On The Clock NFL Mock Draft from Fanspeak.com

NFL Weekly Transaction Tracker

February 28, 2014 in NFL Personnel

By Staff Writer Matt Pearce:

As free agency looms, teams continue to be active re-signing and releasing players to get ready for the free agency period.

Philadelphia Eagles re-sign OT Jason Peters, C Jason Kelce and WR Riley Cooper

In the biggest news of the week, the Eagles signed their starting left tackle to a four-year contract extension.

While he wasn't set to become a free agent, the 32-year old had just one year left on his contract. This new extension is an additional four years on top of this season. The total value of the four years is $51.3 million with $19.55 million guaranteed. His old contract called for him to make $10 million this season, and this is part of the guaranteed money.

When he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent tight end with the Buffalo Bills, he received a signing bonus of just $5,000, so he has seen a major pay increase from then.

Jason Peters

Courtesy of ICON SMI

After playing his first five seasons for the Bills, he was traded to the Eagles for first, fourth and sixth-round picks. Right after this trade, the Eagles signed him to a six-year contract worth $60 million. This was the contact that was set to end at the end of the upcoming season.

With the Eagles, he has started 58 games in four seasons of play. He missed the entire 2012 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon not once, but twice in the offseason. The first time came in March and the second time came in May while recovering from the initial injury.

This season, his comeback was made more complicating because the Eagles hired a new head coach, Chip Kelly. After a slow start in the first six games of the season, Peters went on a tear for the rest of the season and finished as the fourth-highest graded offensive tackle this season according to Pro Football Season.

Kelly's new scheme proved to be a fit for Peters and now his performance has been rewarded with another big contract. Seeing that he will be 36-years old when this contract ends, it is likely that he retires with the Eagles. Paying about $10 million per year to an offensive tackle over the age of 30 seems to be a bit much, but if he can continue his performance from last season, he will be more than worth it.

Just one day after re-signing Peters, the Eagles moved to the interior of their offensive line by signing Kelce to a six-year contract extension.

Like Peters, Kelce was about to enter the final year of his contract. Now, the 26-year old has six more years, on top of this season meaning he will be in Philadelphia through the 2020 season.

The value of this six-year extension is $37.5 million with $13 million guaranteed. This places him amongst the top-five centers in terms of contracts.

His performance has definitely warranted this type of deal. Since being drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, he has solidified their center position. He started all 16 games his rookie season. The following year, he started the first two games of he season, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in week two.

This season saw him bounce back and gain top form as he started all 16 games and Pro Football Focus graded him as the number one center in the league thanks to his dominant run blocking and overall consistent play. In his very limited playing time in 2012, he showed this ability, but the injury cut his season short.

For the Eagles, this contract makes sense as they lock up their starting center who happens to be one of the best in the league. He has been a great fit in Kelly's offensive scheme. It is a win for both sides as Kelce gets a top-tier contract for a center and the Eagles get to keep him around.

With these two signings, the Eagles now have their entire starting offensive line––one of the best units in the league––signed through the 2016 season.

Along with signing Kelce on Thursday, the Eagles continued their work by re-signing Cooper to a five-year contract.

This five-year deal is worth a total of $25 million making an easy average of $5 million per year. There is $8 million in guaranteed money.

Drafted in the fifth-round of the 2010 NFL Draft, his first season as a full-time starter came this season––and that was only due to a season-ending injury to Jeremy Maclin.

Replacing him in the starting lineup, the 26-year old Cooper caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. He quickly became a favorite target of quarterback Nick Foles.

Against the Oakland Raiders this season, Cooper had a career-day that saw him catch five passes for 139 yards and three touchdowns.

At the beginning of the season, a contract like this would have been unimaginable for him. In the offseason, he was recorded saying a racial slur and took time off from the team. He soon rejoined his team and earned a starting spot due to Maclin's injury. Now, he has a $25 million contract.

This move makes sense for the Eagles as Foles clearly liked to throw to Cooper. They are both young so they can keep this combination intact for years to come now.

Next up for the Eagles is attempting to re-sign Maclin. They are reported to have made progress recently, so it will be interesting to see what they can accomplish.

OT Jordan Gross retires

While one top offensive tackle has been re-signed, another has announced his retirement after 11 seasons in the NFL.

One of the three offensive tackles that graded out better than Peters this season was the 33-year old Gross––who was the third-highest.

After being drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the eighth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, he has missed just nine games in his 11 seasons. During these 11 seasons, he made 167 starts––a Panthers' record––at both right and left tackle. (He only played right tackle for his rookie season.)

A three-time Pro Bowl player (2008, 2010 and 2013) and a one-time first-team All-Pro (2008), he was the rock of the Panthers' offensive line for many years.

During his rookie season, the Panthers made it to Super Bowl XXXVIII where they lost 32-29 against the New England Patriots.

Over the past few seasons, he has helped stabilize an offensive line that has seen many injuries and reshuffling. His retirement leaves the Panthers without a true left tackle on their roster. It is likely that they draft one this year in what is a deep class for offensive tackles.

Other Moves:

The Baltimore Ravens release LB Jameel McClain.
The Baltimore Ravens release FB Vonta Leach.
The Carolina Panthers sign S Anderson Russell.
The Chicago Bears re-sign C Taylor Boggs.
The Chicago Bears re-sign S Derrick Martin.
The Chicago Bears re-sign C Roberto Garza.
The Chicago Bears re-sign TE Dante Rosario.
The Cleveland Browns release LB D’Qwell Jackson.
The Detroit Lions sign S Isa Abdul-Quddus.
The Detroit Lions re-sign LS Don Muhlbach.
The Green Bay Packers re-sign S Chris Banjo.
The Houston Texans sign TE Zach Potter.
The Oakland Raiders re-sign CB Taiwan Jones.
The San Francisco 49ers re-sign C Daniel Kilgore.
The Tennessee Titans re-sign RB Jackie Battle.
The Washington Redskins re-sign DE Chris Baker.

Case For the 2000 Ravens as Best Defense of the Millennium: Part 3 of 4

February 22, 2014 in Seattle Seahawks, SUPER bOWL XLVIII, Super Bowl XXXVII

So far I've taken a look at  the 2013 Seattle Seahawks and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenses in a quest to find out which one is the best of the millennium (since 2000). While we all have an opinion on the subject, what I think we can all agree on is that all three defenses are more than worthy of being in any conversation during any era for how they controlled opposing offenses during their respective seasons. In part three, I examine and make the case for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and why they could be the best of the trio.

The Case for Ray Lewis and Company:

ravens-defense-lewis-sharperThe case for the 2000 Ravens, as the best defense of the millennium, appears to be an easy case to make—right—well not exactly, especially  when you consider the greatness of the Buccaneers pass defense and what the Seahawks did to the NFL greatest offense of all time in the Super Bowl earlier this month. But there are some undeniable aspects of the 00 Ravens that make it hard to not be No.1

Until this past season, the defense that seemed to be considered the best in football, at least since the 1985 Chicago Bears, was the one that kicked off the millennium. The 2000 Ravens had the perfect blend of speed, power, youth and veteran leadership.  What makes them so special is that the 2000 Ravens defense spent almost as much time disrupting opposing offenses, as it did bailing its own offense out of the hole. Led by offensive guru and head coach Brian Billick,  the Ravens won the Super Bowl that season because of how they played defense and special teams and only because of those two aspects of their game.

How They Were Built:

General Manager Ozzie Newsome assembled the unit by hitting home runs in the NFL Draft and taking a few chances on veterans that some other teams though could be well past their primes.

Case in point was the Ravens defensive line. Up front only one of the four starters was drafted by the organization. Left DE Rob Burnett was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1990 and made the move to Baltimore—RDE Michael McCrary and defensive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa were signed via free agency after their respective teams thought they no longer were what they once were. Only Goose failed to record a sack as Burnette (10.5), Adams (2.0) and McCrary (6.5) combined for 19 QB takedowns in 2000. The unit also recovered 10 fumbles.

Weighing a combined 680 pounds, Adams & Siragusa occupied multiple blockers for middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who roamed the middle of the field and ran sideline to sideline make play after play. McCrary was signed after his rookie contract with Seattle expired and late in the free agency period. Adams would also follow a similar path to Baltimore, signing as a free agent after his rookie contract in Seattle expired.

Speaking of Ray Lewis, the future Hall of Fame MLB was entering his fifth season in 2000 and felt lucky to be doing so. Lewis almost didn’t play another down in the NFL following the 1999 season. Arguably, one of the best defensive players to ever put on a pair of cleats in the NFL, Lewis spent the 2000 season under a dark cloud.

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Michael McCrary

The former Miami Hurricane was indicted on murder charges stemming from a post-Super Bowl party the year before in Atlanta. Eventually through a plea deal with Fulton County prosecutors, the murder Charges were dropped. Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice but it’s how he obstructed opposing offenses in 2000 and for the  rest of his career that allowed Lewis to rebuild his reputation and career. In winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Lewis recorded 137 total tackles, three sacks and two interceptions to match his three-fumble recoveries. Lewis also won the MVP award in Super Bowl XXXV.

What made the 00 Ravens special was their trio of linebackers. Of course you know about No.52 in the middle but Lewis had Jamie Sharper on one side and Peter Boulware on the other. No team since has produced three starting linebackers in one single season that possessed the speed and physicality this unit did. The secondary was a blessed with a mix of talented youth and one of the best that ever lined up to cover NFL wide receivers. On the corners, Baltimore started Chris McAlister and Duane Starks. Kim Herring started at strong safety and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson at free safety. Woodson finished second on the team in tackles in 2000 and picked off four passes.

What made the Ravens linebackers and secondary unique was that only Woodson played elsewhere in the league and no other player was drafted lower than the 58th pick of the NFL Draft. Lewis, Boulware, Starks & McAlister were all drafted in the first round, while Herring and Sharper were selected in the second. An amazing run of defensive talent that succeeded beyond even Ozzie Newsome’s wildest dreams. The 2000 Ravens grew up together and matured as a unit even as the 2000 season progressed.

They set a record that may never be broken with the way the NFL is played these days. Baltimore allowed 165 total points through 16 games, holding opponents to 10.3 points per game.  They surpassed the 1985 Chicago Bears mark of 187 points for a 16 game season by 22 points. One touchdown and two field goals usually resulted in victory for the purple people eaters of the new millennium. The Ravens were relentless in their pursuit of the ball carrier and pitched four shutouts (1 more than Seattle and Tampa Bay combined) and including the playoffs, held opponents to 10 points or less 11 additional times.

2000 Offense was offensive at times:

DILFERWhile Seattle and Tampa Bay did not exactly have great or even above average offenses, the Ravens defense had to be almost perfect every Sunday because their offense was simply atrocious at times during the year. From Oct 1 through Oct 29, a span of five games, the Ravens offense failed to score a TD. However, somehow, the Ravens still managed to win two of those games and lost the other three by a combined 18-points. That is amazing when you step back and think about it.

Baltimore started the season with Tony Banks at quarterback and finished with Trent Dilfer. The Ravens did have rookie running back Jamal Lewis to lean on, as he rushed for 1,364 yards and six TD’s. Baltimore’s leading receiver was TE Shannon Sharpe with 810 yards. No actual wide receiver caught more than 49 passes for more than 655 yards.

