchup, it was arguably one of the worst, too. (Unless you’re a Seattle fan, of course). At halftime, I thought there were worse things than watching Peyton Manning try to rally from 22 points down in 30 minutes. Then Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff of the second half 87 yards for a touchdown…

+ Heading into the game I figured, if nothing else, Harvin’s presence would give Denver’s defense something to think about. Even if he only played 15 snaps, the Broncos would have to account for his play-making ability. But the best-case scenario played out for Seattle: Harvin was a difference-maker. His kickoff return for touchdown was arguably the nail in the coffin, but his 31-yard run on a jet sweep on Seattle’s first offensive drive breathed confidence into an offense that had been stagnant for a month. Credit Darrell Bevell for not forcing the ball to Harvin in the passing game. Instead, Bevell simply put the ball in Harvin’s hands and allowed the receiver’s ability to take over. Here’s the scary thing for the Rams and the rest of the NFL: The Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate as their primary receivers during a 13-win regular season. If Harvin stays healthy in 2014, Seattle’s offense will add an element that wasn’t even there this past season.

+ Credit Denver’s defense for holding up in the first half despite receiving zero help from the offense. But one of the underlining problems for the Broncos in the first half was the defense’s inability to get off the field. Here are the third-down results in the first half when the Seahawks had the ball: first down (pass); failed conversion (Russell Wilson run that was challenged); first down (pass); first down (pass); first down (pass); failed conversion (pass); first down (pass). Thanks in large part to Wilson, the Seahawks were 7-of-12 on third downs, including 5-of-7 in the first half when they were able to build a sizable lead.

+ It’s amazing to think that, all things considered, the Broncos were fortunate the results weren’t even more disastrous. They turned the ball over four times but put the ball on the ground an additional two times, and their defense held Seattle to six points on back-to-back trips to the red zone in the first half. The Broncos could have very easily been down 30-0 at halftime instead of 22-0, although not that it mattered once Harvin returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown.

+ Manning certainly wasn’t sharp, but credit Seattle’s defense for generating relentless pressure without having to consistently send extra defenders. Forcing Manning off his spot was one of the keys to the Seahawks’ victory, including when he threw the interception to Kam Chancellor in the first half. Granted, the pass may have been partially deflected at the line, and it was a poor route by Julius Thomas (he arguably ran it too shallow) as much as it was a poor pass by Manning, but the Seahawks forced him to step up in the pocket after he had already completed his dropback. One of the biggest catalysts for Seattle’s defensive line was Cliff Avril, who might as well have bought land in Denver’s backfield since he was renting space there for most of the game. Thanks in large part to Avril, right tackle Orlando Franklin had a disastrous performance (which was par for the course for the Broncos).

+ The Broncos made the same mistake as the Saints did a few weeks back by assuming that they had enough weapons to beat the Seahawks with crossing routes and underneath passes. But just like against New Orleans, without the threat of the vertical pass, Chancellor and Earl Thomas were able to drive on routes and punish Denver’s receivers underneath. Now, this wasn’t the only factor working against the Broncos. The Seahawks’ ability to pressure Manning with just their front four also gave them favorable matchups in coverage, too. It was the perfect storm. And when the Broncos finally did connect on a vertical route, Demaryius Thomas capped off the play by putting the ball on the ground.

+ Malcolm Smith certainly wasn’t undeserving of the game’s MVP, but the award could have easily gone to Kam Chancellor and Percy Harvin – or Seattle’s defense, for that matter. That win was typical Seahawks in that it took a complete team effort and the praise could be spread evenly.

+ Russell Wilson lived up to his billing as being cool, calm and collected. He looked like he was playing in his third Super Bowl as opposed to his first. While he didn’t necessarily light up the stat sheet, he was outstanding on third downs and his average yards-per-attempt went for 8.2 yards, which dwarfed Manning’s mark of 5.7. Rarely do the Seahawks ask Wilson to do more than he can handle and, more times than not, he delivers. For what Seattle’s coaching staff asked him to do, he was excellent.

+ I hate to make sweeping assumptions and acquisitions based on one game (especially a blowout), but I wonder if John Fox has the win-at-all-costs makeup to win a Super Bowl. I would never say that the Broncos weren’t prepared for last night. That would be asinine given who their quarterback is, and it would be an insult to Fox and his coaching staff. Fox is one of the best coaches in the league at getting the most out of his players, and his game plans often maximize the strengths of his personnel. But there are certain head coaches in the league who have a difficult time with risk vs. reward. Take last night as an example. Fox decides to go for it on fourth-and-short in the first half when his team was desperate for points and something positive to happen. Instead, the Broncos came up short and didn’t wind up scoring until the final seconds of the third quarter. Then, when he may no have four possessions to play with the rest of the game, he punts the ball in Seattle territory while down 29 points. The fact that Fox is only one of six coaches to take two teams to the Super Bowl commands respect. But last night wasn’t the first time that his teams lacked aggressiveness and played not to lose.

+ If Fox and his players ever get to watching the film of this game, they’ll see Seattle defenders like Brandon Mebane chasing down tight end Jacob Tamme on a screen and Doug Baldwin’s desire to block downfield. On the other side, they’ll see horrendous tackling by the defense and kickoff return unit, as well as half-hearted blocking attempts from players like Wes Welker. It wasn’t just the Broncos’ execution that was lacking, but their overall effort as well.

+ People will kill Manning this week and talk about his legacy. They’ll take potshots at him being the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time and how they don’t want to hear his name brought up with the likes of Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Terry Bradshaw. It’s a shame that even a 43-8 blowout won’t force people to look at the big picture when it comes to winning the Super Bowl: It often takes a complete team effort to win. The Seahawks scored via run, pass, field goal, safety, interception and kick return last night. That’s the epitome of winning in all three phases of the game. Even if Manning were at his best last night, I don’t think the Broncos would have won. Not just Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch or Richard Sherman. The Seahawks.

It’s amazing how people often want to debate brilliance. Manning has been brilliant for most of his career. In two Super Bowls, his teams were not. Last night specifically, his offensive line and running game failed him, just as much as he disappointed his teammates. Let’s not lose focus of the big picture.