Super Bowl will come down to the team with the better defense

Peyton Manning

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning calls a play against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports / January 20, 2014)

It's hard to root against Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning because of his sustained standard of success. He runs the offense like a conductor leads a symphony.

At this point in his career, he's the hero we'd like to see walk off in the sunset with the beautiful girl at the end of the movie, but that scenario will not be played out in two weeks at Super Bowl XLVIII.

The bad guys will win on Feb. 2.

In a game that pits the NFL's top offense against the league's best defense, the Seattle Seahawks will end what might be Manning's final ride to greatness before going into the Hall of Fame.

A good defense will beat a good offense any time, and the Seahawks have the fastest defense since the record-setting Ravens in 2000. Combined with a strong running game led by halfback Marshawn Lynch, Seattle is a throwback to an era when teams won with both.

On Sunday, they gave the San Francisco 49ers offensive line and running back Frank Gore a major beatdown, which crippled the 49ers passing game.

The Seahawks start tackles Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane and ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, but they go with an eight-deep rotation on the line. Not only do they have pass-rushing ends like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, but Bennett also doubles as a rush tackle to split time with Clinton McDonald.

That's impressive and intimidating. And not good news for Manning.

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick kept the game close Sunday because he could improvise and make plays outside the pocket by design or when they broke down.

But Manning is immobile. Pressure up the middle forces him to curl up in a fetal position.

Denver has a good offensive line, and it protects Manning, who was sacked only 20 times during the regular season and not at all Sunday against the New England Patriots.

But there is no defense in the AFC as good as Seattle's or even San Francisco's.

Manning will hard-count his cadence to draw the Seahawks offside like he did against the San Diego Chargers in their first postseason game, and the Broncos might also have to keep in a receiver or running back to protect Manning, but those things will have minimum effect.

The Seahawks have a swarming defense. They don't stay blocked, and they get to the ball like it is a feeding frenzy. This time, they will eat up No. 18.

It's hard to believe that it could happen to Denver, especially with Manning having such a record-breaking season. He also has good receivers in Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.

But Seattle has a good secondary led by the mouthy and self-promoting cornerback Richard Sherman, and fellow cornerbacks Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and Jeremy Lane.

With the hard pass rush, Manning won't be able to throw a lot of those crossing patterns. And with each catch, Seattle will chop Denver's receivers in half, led by safety Kam Chancellor.

The Seahawks were so intimidating that at least three times, San Francisco receivers short-armed passes Sunday from fear of getting hit.

The Denver offense will be slowed by Seattle defense and the running of Lynch. He's a tough guy who wears down defenses in the second half because he just keeps grinding.

The X-factor in the game will be Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He scares me, not as much as Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, but you can see the nervousness in his eyes.

It appears the Seahawks are trying to make him a pocket quarterback instead of allowing him to run bootlegs, waggles and sprint-outs. That doesn't make a lot of sense, especially with Seattle's average offensive line.

But in the end, that probably won't matter much. Seattle plays terrific defense and the Seahawks have a swagger. It was great seeing Manning being showered with confetti from the home crowd Sunday when the Broncos beat New England for the AFC championship.

But that won't happen again in two weeks unless he is on the field when Seattle is celebrating its championship. Defense will prevail.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 
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