Tampa Bay’s Brad Johnson was never mistaken for Roger Staubach but he was a better option than Dilfer and certainly Banks. In fact, Ravens head coach Brian Billick did everything in his power to talk Johnson into coming to Baltimore with him from Minnesota. Following the 1999 season, the Ravens hired Billick and Johnson lost his job to Randall Cunningham. While both came to Maryland, Johnson went to Landover to play for the Redskins. With his athleticism and ability to make plays in and out of the pocket, Seahawks starter Russell Wilson is obviously the best of the entire bunch. Therefore, it is fair to say the 2000 Ravens offense was the worst of this group.

Opponents Strength—or Lack of Strength:

With that said it did not hurt that Ravens faced NFL offenses that averaged 18th during the season and quarterbacks that posted an average rating of 24th best. The vaunted Ravens defense never faced an offense ranked higher than second and played in the same division with the Browns and Bengals whose offenses ranked last and 26 respectively that season.

The Ravens were also fortunate enough to face some cream puffs at QB. Baltimore terrorized the likes of Kent Graham, Jarvis Jackson, Jamie Martin, Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Spurgeon Wynn & Doug Pederson. They also shutout a declining Troy Aikman and never faced a QB ranked higher than sixth in the league that season. Those signal callers and a few others combined to post a combined 62.5 passer rating vs. the Ravens that season. An edge that clearly belongs to the 02 Bucs.

The Ravens are also the only one of the three teams to not finish the year ranked No.1 in total defense in terms of yards allowed. That distinction belonged to the team that won the division the Ravens played in, the Tennessee Titans. In fact, if Tennessee had won the Super Bowl that season, it’s likely they and not the Ravens would be the third team in this debate. Tennessee allowed 133 fewer regular-season points than the year before. They finished second to the Ravens in total points allowed but ranked first in total defense, passing defense and third in rushing defense. They were pretty damn good but lacked the physicality and nastiness the Ravens possessed. That fact showed up twice when they were undone by their division rivals losing both their regular season and home playoff game to Baltimore. The Ravens became the first and second team to beat Tennessee at their new home, then Adelphia Coliseum.

Tennessee allowed 238.3 YPG, while the Ravens just 247.9.—–For arguments sake, the Ravens would have led the league in any other season since, including 2002 when the Bucs were No.1 with a 252.8 average per game allowed. While it is true the Ravens did not face a single Pro Bowl QB in 2000, they did face some Hall of Famers and Pro-Bowlers at running back and were historic in stopping them. Eddie George, Jerome Bettis, Fred Taylor, Emmitt Smith, Corey Dillon and Curtis Martin all failed to have success versus the Ravens.

Historically Stopping the Run:

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Tony Siragusa

Baltimore allowed an NFL record-low 970 rushing yards in a 16-game season. The Ravens did not allow a single 100-yard rusher and only three times did a team even hit the century mark on the Ravens rush defense. In fact, the Ravens had nine games where teams were held to 55 rushing yards or less. Opponents averaged 60.6 rushing yards per contest in 2000. The Ravens allowed 16 TD’s all year, only five came on the ground.

The Ravens were not exceptional rushing the passer but they did not have to be. Baltimore recorded just 36 sacks in 2000, 22nd in the league. Teams could not gain yards and when the Ravens needed to blitz, did so successfully. Baltimore held their opponents to average of third and nearly eight yards to go for a first down during the 2000 season. The Ravens registered 23 INT’s and amazing 26-fumble recoveries, which speaks to how fast, physical and swarming the defense played. They were a plus 23 in turnover margin and like the Seahawks (+20) and Buccaneers (+17), ranked first in the NFL.

Vinny & the Jets:

The final two games of the 00 season cost the Ravens a shot finish as the No.1 ranked defense. Baltimore Allowed 833 yards in their final two contests, which equated to 20 percent of the yards they allowed all year. Tennessee remained stingy allowing just 208 total yards in two games including an amazing 95 yards in their final game. The big blow for Baltimore came in the final game of the year at home vs. the NY Jets. In that game, former Ravens QB Vinny Testaverde carved up the Ravens defense for 473 passing yards, as the Jets totaled 520 total yards in the contest—still third most by an opposing on the franchise record list for an opposing offense. Many team in Ravens franchise history. Many felt the Arizona Cardinals and NY Jets provided a blue print for how to beat the Ravens defense heading into the playoffs. It appeared as if you could spread the Ravens defense out and then pick them apart through the air. As the Broncos, Titans, Raiders & NY Giants were about to find out, looks can be deceiving.

Playoffs & Super Bowl Domination:

370main_ravensWhat potentially separates the Ravens on this list from Tampa Bay and definitely, Seattle, is how the Ravens defense rebounded from those final two games and what they accomplished in the playoffs. Finishing 12-4 was not enough to win the division, as Tennessee finished 13-3. This meant that Baltimore would have to go on the road and win twice to reach the Super Bowl. As the top Wild Card, they did host one playoff game—a game in which they dominated the NFL’s No.2 overall offense during the regular season, the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos crossed midfield only twice in the game, as the Ravens would not only go onto to win the Super Bowl but continued to dominate good offensive teams in the process. The Ravens allowed 23 points in four playoff games and surrendered one touchdown to an opposing offense during that span. Tennessee’s Eddie George scored from 2 yards out on the Titans first drive of their AFC Divisional battle. That was it. The other TD scored came on a kickoff return in the Super Bowl.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, the Ravens were as dominating as ever in the big game. They held the Giants offense to 86 net passing yards and 152 total yards. This came just two weeks after Giants QB Kerry Collins passed for 385 yards and threw five TD’s in the NFC Championship game. But the purple of the Vikings, the team Collins faced in that game, came at him much slower than did the purple of the Ravens. Baltimore sacked Collins four times in Super Bowl XXXV and recovered a fumble. They intercepted Collins him four times and CB Duane Starks returned one Collins INT 49-yards for a Ravens score. Giants RB Tiki Barber rushed for just 49 yards on 11 carries—-27 came on one carry. Take it away and Barber had 22 yards on 10 carries—2.2 yards per attempt.

Mic’d up, Ravens head Coach Brian Billick is overheard saying on the NFL Films replay of the game that the Giants offense simply had no idea how fast and physical the Ravens defense was. When Collins did get off a pass, it was batted down or most likely incomplete. Collins completed just 38 percent of his passes (15-39) for only 112 yards.

In all, the Ravens held opposing QB’s to a 33.4 passer rating in the playoffs, with 14 sacks and 10 INT’s. Baltimore’s secondary was credited with as many pass defenses as they had interceptions in the playoffs.  The defense allowed just 12 third down conversions in four playoff games, playing two on the road.

Solid Leadership:

Baltimore also had a solid coaching staff. Marvin Lewis ran the defense; Jack Del Rio was linebackers coach while Rex Ryan and Mike Smith helped on defense as well. Not bad when you consider three of the four are current NFL head coaches and Del Rio was a HC in Jacksonville.

People will and have argued that of the eleven different teams they faced in the regular season, only two made the playoffs — the Titans and the Dolphins. Baltimore’s strength of schedule was 109-147, as opponents had a .425 winning percentage, by far the easiest schedule of the three teams. These are great points but the same argument can be and has been made about the Seahawks (.490) and Buccaneers (.477). Taking it one-step further and although they are not in this article to be compared, even the 85 Bears got their fair share of easy QB’s. While they faced Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Joe Theisman the Bears got to play against guys named Steve Deberg, Eric Krammer, Randy Wright, Eric Hipple, David Archer, Mike Pagel, Jim Zorn and Ken O’Brien, none of which will be getting a call from the Hall of Fame anytime soon. They only faced two All-Pro backs in Tony Dorsett and John Riggins. For the record, Chicago’s SOS was 121-134 in 1985 (.477).

For all three of these teams, the word greatness is a worthy description. For the Ravens, you cannot control whom you play. That is done for you—but you can control how you play and the 2000 Ravens appear to be the closest to perfect we have ever seen on defense in this millennium. They had to be when you consider Trent Dilfer was able to win a Super Bowl ring.

Part four ranks the three teams, as I tell you, which one reigns supreme since the start of the 2000 season.

 

Ravens, Hawks or Bucs, Who is The Best Defense of the Millennium Part 1 of 4

February 22, 2014 in NFL, NFL Power Rankings, Pittsburgh Steelers, SUPER bOWL XLVIII

With their dominating performance in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks once again proved the adage “Defense wins championships” to be accurate. Seattle led the NFL in total defense and scoring defense during the 2013 season and dismantled the NFL’s best offense to ever play the game, at least according to the record books. And Seattle did so on the biggest stage the game is played. Seattle embarrassed the record setting offense of the Denver Broncos and their future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning. Denver set an NFL record in 2013 by scoring 605 points and Manning broke several records himself, including most TD passes in a season (55) and most passing yards. None of it mattered to the “Legion of Boom”, as they held the Broncos to eight meaningless points.

Following their physically dominating performance in the Super Bowl and as they always, seem to do, NFL experts and prognosticators started to debate where this Seahawks defense ranked with some of the other great defenses in NFL history– in terms of single season performances. Some of the experts quickly professed the “LOB”, as one of the greats of all time simply for how they handled the record breaking Manning and company.

cowboys

Randy White & Harvey Martin Co-defensive MVP's of Super Bowl XII for Dallas' Doomsday defense

A truly great defense must stand the test of time, but for one single season, the 2013 Seahawks deserve to be included. What we learned early on in the millennium is that what makes defenses great for a period is sustaining success year after year. Seattle, like the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before them, do not belong in the conversation with the Steele Curtain of the 1970’s or the Cowboys Doomsday Defense of the same era. At least not yet in Seattle’s, case.

Seattle’s performance during the 2013 season puts them in the conversation with such great single season defenses as the 1985 Bears, the 1971 Vikings, the 69 KC Chiefs, the 1990 New York Giants or the 1973 Miami Dolphins. What I was most curious about is how Seattle stacks up against the most recent dominating defenses, the aforementioned 00 Ravens and 02 Buccaneers.

The 2000 Ravens allowed an NFL record-low 165 points and the fewest rushing yards (970) in a 16-game schedule. The unit allowed 23 points in its four-game playoff run and didn't allow any points in a 34-7 Super Bowl wipeout of the Giants (The lone points were scored on a kickoff return). The 02 Bucs were the second team in NFL history to lead the league in total defense, points allowed and interceptions. Led by Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay obliterated the Raiders in the Super Bowl, 48-21.

So which defense is the greatest of the millennium you ask—The 00 Ravens, 02 Buccaneers or the 13 Seahawks?  For the sake of argument, I made sure I accounted for everything in ranking the three. I researched—-well—everything imaginable. I took into consideration quarterbacks and offenses faced during the season, turnovers, sacks, talent on the filed—in other words, which team did the most with the least.

I factored in the offenses the teams had on their own sidelines. The Ravens went five consecutive games without scoring a TD during the regular season and because of their great defense and kicker, Matt Stover, still managed to win two of those games. The 02 Buccaneers were led by QB Brad Johnson, did not have a running back rush for more than 750 yards and barely had a 1,000-yard receiver in Keyshawn Johnson (1,088).

I also made sure intangibles such as Seattle playing during a pass happy point-scoring era. NFL offenses scored more points in 2013 and more QB’s passed for over 300 and 400 yards than in any other season in league history. Numbers never lie and can be used to separate eras at times—even 13 years. The 2013 Seahawks defense lined up for 2,140 plays vs. opposing offenses according to Pro Football Reference. Of those plays, 69 came with no huddle, 480 were in the shotgun, 1001 came following an offensive huddle and only 590 happened with the quarterback actually under center.

In stark contrast, the 2000 Ravens faced 2,366 plays and while that is 226 more than Seattle’s defense faced, Ray Lewis and company never once had to deal with a no huddle offense and only 223 of those plays occurred with the QB in the shotgun— 1,183 plays occurred following an offensive huddle and 960 occurred with a QB under center, 370 more than the “LOB” faced this past season.

While the Ravens faced far more plays, they faced what appeared to be less complicated offenses with signal callers that were not nearly as athletic. I left no stone unturned, as I studied and analyzed every number imaginable.  So—how do the three best defenses of the millennium compare and which one is best, here is the first of a four part series making the case for each team.

Parts one, two and three will examine the teams and their accomplishments and part four delivers how they stack up and which one reigns supreme.

The Case for the 2013 Seahawks:

images (14)Seattle allowed the fewest points in the league with 231 (14.1 PPG) and did so while facing NFL offenses that ranked an average of 19th best in the league during the 2013 season. According to passer rating, Seattle faced the 17th best quarterback on average. Impressively, Seattle faced the No.1 and No.4 (twice) overall offense during the regular season and dominated the Broncos and Saints in all three contests. They outscored them by a combined 104-30. However, they also faced the 20th, 22nd, 28th, and 32nd ranked offenses.

The Saints and Broncos were the only top 10 offenses Seattle faced in 2013. The Highest ranked offense in their division was the Arizona Cardinals, who ranked 12th this past season and Seattle allowed 38 points in two games going 1-1. The 49ers, whom the Hawks faced three times, were the 24th ranked offense and the Rams, who they took on twice, ranked 30th. Seattle was combined 5-1 vs. the two teams.

Facing Peyton Manning afforded the Seahawks the honor of facing the No.1 ranked QB in the league this year. They also faced and defeated the No. 2 ranked signal caller in Drew Brees and No.4 QB in Matt Ryan. They also faced Kellen Clemmons (36), Christian Ponder (37), Mike Glennon (24), Ryan Fitzpatrick (26) and Matt Schaub, who finished the year as the 27th ranked signal caller. They beat all of them, as well as Cam Newton (15) and Eli Manning (14).

They were a combined 1-2 vs. Carson Palmer (8) and Andrew Luck (13). In all, opposing QB’s registered an average of a 63.4 passer rating and the stout Seattle secondary held them to a combined 58.3 percent completion percentage. They sacked opposing signal callers 44 times in 2013, recorded 28 interceptions, and recovered 11 of 17 forced fumbles, while posting a +20- turnover margin, tops in the NFL.

Seattle allowed 1,626 rushing yards during the regular season (101 YPG) and finished ranked seventh. They were by far the best passing defense in the league in 2013 and maybe the best of the three teams I’m ranking, as they allowed 172 passing yards per contest. Including the playoffs, the Seahawks held opposing offenses under 100 total rushing yards on eight occasions and opposing passers under 200 yards 12 times. They allowed just one passer to exceed 300 passing yards during the regular season and one in the playoffs. Matt Schaub threw for 355 in Week 4 but passed for 43 of those yards in overtime. Drew Brees passed for 309 yards in the playoff rematch.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn led a defense that registered just one shutout during the season and as a whole, the Seahawks allowed 16 passing TD’s with just 33 passing plays of 20 yards or more—fewest in the NFL. The rushing defense allowed just four TD’s on the ground, tied with the Panthers for fewest in the league this season.

Other important stats to consider are Seattle held opponents to 35 percent on third down attempts, ninth best in the league and chipped in with four defensive TD’s during the season while recording two safeties. The Seahawks schedule leaves a little to be desired but may not be as bad as the 2000 Ravens in terms of lacking strength.

In 2013, Seattle faced the AFC South, the worst division in the NFL this season. In all, Seattle’s opponents went 125-130-1 for a .490-combined winning percentage.

Despite dominating Denver in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks lose ground to the 00 Ravens and 02 Buccaneers when it comes to the post season. During the playoffs, the Seahawks allowed 341 yards and 13.3 points per game. They held opponents to 12-36 on third down (33 %) and registered just four sacks, intercepted four passes, and recovered four of seven forced fumbles. They scored one defensive TD and registered the memorable safety on the Broncos first offensive play from scrimmage in the Super Bowl.

On offense, the Seahawks are led by the young and dynamic Russell Wilson. The former Wolfpack and Badger star is clearly the best QB of the four between the three teams we are comparing for the sake of this series. With that said, Wilson led an offense that ranked 17th in the NFL this season. They had the sixth worst passing offense in the league but ranked fourth overall when turning Beast mode and handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch.

Not as offensive as you may think:

Surprisingly the 00 Ravens ranked 16th overall in total offense (5 run- 22 Pass) and the 02 Bucs ranked 24th in total offense (27 run– 15 pass) during the season. In a stat that truly reflects the sign of the times, the 2013 Seahawks scored 417 points—26th in the NFL at 26.1 points per game. The 00 Ravens finished ranked 16th with 333 points scored and the 02 Bucs 18th with 346. The Seahawks would have been a top 5 scoring offense in both 2000 (fourth) and 2002 (second) with the points they scored in 2013. Ironically, the 00 Ravens still scored more points than did this year’s version, which finished 29th with 320 points under Joe Flacco and TB would have loved 346 points compared to the 288 they scored this season. 7711542

Seattle was fortunate to have Marshawn Lynch leading the way with 1,257 yards and a dozen TD’s. They were one of two teams in the NFL this season (49ers the other) that ran the football more than they passed it. In a pass happy dominated era, the Seahawks leading receiver , Golden Tate finished 46th in the league this year with 898 yards and 64 receptions

What Seattle did well was hit the big play, they finished 10th in the league with 10 plays of 40 or more yards through the air and 13th when the ball traveled 20 or more yards. They also didn't hurt themselves or their defense by turning the football over. The coughed the ball up 19 total times in 2013, tied for second fewest in the NFC.

How they were Built:

The 2013 Seahawks mirrored the 1985 Bears. Chicago was the last NFL defense to lead the league in fewest yards and fewest points allowed, as well as most takeaways. The Monsters of the Midway must now make way for the Legion of Boom. Seattle did all of this under the guidance of Head Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider. The Seahawks spent four years searching everywhere from the league's recycling bin up to Canada and down to Seattle's own roster to forge a team that won the franchise’s first Super Bowl. No other team has dominated the draft and free agency the way Carroll and Schneider have during this time. Of the 17 top contributors on defense in 2013, the Seahawks selected only three in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. The next highest draftee was DT Brandon Mebane, who was selected in the third round in 2007. The rest, including fifth rounder Richard Sherman, were all selected later in the draft, including seventh rounder and Super Bowl MVP, LB Malcom Smith.

Legacy—Not Yet           

In the end, Seattle’s defense played old school in a new school era. Unlike the Ravens and Buccaneers, the Seahawks defense still has a chance to be great over a sustained period and join teams like the 70’s Steelers. With two or three more years and one or two more championships, the Seahawks could even surpass a team like the Steelers of the 70’s considering the 70’s were known as the “Dead Ball” era in football, according to Cold Hard Football Facts. This is backed up by the fact that 17 of the top 30 scoring defenses of all time played in the 1970’s. To do so, they will need to act fast and take advantage in 2014 & 2015 to join such a group because part of the new school era is that teams this young and this good simply cannot stay together long enough to make such a dent in history.  download (5)

The Legion of Boom, as well as QB Russell Wilson, will start to do their best Rod Tidwell impression in the next few seasons, as each significant member will ask to be shown the money. When they do, those big contracts will prevent the group from playing together, as long as, the Steele Curtain, Purple People Eaters or the Doomsday Defense did. But for the 2013 season, the Seahawks proved to be one of the best single season defenses of all time, especially when you consider they were the best in an era when the league no longer cared if defense reigned supreme or not.

Where they rank with the 00 Ravens and 02 Buccaneers will be reveled in part four.  In Part 2, I examine the 02 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and how the vaunted Tampa 2 dominated a season of football in the NFL and how they dominated a lot more than most experts are willing to give them credit for.

 

NFL Weekly Transaction Tracker

February 21, 2014 in NFL Personnel

By Staff Writer Matt Pearce:

With less than one month to go until free agency starts, things are starting to heat up in the NFL and it shows as this week there were two key re-signings.

Baltimore Ravens re-sign OLB Terrell Suggs

The first––and most important––move this week comes from Baltimore, where the Ravens signed the 31-year old Suggs to a contract extension.

A four-year extension on top of this season (so really a five-year deal), the total value of the contract is around $30 million. There is $16 million in guaranteed money and an $11 million signing bonus. The other $5 million in guaranteed money comes from the base salaries for this season ($1 million) and next season ($4 million). For this season, his cap hit is reduced from $12.4 million to $7.8 million which creates $4.6 million in cap space for the Ravens. In terms of actual money that he makes this season, he receives an increase as he will earn $12.4 million.

Entering the final year of his six-year $62.5 million deal, he was set to count as $12.4 million against the salary cap. This was the third-highest cap number on the team behind defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and quarterback Joe Flacco. Cutting or trading Suggs would have saved the Ravens $7.8 million in much needed cap space. Due to this high savings number––the largest on the team––it was widely reported that the Ravens would either cut him or renegotiate his contract to create a lower cap hit.

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Drafted by the Ravens with the 10th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, he has been with the Ravens his entire career and now seems set to finish his career in Baltimore.

Despite starting only one game as a rookie, he recorded 12 sacks (a Ravens' rookie record) and earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

In the 2011 season, he performed at his best setting career-highs in sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (7). He all tied a career-high with two interceptions. With this dominant performance, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, making him the third Ravens' defender to earn with award along with linebacker Ray Lewis (2000 and 2003) and safety Ed Reed (2004).

The following season––2012––wasn't so kind to Suggs as he tore his Achilles' tendon during the offseason. A significant injury that causes many players to miss entire seasons, Suggs returned in late October about five and a half months after surgery. In his first game back, he recorded four tackles and one sack against the Houston Texans.

Late in the season though, he tore his biceps muscle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Missing only one game, he came back and played in the final two regular season games.

As the Ravens started their postseason run to Super Bowl XLVII, he was clearly at less than 100 percent, but that didn't stop him from recording 10 tackles and two sacks against the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This two-sack performance helped the Ravens' upset the heavily favored Broncos.

In Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers, he had two tackles in the Ravens 34-31 victory.

This season, he entered the season in the best shape of his life and it showed early in the season. Through the first eight games of the season, he had nine sacks and seemed on pace to be named defensive player of the year again. However, over the second half of the season, his performance faded as he had only one sack over the last eight games of the season. He also had only 20 of his 80 tackles during the final eight games.

Not only is he a good pass rusher, he is also stout against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the best run defending 3-4 outside linebacker this season. The worst he has finished as a run defender since they started grading in 2008 was 13th during his injury riddled 2012 season. Take that season away, and the worst he has finished is third.

Overall, this deal is a win-win. Both sides get what they wanted as the Ravens receive cap room this season and lock up one of their veteran leaders for a few more years. Suggs gets the security of a new contract, earns more money this season and gives him the opportunity to do something he saw Lewis do just one season ago––retire as a Baltimore Raven.

Washington Redskins re-sign CB DeAngelo Hall

Just south of Baltimore is Washington D.C. where the Redskins re-signed Hall who was set to become a free agent.

Worth $17 million, it is a four-year deal with $5.25 million in guaranteed money. There is a signing bonus of $3.25 million. This means that there is another $2 million guaranteed in the contract. It is likely that this will be the salary in the first year and maybe part of the second (depending on how much his first year base salary is).

Playing for three different teams in his career, he started out with the Atlanta Falcons after they drafted him with the eighth overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

A two-time Pro Bowl selection with Atlanta (2005 and 2006), his best statistical season with them came in 2005 when he had 65 tackles, two forced fumbles and six interceptions.

In the offseason before the 2008 season, the Falcons traded him to the Oakland Raiders for second and fifth-round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft. With the trade, he agreed to a seven-year contract worth $70 million. However, after playing just eight games with Oakland, he was released due to poor performance and clashing with the Raiders' defensive style.

Quickly after this, the Redskins snatched him off the open market on a deal to finish out the season. The ensuing offseason, the Redskins signed him to a six-year deal worth $55 million.

During the 2010 season, he tied an NFL record for most interceptions in a single game with four. He was named to his third Pro Bowl at the end of the season and was MVP of this Pro Bowl game.

This past offseason, he was released by the Redskins due to having a high salary cap number, but he signed a cheaper one-year deal soon after.

Now he is staying with the Redskins for another four years with this contract. By signing him, the Redskins can now move to their most important free agent, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo who is likely going to demand a major contract.

Hall is a decent cornerback, but he is nothing special anymore. With the Redskins' secondary needing work though, he is a good player to keep around.

Other Moves:

The Atlanta Falcons sign OL Gabe Carimi.
The Atlanta Falcons release G Garrett Reynolds.
The Chicago Bears sign DE Austen Lane.
The Chicago Bears sign CB Derricus Purdy.
The Indianapolis Colts cut RB Tashard Choice.
The Indianapolis Colts cut DE Jake McDonough.
The Kansas City Chiefs re-sign TE Richard Gordon.
The New Orleans Saints re-sign K Shayne Graham.
The New Orleans Saints re-sign OT Bryce Harris.
The New Orleans Saints re-sign CB Trevin Wade.
The San Diego Chargers sign DE Cordarro Law.
The Seattle Seahawks sign OL Greg Van Roten.
The Seattle Seahawks sign WR Chris Matthews.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign CB D.J. Moore.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign TE Steve Maneri.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign LB Damaso Munoz.

NFL Weekly Transaction Tracker

February 14, 2014 in NFL Personnel

By Staff Writer Matt Pearce:

As the NFL offseason starts up, teams are starting to shape their rosters meaning some players are being re-signed while others are being released.

Detroit Lions re-sign C Dominic Raiola

First off this week is the 35-year old Raiola who re-signed with the Lions after being set to become a free agent in a few weeks.

Signing a one-year deal with a pay increase from last season, he stays with the only team that he has ever played for. Last year, he took a pay cut to say with the team and now the Lions are rewarding him for this by giving him a raise over the veteran minimum that he earned last year.

Dominic Raiola

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Drafted out of Nebraska in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, he has started 188 games over his 13 seasons in Detroit. In his rookie year, he didn't start a single game, but he came back into his sophomore season strong and started all of the Lions games.

Ever since then, he has started every game that he has played in. From 2002-2008, he started 104-straight games before he missed four games in the middle of the 2008 season.

His current streak for consecutive starts is at 84-straight games and if he starts every game next season, his streak will reach 100. One streak of 100-consevative starts is impressive enough in the NFL, but two is almost unheard of.

Earlier this season, there was some controversy surrounding him due to an incident that occurred in Green Bay. In October at Lambeau Field he directed obscene and homophobic comments towards the University of Wisconsin marching band. A few days later, he apologized for his actions.

This was the only negative from his season as on the field, he played arguably his best season. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the second best center in the league this season ranking just behind Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The number one offseason priority for the Lions this offseason was to re-sign Raiola. This signing is good for them as he is the leader of their offensive line and a key veteran who is still playing well.

Minnesota Vikings release LB Erin Henderson

Staying in the NFL North, the Vikings parted ways with their starting middle linebacker from last season in Henderson.

A solid player, his downfall came due to incidents off the field. In early January, he was arrested for a DUI. This alone likely wouldn't have cost him his job, but add that to another DUI that came just two months earlier (along with possession of a controlled substance) and you see why the Vikings got rid of him.

This move clears $2.1 million in cap space for the Vikings so there is one positive that comes from this move for them.

Signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent after the 2008 NFL Draft, he made the team but was a backup for three seasons before making his first NFL start in 2011.

This season, he moved to inside linebacker after playing weakside linebacker last year. Making 12 starts and playing in 14 games, he finished second on the team in tackles with 112 tackles and added four sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

His performance ranked him as the 18th best inside linebacker in the league this season according to Pro Football Focus. He was strong in run support finished in the top 10 there, but really struggled in pass coverage finishing in the bottom 10.

For the Vikings, this move makes sense as the Vikings have a new coaching staff and they are getting a point across by showing that the players will be held accountable for their actions off the field.

Expect him to draw interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency as their new defensive coordinator is Leslie Frasier, who was recently fired as the Vikings' head coach.

Other Moves:

The Detroit Lions cut S Louis Delmas.
The Detroit Lions release WR Nate Burleson.
The Green Bay Packers waive OL Greg Van Roten.
The Indianapolis Colts sign S David Sims.
The Indianapolis Colts cut G Justin Anderson.
The Kansas City Chiefs release CB Dunta Robinson.
The New Orleans Saints re-sign LB Keyunta Dawson.
The New Orleans Saints release S Roman Harper.
The New Orleans Saints release DE Will Smith.
The New Orleans Saints release CB Jabari Greer.
The Oakland Raiders re-sign G Lamar Mady.
The Philadelphia Eagles sign WR Joe Anderson.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign QB Mike Kafka.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut OL Gabe Carimi.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut DT Derek Landri.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut QB Jordan Rodgers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut RB Michael Hill.

Three 2015 Super Bowl Odds

February 11, 2014 in Super Bowl

Heading to Vegas anytime soon? Here are some Super Bowl 49 bets you may want to consider:          792-KfTof.AuSt.55

True Contender Bet - San Francisco 49ers – 7/1

Still getting good odds on a good team especially if you are putting big dollas down!  They were a play away from the Super Bowl this past season and possibly a play away the year before from winning the Super Bowl.  I don't think there are any signs that they will take a dip in 2014 other than one concern being their division.  Then again they almost beat the champs on their home field a month ago.  The 49ers have also done a great job accumulating draft picks and have a group of young players who could be coming into the prime this season.  Guys like Eric Reid, Quincy Patton and the returning from injury Marcus Lattimore should be interesting to watch on 2014.

But a lot will still depend on whether Colin Kaepernick can become a consistently effective starting quarterback.  Maybe he regressed in 2013 after the huge playoffs he had the year before but now he has another off season where he can work with surprisingly returning coach Greg Roman and Harbaugh.  If the Niners can make it out of the tough NFC West they should be a true contender to make it to the Super Bowl and anything can happen there.

Good Team with Great odds - Indianapolis Colts – 20/1

Jump on this quick because I don't expect it to stay at 20/1.  It has already moved since last week.  Are the Colts the best in the AFC?  No but as we saw in the Super Bowl the AFC is not all that.  They beat the Broncos remember.  What the Colts have going for them is their division and it is awful.  Indy should roll through the AFC South again next season and make the playoffs.  So they are already halfway there.  They also have talent and have money to spend the next couple months.  And they have Andrew Luck.  Luck has the potential to evolve quickly into the best in the game.  Not saying that is a lock but it could happen and happen fast.

The Colts do not have a first rounder after the Trent Richardson debacle but I don't think that will hurt them for 2014.  The Colts will also get Reggie Wayne back from injury.  The Colts will be able to use their cap room also to fill in voids that caused them to be a divisional loser last season.  But once again remember the division is bad, Luck will most likely win a Super Bowl at some point and the AFC is open.

Crazy Odds Team - St. Louis Rams – 40/1

There are many question marks about the Rams in 2014 but that is why they are 40/1.  But I think they are worth a shot.  First they have a coach who has been to a Super Bowl in Jeff Fisher.  Next they have the ability to add two young immediate impact players in this year’s draft.  Clowney, Watkins, Matthews?  The Griffin trade is already paying off dividends and it could only get better for the Rams.  But everything could come together quickly for them if they play the draft wisely and add to the talent they quickly accumulated the past few years.

Now for the downside.  Sam Bradford is a question mark for sure and add to that he is returning from a major injury.  But he wasn't bad last year and it is a lock the offense will add help this off season.  It doesn't look like the Rams will use one of the picks as a possible replacement for Bradford so it is his time for at least 2014.  The other problem is the division as they look up at the Seahawks, 49ers and even the Cardinals.  But they have played with these teams and have the most potential to improve the most.  Not saying the Rams will win Super Bowl 49 but at 40/1 even 10 bones is a solid call here.

 

 

NFL Weekly Transaction Tracker

February 7, 2014 in NFL Personnel

By Staff Writer Matt Pearce:

With the Seattle Seahawks winning Super Bowl XLVIII, the NFL offseason is officially underway as teams start to shape their roster for the next season.

Atlanta Falcons release CB Asante Samuel and LB Stephen Nicholas

Quickly starting off their offseason, the Falcons have parted ways with both Samuel and Nicholas in a move dictated by the salary cap.

Combined, these two moves will save the Falcons $6.5 million in cap space this season. Of this $6.5 million, $4.5 million comes from the contract of Samuel and $2 million from Nicholas.

Starting with Samuel, the 33-year old was acquired by the Falcons two years ago in exchange for a seventh-round pick. He was available for cheap because his contract was very expensive. After two seasons, the Falcons decided that his play was no longer worth the money.

Asante Samuel

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This season, he started 10 games and played in 11. He recorded 30 tackles, three pass deflections, one forced fumble

and one interception. At the end of the season, he dealt with a thigh injury and lost his starting job to rookie Robert Alford. Losing his starting job was a combination of poor play and his injury.

In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Falcons drafted cornerbacks with their first two picks. With the 22nd overall pick, they selected Desmond Trufant and in the second round they took Alford. These two players make Samuel expendable as the team has two young players with experience to start at cornerback now. Plus, they are both cheaper than Samuel as they are on rookie contracts.

Prior to playing for the Falcons, Samuel played for the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots drafted him in the fourth round of the 2003 draft out of the University of Central Florida.

By his second season, he had become a starter––due to injury––and ended up starting in Super Bowl XXXIX where he recorded four tackles. The year before––his rookie season––the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII, but he didn't record a stat.

His best season came in 2006 when he set a career-high in interceptions with 10.

After the 2007 season, he joined the Eagles as a free agent on a six-year contract worth $56 million. In his second season in Philadelphia––2009––he tied a franchise record for most interceptions in a season with nine.

A ball-hawking, veteran cornerback––who has 51 career interceptions––he should be able to find a team willing to sign him to a cheap contract. He is the only player in NFL history to register at least one interception return for a touchdown in each of his first six seasons.

On to Nicholas, the 30-year old has played with the Falcons his entire seven-year career after being drafted by them in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

This season he played in 14 games, but only started three of them. He recorded 35 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in these games. His two games missed come due to a quadriceps injury.

A strong-side linebacker in the Falcons' 4-3 defense, he was a starter last season when he had his best stats of his career. He set career-highs in tackles (97), pass deflections (four) and tied his career-best in interceptions with one. He also had two sacks.

The emergence of Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu––both signed as undrafted free agents after last year's draft––made Nicholas expendable.

Being 31-years old at the start of next season and being beaten out by Worrilow and Bartu make it likely that Nicholas will only be able to find a job as a backup this offseason. His best case scenario is going to a team that gives him a chance to battle in training camp for the starting job.

Overall, these two moves were smart decisions made by the Falcons as they needed some salary cap flexibility. Neither Samuel or Nicholas was going to be a starter this season so they weren't needed and their cost outweighed their production.

Other Moves:

The Cincinnati Bengals cut P Shawn Powell.
The Detroit Lions claim S Isa Abdul-Quddus off waivers.
The Kansas City Chiefs re-sign LS Thomas Gafford.
The New Orleans Saints cut S Eric Frampton.
The Washington Redskins re-sign WR Aldrick Robinson.
The Washington Redskins re-sign DE Doug Worthington.

Defense Wins Championship—Again, Super Bowl XLVIII Recap

February 4, 2014 in Superbowl 48

The best way to sum up Super Bowl XVLIII would be to say the Seattle Seahawks beat up the Denver Broncos from whatever starting point in country you would like—to—-Omaha– and back!

In all phases of the game, the Seattle Seahawks dominated the Denver Broncos in winning Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8. Their first defensive snap resulted in a safety and their first offensive drive produced points. In fact, Seattle scored whenever and however  they pleased. The Seahawks became the second team with a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown, kickoff return touchdown and interception return touchdown in a Super Bowl. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens accomplished the feat in Super Bowl XXXV. download (4)

Known for the best home field advantage in football, Seattle refers to their loyal fans as, “The 12th Man”. On Sunday night at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey, the No.12 stood head and shoulders above any other number, especially No.18.

The “Hawking” defense of Seattle was faster, more physical, better prepared and everywhere Broncos QB Peyton Manning looked. In fact, it almost looked as if they were playing with 12 defenders on almost every play.

From the safety on the first play to Kam Chancellor's hit on Demaryius Thomas to Malcolm Smith making the games final tackle on Denver running back C.J. Anderson, the Seahawks played, as if  they were on a seek and destroy mission with  Manning and his receivers, as the mortal enemy. Keeping with the theme of 12, it only took “12” seconds for the Seattle defense to score the fastest score at the start of a Super Bowl.  They led 2-0 when they were credited with a safety after Manning had trouble hearing and center Manny Ramirez miscalculated the cadence and snapped the ball. Not ready or expecting the snap, the ball flew over Manning’s shoulder and into his own end zone. Denver RB Knowshon Moreno fell on the ball to prevent Seattle from scoring a defensive TD but that would come later.

LB Malcolm Smith, who won the MVP Award for Super Bowl XLVIII, scored the defensive TD. The seventh round pick (242 overall) from USC by Seattle returned an interception 69-yards for a touchdown and recovered a Broncos fumble in the third quarter.

Smith was the first player to record an interception and a defensive fumble recovery in a Super Bowl since James Washington of the Cowboys did it against the Bills 20 years ago and was the first player in Super Bowl history with a pick 6 and a fumble recovery in the same game. Smith also became the third linebacker to win Super Bowl MVP, joining Ray Lewis for the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV and Chuck Howley, in a losing effort for the Cowboys, in Super Bowl V.  He also added nine defensive tackles and one special teams tackle.

At age 24, Smith was the youngest defensive player ever to win a Super Bowl MVP Award and the fourth youngest player of any position to do so. The only winners of that award who were younger than Smith were Marcus Allen, Lynn Swann, and Tom Brady.

images (14)If there was a definitive moment in this game, which seemed to be over following the second Joe Namath coin toss, it was Smith’s play. The Broncos had fallen behind 15-0 but were driving and in Seattle territory for the first time during the game. A TD would close the gap to one score but as the Seahawks did all night, they forced Manning into a bad throw with pressure in his face. With DE Cliff Avril draped on Manning, the ball floated out of his hand and up in the air. Smith stood and waited for it to land and once it did, he went untouched for the TD.

The special teams TD was scored by the player many considered to be the “X” factor in Super Bowl XLVIII, the oft injured but dangerously fast Seattle WR, Percy Harvin.

Following a solid performance by pop sensation Bruno Mars and the still shirtless Red Hot Chili Peppers in the SB halftime show, Harvin took the opening third quarter kickoff and promptly ran  89-yards for the TD. Just “12” seconds into the game’s second half, Seattle could have been crowned champions. If Smith’s pick six was the defining game changing moment, Harvin’s runback was every cliché you can imagine to say game over. The heavyset lady getting ready to sing, final nail in the coffin, dagger in the back—whatever your preference, Harvin provided it.

Seattle became only the second team in NFL history to score in the first minute of each half of a playoff game and third team to accomplish the feat at all. The Bears in their famous 73-0 rout of the Redskins in the 1940 NFL title game were first. And since it was done last, there have been nearly 10,000 regular-season games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and in only one of those games did a team score in the first 60 seconds of each half: the Falcons in a 38-16 victory over the Dolphins in 1998.

Harvin also led all players with 45 rushing yards in Sunday’s game despite carrying the ball just twice. Harvin was the first player ever to lead an NFL postseason game in rushing on fewer than three carries. Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin all chipped in with TD's of their own and kicker Steven Hauschka drilled two first quarter field goals to round out the scoring in the game.

The Broncos Demaryius Thomas hauled in a Manning 14-yard TD pass at  the end of the third quarter and Wes Welker, who is now 0-3 in Super Bowls, secured the two-point conversion—but it was far too late and you kind of felt embarrassed for the Broncos watching them score the meaningless TD. Thomas did set a Super Record with 13 receptions but I'm sure he would trade it for a different outcome.

Seattle QB Russell Wilson was not great but he was great when he had to be. Wilson was a very effective 18-for-25 with 206-yards and two TD’s. He added additional 26-yards on the ground and was never sacked or touched for that matter while in the pocket. Wilson played as if he were the poised veteran with the passing records instead of a jittery sophomore who appeared to look as if he were a deer in headlights following many play sequences. Wilson completed seven of eight passes for 82 yards and six first downs on third-down plays.

Wilson is the fifth quarterback ever with at least two passing touchdowns, 200 passing yards and a 70 percent completion rate in a Super Bowl win, joining Drew Brees, Troy Aikman, Joe Montana and Phil Simms. He is also the only one of those quarterbacks to not win the Super Bowl MVP award. Wilson continued a recent trend in Super Bowls as the younger signal caller. Inexperienced quarterbacks have gotten the better of experienced ones lately. The quarterback with no previous experience has won the last four matchups between a starting quarterback playing in his first Super Bowl and one with previous Super Bowl experience.

While the Seattle defense forced four Denver fumbles, (2 lost), two Manning INT’s, and added a sack, the Seahawks were perfect. Seattle was the first team in the history of the Super Bowl not to commit a turnover or allow a sack. The Seahawks played 14 previous games without a sack or a giveaway, all during the regular season, and they won them all.

On the other hand, the Broncos and Seahawks were the 114th and 115th teams to play at least three games in one postseason and the Broncos were the first of those teams not to force any turnovers; the average of those teams was 8.3 takeaways in their playoff seasons of three or more games.

Fans of the way the NFL has transcended into a predominantly offensive league tire very quickly of the phrase “defense wins championships” but the Seahawks once again proved the three-word phrase accurate. It is simply hard to argue with the numbers when the Lombardi is on the line. The NFL’s No. 1 team in scoring defense is now 13-3 all-time in Super Bowls. They have won four of five Super Bowls when facing the No. 1 scoring offense.

Manning entered the game as the eighth regular season passing champion to participate in the Super Bowl. They are now 0-8 all time in the big game. Manning also became the sixth straight regular-season MVP to lose in a Super Bowl appearance during that same season.

Seattle won Super Bowl XLVIII against a Broncos team that recorded the second-highest scoring average in NFL history during the 2013 regular season. Denver scored an average of 37.9 points per game this season, a mark exceeded by only the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (38.8). Only four other teams won a postseason game by holding one of the league's all-time 20 highest-scoring teams to fewer than 10 points. The 1942 Redskins, won NFL title game over Bears, 14-6, the 1948 Eagles, won title game over Chicago Cardinals, 7-0 (played in a blizzard) and in a more modern era, the 1983 Raiders, won Super Bowl over Redskins, 38-9 and in 2004, the Patriots, won divisional playoff game over Colts, also QB'd by Peyton Manning, 20-3.

The Seahawks are the 19th different team to win a Super Bowl and the first team to win the Super Bowl in a season in which they had or shared the league’s best record since the 2003 Patriots.

020214k1NFLWhat of No.18’s Legacy:

All post season long we have heard legacy used when describing Peyton Manning. There was the AFC Championship game, titled the legacy game vs. Tom Brady. And would Manning’s legacy be the “Greatest Ever QB” if he won the Super Bowl?

There is no doubt about it. So if he was to receive those accolades for winning the game, what now, especially considering how bad he performed in losing it?

What you cannot debate or takeaway from Manning is the tremendous record-breaking season he had. He led an offense that is the greatest statistical offense in NFL history and following four neck surgeries, a year off and after being cut by the team he restored to NFL respectability two off-season’s ago, Manning broke records that QB’s his age (or any age) simply dream about accomplishing. Fifty-five TD’s and over 5,400 passing yards are records that will fall in the NFL but Manning holds them until then.

What he cannot be is the greatest ever. It is a silly question to start with because you cannot compare eras, not in football but it is a question that is asked and one that deserves an answer.  Manning set a few more records on Sunday night, as he set the record for most completions in a Super Bowl with 34. But– Manning’s 12 postseason losses are the most in NFL history, surpassing Brett Favre. The past six reigning MVPs who were quarterbacks lost their Super Bowl appearance that season.

His ESPN Quarterback rating of 24.4 was his lowest in a game this season and the worst in a Super Bowl since the Chicago Bears' Rex Grossman in 2006, who had a 7.1. Manning did not have any answers on Sunday night. The Broncos scored an NFL record 606 points in 2013. That same offense became the first team shut out at halftime in the Super Bowl since the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV when the Ravens led 10-0 and won 34-7. The Seahawks did not do anything different; they lined up and punched Denver in the mouth. They did load the box more than they usually do but they didn’t bring it nearly as much as they showed it. The Seahawks loaded the tackle box with more defenders than blockers on 20 of 64 plays (31.3 percent) against the Broncos, the most pre-snap pressure the Broncos have seen in a game this season.

However, Manning faced the blitz on just 12 percent of his dropbacks in the Super Bowl, the 3rd-lowest percentage he's faced with the Broncos. He's had success when opponents sat back over that span, but not last night.

The Broncos could not execute any of their signature plays—the WR screen, the slant pass the back shoulder fade and the deep pass. Manning was just four of 11 on pass attempts more than 10 yards downfield (36%). That tied for his lowest completion percentage on such passes this season (including playoffs).

This was a game of strength on strength at every turn, even when Seattle had the football but the Denver O versus the Seattle D was the one everyone wanted to see. Bronco’s receivers led the NFL in yards after the catch this season and the Seahawks were first on defense in limiting YAC. However, like every other strength on strength matchup in Super Bowl XLVIII, the outcome decisively belonged to the Seahawks. The Broncos gained 122 yards after the catch on 34 catches (3.6 YAC per reception). Denver's 3.6 YAC per reception average was the third lowest for the Broncos in a game this season, and was a half-yard lower than Seattle's league-leading season average allowed (4.1). In fact, if you combine rushing with YAC, the Broncos gained 46 yards after contact on 48 combined rushes and completed passes in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Broncos had only one game with fewer yards after contact this season (43 in Week 6 vs. Jaguars). Knowshon Moreno had exactly no yards after initial contact after averaging 22.5 yards after contact per game this season. The Seahawks simply put on a tackling and hitting (clean) clinic and the Broncos offense was the cadavers. Seattle amassed 148 yards in the first quarter to the Broncos 11. The 148 was the most yards the Seahawks had in a game this season. Denver's previous 1st-quarter low was 59 in Week 1 vs. Baltimore. The Broncos were outgained by 137 yards, easily their worst first-quarter yardage margin of the season (-79, Week 13 vs. Chiefs). Peyton Manning's 10 yards are his fewest in the 1st quarter since Week 8 2007 vs. Panthers

As for Manning, he picked a bad time to have his worse game of the season. Manning was and is the Broncos offense. He set the tone for the successful record breaking 2013 season when he tossed seven TD’s vs. the defending Super Bowl champions on opening night and he set the tone vs. the new Super Bowl Champs when he botched the presnap count or failed to make sure his center knew it.

Manning is now 1-2 in Super Bowls and is the third quarterback ever to throw multiple career interceptions returned for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Tracey Porter’s Pick 6 for New Orleans turned that game, as the Saints went on to beat Manning’s Colts and Malcolm Smith’s on Sunday night was the start of end in that contest.

Manning will be back for another chance to even up his playoff record, which stands at 11-12 and win his second Super Bowl. But if we learned anything watching the game, Manning does not have the time it appears it will require the Broncos to improve enough to beat the Seahawks or another team similar in style, say like the 49ers. The NFC Championship game ended up proving to be the Super Bowl that wasn’t. Aged just 26.4 years, Seattle was one of the youngest teams to ever win a Super Bowl, the second youngest in fact. With a 25-year old superstar QB, they won't be getting worse, I assure you of that.

As I said, it is a silly debate, eras are so different in the NFL but for the sake of argument, Manning cannot be the greatest ever when guys like Montana are 4-0 in the Super Bowl and Unitas accomplished all of it before any of them. He is in the conversation and in the Top 5 but his performance Sunday night assured he will not be the last name mentioned on that list if you’re starting from the bottom when ranking the greatest QB’s to ever play. Super Bowl XLVIII will not tarnish Manning’s legacy, it simply caused him to be ranked behind few others that played the position. In the end, it's very similar to the New England Patriots 2007 undefeated regular season. While many will remember what  NE accomplished in going 16-0, it's merely a footnote because they finished 18-1.

WHAT IS NEXT FOR CHAMPS?

7711542As for the Seahawks, their head coach, Pete Carroll (62 years old) is the third-oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl, trailing only Tom Coughlin (65) and Dick Vermeil (63). He’s the third coach to win a Super Bowl and win an AP national title in college football, along with Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson.  The win by his team snapped the NFC North’s three game losing streak in the Super Bowl and gave the city of Seattle its first championship from the four major sports since the Seattle Super Sonics won a rematch and defeated the Washington Bullets in the 1979 NBA Finals.

They will need plenty of Starbucks from now until the parade on Wednesday. Fox announcer Joe Buck kept mentioning that the Seahawks are set for a long time to come—that is not exactly true.

According to the USA Today, Seattle’s receiving options and defensive line could be headed for significant shakeups after their Super Bowl victory as the team prepares to lock up its young core for the long haul. Most important in that core are safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, who are scheduled to become free agents after next season and figure to be offered lucrative, long-term extensions before then. Kam Chancellor is signed up through 2017. Left tackle Russell Okung and quarterback Russell Wilson top the players up after 2015, with Okung's large salary cap number ($11.24 million) making him another candidate for a new deal as soon as this summer.  Wilson’s four-year, $3 million contract is likely to be torn up as the team rewards the 25-year-old phenom with a new deal well before his current one expires. The lack of impending free agency gives the team some leverage in those negotiations.

Several contributors, including defensive lineman Michael Bennett, receiver Golden Tate, right tackle Breno Giacomini, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, cornerback Walter Thurmond and kicker Steven Hauschka, can all become unrestricted free agents in March. Bennett figures to be the top priority there after he had a breakout year and will be looking for a lot more than his current $5 million salary.

They won’t lose nearly as many players as the Ravens did following their SB win last year but they will need to be proactive on many of these contracts to keep the core of the team together for longer than 2016.

Not So Super History:

Head Coach John Fox is now 0-2 in the big game but his Broncos became the first team with five Super Bowl losses. They extended the losing streak by AFC No. 1 seeds in Super Bowls to four games. The feeling of heartbreak Denver players and fans felt as the minutes of the second half slowly ticked away were similar to the emotions in the Broncos four Super Bowl losses — specifically in Super Bowls XXI, XXII and XXI.

The Broncos lost Super Bowl XXI on Jan. 25, 1987, to Phil Simms and the New York Giants by a score of 39-20. They actually led 10-9 at halftime but fell apart in the second half.

The Broncos lost Super Bowl XXII on Jan. 31, 1988, to the Washington Redskins. The Redskins exploded in the second half, scoring 35 points. John Elway’s touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel on their first offensive play was the only Denver touchdown in that game.

The Broncos lost Super Bowl XXIV on Jan. 28, 1990, to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco dominated the Broncos in most facets of that game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Montana threw for five touchdowns and Denver allowed San Francisco to score more points than any other team ever has in the Super Bowl.

The average margin of loss for the Broncos in five SB losses is 29.6 points, as they have been outscored by a combined score of 206-58, -148 point differential.

 

 

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Congrats to Malcom Smith & the Seattle Seahawks

February 3, 2014 in Superbowl 48

By Guest Writer Adam Lockley:

 

The Seattle Seahawks are the new champions of the NFL.  The Seattle Seahawks proved once again that great defense will always outlast great offense.  The Seattle Seahawks held the Denver Broncos to just eight points.  This Seahawks defense will definitely go down as one of the greatest in history, not just because of their performance this year but because of who they dominated.  The Broncos offense had an NFL record in points with 606; Peyton Manning set the record in touchdown passes with 55, and passing yards with 5,477 yards.  Their offense just seemed unstoppable until today.  It solidifies Seattle as one of the most dynamic defenses of all time.  It leads to the topic of the MVP award going to an unlikely source.  

For the first time since January 26, 2003 in Super Bowl XXXVII the MVP award goes to a defensive player.  The defensive player it goes to is third year linebacker out of USC, Malcolm Smith.  In this game Malcolm Smith had an interception returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery.  Nobody expected him to get the award.  Everyone thought that Richard Sherman or Russell Wilson would get the award had Seattle won.

It turns out that Malcolm Smith was one of the unsung heroes for the Seahawks.  Not just in the Super Bowl but in the playoffs as well.  At the end of NFC Championship game everyone focused on the play Richard Sherman made, but it was appalling how nobody gave credit to the man who actually put the game on ice.  Had Malcolm Smith dropped the Colin Kaepernick pass the 49ers would have had three more chances.

Malcolm Smith also helped put this game away with that pick six late in the first half.  He is just the third Linebacker to win the Super Bowl Most Valuable player award.  He is the first defensive player to win it since Buccaneers’ Safety Dexter Jackson won it.  The ironic thing about a defensive player winning the award for the first time in eleven years is the fact that Dexter Jackson played for the number one defense as well.  Also when Dexter Jackson won the award it was when the number one defense destroyed the number one offense. Also in that game the Buccaneers’ defense shut down league MVP Rich Gannon; tonight the Seahawks shutdown league MVP Peyton Manning.

Hardly anyone knew of Malcolm Smith before the NFC Championship game or even this game.  Who knows what this may lead to for him?  Maybe he will have a good career or he may just be a one shot wonder.  Anyway you look at it he could say that he was the Most Valuable Player on a defense that slowed down the greatest offense of all time.  It is definitely something special.

 

 

Super Bowl XLVIII Preview Part 2, Prediction Included

February 2, 2014 in Superbowl 48

Welcome to part 2 of the Super Bowl XLVIII preview. In part 1, I broke down and previewed the Broncos offense vs. the Seahawks, defense, the second such battle in Super Bowl history pitting the No.1 offense and defense from the NFL regular season. That matchup is where many expect the outcome of the game to be determined but if we have learned anything from watching the NFL, it is to expect the unexpected. Just when you thought, you had the answer, a play, player or an entire game changes the question week in and week out in the NFL. Do not be surprised if this matchup today and not the one between the No.1’s determines the outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII.

SUPER BOWL XLVIII: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS VS. DENVER BRONCOS

STATS TO KNOW:

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (15-3) vs. DENVER BRONCOS (15-3)

Sunday, 6:25 p.m. EST, FOX, East Rutherford, N.J.

OPENING LINE — Denver by 1

RECORD VS. SPREAD — Seattle 12-5-1; Denver 12-6

SERIES RECORD — Broncos lead 34-19

LAST MEETING — Broncos beat Seahawks 31-14, Sept. 19, 2010

LAST GAME — Seahawks beat 49ers 23-17; Broncos beat Patriots 26-16

SEAHAWKS OFFENSE — OVERALL (17), RUSH (4), PASS (26)

SEAHAWKS DEFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (7T), PASS (1)

BRONCOS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (15), PASS (1)

BRONCOS DEFENSE — OVERALL (19), RUSH (7T), PASS (27)

This is the second Super Bowl between No. 1 seeds in last 20 seasons. The other was Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts following 2009 season. The Saints won that game, 31-17.

Seattle Offense:

  • TOTAL OFFENSE: 17th (339 yards per game)
  • RUSH OFFENSE: fourth (136.8 yards per game)
  • PASS OFFENSE: 26th (202.2 yards per game)
  • SCORING OFFENSE: eighth (26.1 points per game)

Led by RB Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Lynch, the Seahawks offense finished fourth overall in the NFL this season when rushing the football. However, with a group of relatively unknown wide receivers and an injured know pass catcher who missed most of the season, the Seahawks ranked as the sixth worst passing attack in the league. They finished ranked 17th overall in total yards per game. In the red zone, the Seahawks scored touchdowns 53.23 percent of the time, tied with Philadelphia for 13th best in the league. Seattle scored 4.2 first-quarter points per game, tied with St. Louis for 20th most.

792-KfTof.AuSt.55Quarterback:

Not only will starting quarterback Russell Wilson, 25, attempt to become the fourth QB to win a Super Bowl in his first or second year but he will also try to become the first Super Bowl-winning signal caller to wear the No. 3 on his jersey. The only other quarterback to appear in the big game with that number was Oakland's Daryle Lamonica during Super Bowl II. Wilson is 12 years younger than Denver counterpart Peyton Manning, making for the largest age spread between starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history. The former Wisconsin signal caller by way of NC State has completed 58 percent of his postseason passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. During the regular campaign, he completed 63 percent of his throws with 26 touchdowns, nine pickoffs and a passer rating of 101.2. Wilson is a dangerous duel threat quarterback, as his Twitter account seems to suggest (@DangeRussellWilson).  He rushed for 539 yards and one touchdown in 2013 but it was his ability to buy time in the pocket during the NFC Championship game that prevented Seattle from becoming just another No.1 seed to choke in the playoffs.

Running backs:

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is a power back that can and does take over games by running over opponents. He is referred when on top of his game as performing in "Beast Mode." Moreover, once Lynch gets going, it is not an exaggeration. Lynch is an extremely patient runner for his power. He is blessed with unexpected agility and speed. In 2013, Lynch carried 301 times for 1,257 yards and 12 TD’s. In each of the last two games, Marshawn Lynch has averaged 5.0 yards per carry and had seven or more players miss tackles on him. Lynch and alternate rusher Robert Turbin have accounted for 47 percent of the Seattle Seahawks offense.

Receivers:

The Seahawks may not have five with 10 but they can boast three receivers with five touchdowns each — starting wideouts Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, and tight end Zach Miller. Tate, also the team's return specialist, led the team with 64 catches with a 14-yard per-catch average. Baldwin had 50 grabs and a 15.6 rate, with Marshawn Lynch getting 36 touches through the air and Miller garnering 33. Baldwin has been a postseason standout, with eight catches for 136 yards. Kearse, a Seattle-area native who played at the University of Washington, had four touchdowns among his 22 catches, and ex-Minnesota receiver Sidney Rice had three scores out of 15 receptions. Another ex-Viking, Percy Harvin, played in two games all season because of head and hip injuries, is expected to play in the Super Bowl and could potentially be the wild card in tonight’s game. Although it is a small sample size, when Russell Wilson throws to Harvin in the slot, he has a Passer Rating of 100.4. Harvin has caught four of five passes for 38 yards. Harvin's performance under OC Darrell Bevell when both were with the Vikings a few years ago is reason to get excited when he is on the field. Harvin averaged 11.1 yards per reception, with six touchdowns and 14 plays of more than 20 yards. He accomplished this with Christian Ponder at quarterback. However, Harvin's most valuable contribution may be as a kick return specialist. In 2011, he averaged over 32 yards per punt return.  Having a healthy Harvin means more opportunities for Baldwin, Tate and Kearse, who all say they have something to prove as a unit.

Offensive Line:

Right tackle Breno Giacomini is the elder statesman of a young offensive line; a former Green Bay practice-squad player, he is in his sixth NFL season. Left tackle Russell Okung, the team's 2010 first-round pick, is in his fourth year. According to Pro Football Focus, Okung has not played well recently. He has allowed two or fewer pressures in 21 of his last 24 games. The three games where he has allowed three or more pressures have all come in the last seven games including two of the last three. Guards James Carpenter (2011 first round) and J.R. Sweezy are in their third and second seasons, respectively. Center Max Unger, regarded as one of the league's best, is a Hawaii native who played at Oregon. Despite the line's pedigree and strong play in the past, Wilson was sacked 44 times, a high number for a mobile quarterback.

The Seahawks have had 66 offensive penalties called on them during the regular season, the third most behind just the Raiders and Buccaneers.

Denver Defense:

RUSH DEFENSE: seventh (101.6 yards per game allowed)

PASS DEFENSE: 27th (254.4 yards per game allowed)

SCORING DEFENSE: 22nd (24.9 points per game allowed)

The Broncos defense finished the season ranked 19th overall in yards allowed. Luckily, for them, their strength is what Seattle does best on offense, stopping the run. Denver tied for seventh in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed but was 27th defending the pass. The last time the Denver Broncos saw a mobile quarterback was December 1st, when they squared off against Kansas City's Alex Smith. He ran four times and broke off one 46-yard rush before the defense could contain him. Prior to that, they faced the Colts Andrew Luck in an October loss in Indy. Luck also scored a rushing touchdown.

Denver D's playoff numbers include 24.9 points per game. Resurrecting themselves after multiple starter injuries to players like Von Miller and DB Chris Harris both out for the season. They allowed a total of 129 rushing yards in the two postseason contests. Tom Brady and Philip Rivers combined for only 450 passing yards against them.  Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was Denver's interim head coach when HC John Fox had heart-valve surgery midway through the season. Del Rio runs a 4-3 scheme and uses his DE’s standing and with their hands in the dirt. The Broncos have had 60 defensive penalties called on them during the regular season which was fifth most in the league.

Defensive Line:

download (1)Denver's D-line is anchored by Pro Bowler Shaun Phillips and features rookies Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson. Fifth-year DE Robert Ayers is having the best year of his professional career with 5.5 regular season sacks. Ayers has carried his play into the postseason. PFF grades Ayers at a +13.0 rating over his last six games. He has 19 pressures over his last three games. Shaun Phillips registered a team-high 10 of the Broncos' 41 sacks. At 6-foot-3 and 330-pounds nose man Terrence ‘Pot Roast Knighton, who came over from Jacksonville, has to be the breakout star of the unit.  The nickname was born when the large Mr. Knighton energetically responded to a flight attendant offering a choice of entrees. It is a good thing he is not a vegetarian: the alternative was "Shrimp Alfredo." Knighton has three sacks and 31 tackles this season.

The Broncos middle of the line has become known for shutting down RB’s who like to run between the tackles—more on that in a bit.

Linebackers:

The Broncos' defense improved the minute they went to a rotation at linebacker. Paris Lenon and Nate Irving play on early downs, while Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan play on passing downs. Trevathan is playing lights out. On the outside Danny Trevathan, a 2012 sixth-round pick, may be remembered for accidentally throwing the ball away before crossing the goal line with an interception return against the Ravens, but he was Denver's leading tackler with 129 stops, including 88 solo tackles. He also had three interceptions. Middleman Wesley Woodyard had 84 stops and 1.5 sacks. Robert Ayers contributed 5.5 sacks, but the linebacking corps is without two of its other standouts, Von Miller and Derek Wolfe, because of injuries.

Secondary:

Cornerback Chris Harris will not play in the Super Bowl, because of a torn knee ligament, leaving ex-San Diego standout Quentin Jammer to fill in. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had three pickoffs during the regular season, including a 75-yard touchdown run back. Safety Rahim Moore, who was burned during last year's playoffs, also has two pickoffs, and safety Michael Huff, who started the year in Baltimore, was added as a reserve off the waiver wire late during the season. Partly because opposing teams had to throw excessively to catch up during games, the Broncos' secondary allowed 29 passing touchdowns in 2013. Safety Duke Ihenacho is the secondary's leading tackler with 73 tackles, with Mike Adams close behind at 64 total stops. Cornerback Champ Bailey is in his 15th NFL season and playing in his first Super Bowl.  Bailey has been the Broncos’ slot cornerback the last few weeks and when Bailey is thrown at in the slot, quarterbacks have a passer rating of 105.9. He has allowed seven catches on 11 targets for 54 yards and a touchdown. Broncos players and other NFLers around the league have tabbed Bailey as one for whom a Super Bowl win would be popular. Rodgers-Cromartie has had an outstanding postseason.

Matchups to watch:

Marshawn Lynch vs. Denver Front Seven: (With a twist for Seattle)

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has played in six career postseason games, and he’s rushed for at least 100 yards in four of them. The Broncos have allowed only one 100-yard rushing game by a player all season (Ryan Mathews, Week 15). Both Lynch and the Broncos’ rush defense are peaking in the postseason, making this matchup one of the most important to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII, perhaps even more important than Manning vs. the Seahawks  secondary. The Broncos may struggle to score a lot of points in tonight's game but they will score. If Seattle struggles or cannot get Lynch going—-it could be a very long night.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lynch has averaged 93.3 rush yards per game in the postseason throughout his career, same as Emmitt Smith. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of all the players who have played five postseason games, only three have averaged more rush yards than Lynch. As evidenced by his beastly 67-yard touchdown run in 2010 against the Saints, Lynch’s greatest strength is his strength. Lynch gained 66 of his 307 career postseason rush yards after contact on that play alone. His average of 2.8 yards per rush after contact is the best of any player with at least 25 postseason rushes since 2010. The Seahawks like to run Lynch inside, as 80 percent of his rushes as a Seahawk have been between the tackles. Lynch is averaging 5.7 yards on those runs this postseason after averaging 4.1 yards in the regular season.

The Broncos have been remarkable at stopping the run game in the playoffs. The San Diego Chargers were held to 65 rush yards a week after gaining 196 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The New England Patriots were held to 64 yards a week after gaining 234 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Broncos' biggest strengths in stopping the run happen to be Lynch’s strengths as well. STRENGTH ON STRENGTH once a theme of Super Bowl XLVIII. 41073_franchise_icon0001

Including the playoffs, the Broncos have allowed 1.4 yards per rush after first contact, fifth best in the NFL this season. The Broncos have allowed 30 yards after contact to only three running backs this season (Ryan Mathews twice, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew), a mark Lynch has hit 11 times this season. Thanks to play of Pot Roast Knighton, the Broncos are also at their toughest between the tackles. Denver allowed 3.7 yards per rush between the tackles this season (including the playoffs), tied for second best in the NFL. With Knighton on the field, that number dips to 2.9 yards. With Knighton off the field, it jumps to 4.7.

Surprisingly, the Broncos’ defensive line is the more physical unit. The Broncos nearly always win first and second down on offense but in playoffs have been as dominant winning the first two downs on defense as well. In the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots tried blocking Knighton one-on-one but he blew up LeGarrette Blount and a rushing attack that was so dominant not just the week before but over the last six weeks of the NFL season. Pot Roast either pushed blockers back into the flow of the play or penetrated with a sweet swim move. He cut the zone schemes in half allowing his teammates to make sure there were no cut back lanes. Knighton tends to slants toward the left guard, where two time Pro Bowler Max Unger gives away 25 pounds. Unger has also had two rough playoff outings against big nose tackles.

The “wild card” in how effective Seattle can be rushing the football. The Seahawks signal caller loves to play outside the tackle box and will need to do so effectively tonight. Whether completing passes or running with the ball, Wilson is going to have to be dynamic outside the numbers.  Wilson had a league-high 91 attempts outside the pocket this season, compared to just 19 for Manning’s 19 (four of which were throwaways). Wilson’s 51 scrambles for 434 yards and 23 first downs led the league this season. One undesired side effect of Wilson’s style of play is his sack frequency. Wilson was sacked 44 times this season, third-most in the league and second-most among Super Bowl quarterbacks in the last 10 years (2008: Ben Roethlisberger, 46).

The Seahawks may turn to the Pistol option more frequently tonight. And why wouldn’t they. This would keep the Denver defense honest between the tackles. If you can force Knighton and company to take one extra look that may be all Lynch—or Wilson needs to break a long one. Last year in the playoff, game vs. the Washington Redskins, Seattle ran for a franchise playoff record 224 yards on 37 attempts. A full 30% of those attempts were option plays, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Those option plays averaged 10.0 yards per carry, compared to 4.4 yards per carry on non-option plays. Marshawn Lynch’s game winning TD was on an option play. Wilson was not great in the game but he finished with 187 passing yards and 67 rushing yards. The last quarterback to hit both benchmarks in a playoff game was Donovan McNabb for the 2003 Eagles. Lynch’s success on the ground helped Wilson along, a he finished 8-for-14 on play-action throws, for 119 yards and a touchdown pass.

EDGE: Very slight edge to Seattle

This edge is due in part to Lynch’s sustained post season success and overall success throughout the season but Denver finished the regular season in the top 10 of yards per rush allowed (10th), as did all three of the Seahawks’ divisional foes. Lynch failed to gain 100 rush yards in any of his six regular-season games against division opponents, averaging 3.8 yards per rush, with 1.8 coming after first contact. Against the rest of the NFL, Lynch averaged 4.4 yards overall and 2.0 after contact. But as the San Francisco 49ers can attest, stopping Lynch in the playoffs is easier said than done. Lynch rushed for 109 yards in the NFC Championship Game, with 41 coming after first contact (1.9 per rush). Lynch gained 43 yards after contact at 0.9 per rush in the regular season versus the 49ers.

In those same divisional contests, Wilson averaged just 18.5 rushing yards per game. He averaged 179.1 passing yards with eight TD’s and three INT’s, as Seattle went 4-2 in those games. This battle tonight will hinge on whether the Seahawks

The Seahawks are oddly one of the best teams when running to the middle left at 4.53 yards per carry, but one of the worst when running off left guard at 2.90 yards per carry. The Broncos, in turn, are one of the best teams defending against the middle left, allowing 2.63 yards per carry, but one of the worst when defending against runs off left guard at 5.26 yards per carry.

Seattle Receivers & TE Vs. Denver Secondary:

156053943With just five TD passes and four interceptions in his last six games, Russell Wilson isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. He’s up against a defense that has been playing its best football lately (allowing just 15 ppg over the last four), even while losing one its best players in Von Miller in Week 16. In fact, only four current starters — DT Terrance Knighton, LB Danny Trevathan, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and SS Duke Ihenacho — started the season opener against the Ravens.

Seattle’s receivers aren’t anywhere near the board in comparison to what Denver will trot out tonight, as their top four targets had 19 TDs all season. However, with Percy Harvin as a X-factor, things Could be a lot different if he manages to play the entire game. This is especially true against a secondary that is considered average at best. Harvin’s presence in the slot will force the Broncos to make adjustments and with only two game films to study, this favors Seattle. He will be a tough matchup for either Dominique Rogers-Cromartie or the dwindling Champ Bailey, who, after missing all but five regular-season games with a foot injury was thrown back into his old left cornerback position after the Broncos lost Cliff Harris in the playoff opener.

Having Harvin in the game will also mean one-on-one opportunities for Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse. Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson do have one thing in common; they both love to take their shots downfield. The Seahawks have completed 46.6 percent of attempted passes traveling at least 20 yards in the air; which was the best rate in the league. When the Broncos’ defense faces deep passes (in the air for 20 yards or more), opposing quarterbacks have a completion percentage of 30.3%; the fourth-best defensive figure in the league. Denver’s two safeties, Mike Adams and Duke Ihenacho, are big hitters but not considered to be good coverage guys. Wilson could try to target Ihenacho, particularly with tight end Zach Miller. One thing about the Seahawks receivers is that they have excellent hands. You don’t see many drops.

Seattle dropped 13 passes in 2013, according to SportingCharts.com, tied with San Diego for the league's fewest. Receivers Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse were charged with two drops each to lead the team. Part of the reason could be that, with 464 pass plays (including 44 sacks allowed) and 509 rushes, Seattle was one of two NFL teams, along with San Francisco, to run the ball more than 50 percent of their offensive plays.

EDGE: Seattle

The Seahawks should be able to use play action tonight as part of their arsenal, whether they are successful running the ball or not. This is part of what makes them such a balanced team but without the numbers to support it. I look for a big play down the field with Wilson being able to buy time, as he did vs. San Fran and complete  the big pass.

Special Teams:

Only seven kickers averaged 69.4 yards per kickoff or better including both Matt Prater (70.9) and Steven Hauschka (69.4). The Seahawks have two of the top three players in terms of PFF rating for special teams players on punts. They are Jeremy Lane (+8.5) and Richard Sherman (+6.5). Broncos’ punter Britton Colquitt was the only punters with more than two attempts to not have a single punt go out of bounds

Seattle:

Placekicker Steven Hauschka — a waiver pickup from Denver in 2011 — converted 33 of 35 field-goal tries in 2013. But one of his two misses was from the 20- to 29-yard range. Canada native Jon Ryan (Saskatchewan) is the team's punter, grossing 42.7 yards per punt with five touchbacks and 28 of 74 inside the coffin corner. Ryan, despite getting good hang time, had two punts blocked this year. Seattle coverage teams nearly set a record for fewest punt return yards allowed in a season with just 25 going into the last week. They ended up second best at 82. Kick coverage allowed runbacks at a 24-yard pace.

Punt returner and receiver Golden Tate was one of the league's best punt returners, carrying the ball back at an 11.5-yard pace with a long return of 71 yards. Percy Harvin’s last three kick returns have gone for 39, 43 and 58 yards.

Broncos kicker Matt Prater had 26 field-goal attempts in 2013 and converted on 25 of them, including a 64-yarder, which broke a league record that had stood since 1970 and been equaled three times since. Punter Britton Colquitt, son of ex-Pittsburgh punter Craig Colquitt and brother of Kansas City punter Dustin Colquitt, had one blocked punt, three touchbacks and 23 coffin-corner kicks out of his 65 punts in 2013.  Denver's punt coverage team allowed runbacks at a 10-yard pace, while the kick-return unit yielded almost 30 yards per return, including a 108-yard touchdown. Denver’s Colquitt has punted just once in two playoff games, after the opening series of the AFC Championship Game. Denver took the punt-return duties away from last year’s almost playoff hero–the explosive but fumble-prone Trindon Holliday.  Eric Decker took over and ran one back against the Chargers. Holliday is still a threat on kick returns but Harvin gives the Seahawks a return man who is should be game planned to kick away from him.

ADVANTAGE: Seattle:

The kickers are a wash—But I’ll take the speed of Seattle return units and Ryan over Colquitt.

Quarter by Quarter Prediction:

While there are no Seahawk active-roster players on the current squad that have appeared in a Super Bowl, there are four Broncos that have done so, with only quarterback Peyton Manning coming out victorious (Super Bowl XLI, Indianapolis over Chicago). The other Broncos that have appeared in the Super Bowl are tight end Jacob Tamme (XLI), wide receiver Wes Welker (XLII, XLVI) and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (XLIII).  Manning is the Denver Broncos offense, and he’s compensated as such: his $17.5 million cap hit is approximately 25 times as much as Wilson's ($681,085). Passing yards account for 74 percent of Denver’s yards from scrimmage, fourth highest in the league, while only the Bills, 49ers and Jets gained a lower percentage of yards through the air than Seattle did.  That experience will pay off early for his team. Denver was second in the league with 7.8 first quarter points this season.

BRONCOS 7 SEAHAWKS 0 AFTER FIRST QUARTER: 

In the second quarter, I expect the Seahawks to settle down, force a turnover and start to establish the running game. Seattle will have to win the time of possession battle if they are going to win the Super Bowl. The past 12 Super Bowl winners have had, on average, a time of possession advantage of 4:51, and teams
that control the clock are 9-3 in the big game since 2001. That .750 winning percentage is higher than even 
the .678 mark compiled by teams with a positive time of possession margin in the regular season since '01. Marshawn Lynch scores from inside the five and Hauschka adds a field goal but not before  Manning and the hurry up muster a last second field goal before time expires.

BRONCOS 10 SEAHAWKS 10 HALFTIME:

It will be interesting to see who wins the coin toss and how they approach the coin victory. Since 2001, teams have averaged 2.11 points per drive in the second half of the Super Bowl, compared with 
just 1.52 points per drive in the first half — a 39 percent difference. Post-halftime drives have netted nearly 5 percent fewer points in the regular season over that same span. Regardless, the Seattle defense continues with its momentum but overly aggressive play sustains a Broncos drive and Peyton makes them pay. The Seahawks Russell Wilson responds with a nice drive completing passes on Champ Bailey and Cromartie-Rodgers, as well as picking up yards with his  legs. Seattle’s defense will force a Knowshon Moreno fumble but can only get three points.

SEAHAWKS 20 BRONCOS 17 END OF THRID QUARTER

Brace yourself for an exciting fourth quarter. The Broncos start the quarter with a drive that stalls but still tie the game with a Prater field goal. The Seahawks decide to slow the game down but stall. Manning and the Broncos will have none of that and hurry up down the field to take the lead, 24-20, with less than three minutes to play. Wilson gets the message and as Colin Kaepernick did last year for the 49ers in the Super Bowl, leads a drive for the ages. Harvin, Lynch & Tate are all involved in critical third down conversions. Finally, with .30 seconds to play, and unlike Kaepernick, Wilson finds Doug Baldwin for the go-ahead score. Seahawks 27- Broncos 24. But wait there’s more! With half a minute and Peyton Manning nothing is finished. However, Richard Sherman picks off Manning to end the game and secure a Seahawks victory.Seattle-Seahawks-Super-Bowl-champs-tattoo

Defense wins championships and the Seahawks will prove it again today—Seattle has been the most balanced team in the NFL all season and that balance will pay off vs. the best offense to ever step on the field in NFL history. Seattle is the faster and younger team and simply possess one of those every 6 to 8 year defenses that can dominate any offense and any quarterback, at times effortlessly . The Hawks will snap the  NFC  North's 3 game losing streak in the Super Bowl but the Broncos will catch them off guard early. But Denver will have trouble all day adjusting to Seattle’s speed. Win or lose, Peyton Manning, who makes more money than the entire Seattle starting defense, is the greatest QB to ever play this game. Thats hard for me  to say, as I grew up a Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas fan!   

Final Score: Seattle 27 Denver 24

Game MVP: Russell Wilson

ESPN STATS, LLC STATS & NFL.COM used in writing this preview:

Enjoy the Game!