John Froschauer/AP
John Froschauer/AP

When the Talent Levels Are So Close, You Have to Spread the Field

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·

This Broncos-Seahawks matchup isn’t just the best offense vs. the best defense of the season, it’s the best offense ever (at least statistically) going up against arguably the best defense since the 2000 Ravens (supporting evidence: the Seahawks’ D led the league in turnovers and ranked first in every significant passing category; and making big plays and stopping the pass are the name of the game in today’s NFL).

What’s more, recent history says that if any style of offense is equipped to overcome Seattle’s defense, it would be Denver’s. And if any style of defense is equipped to stymie Denver’s offense, it would be Seattle’s. There is deeper meaning here than simply stating the obvious.

Over the last two years, just four teams have scored 23 or more points against Seattle’s defense. They were the Patriots (23 in Week 6 last year), the Lions (28 in Week 8 last year), the Colts (34 in Week 5 this year, 27 of which came on offense) and the Buccaneers (24 in Week 9 this year). All four of those offenses game-planned the same thing: wide spread formations with receivers aligned outside the numbers (aka “plus splits”).

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Not every offense that has spread out against Seattle has scored at least 23 points; but every offense that has posted at least 23 points has spread out. Makes sense, because one of the Seahawks’ greatest strengths is picking up zone assignments from good collective route recognition. A spread dismisses this element and makes everything more individually based on matchups The Broncos, with their lethal three-receiver foundational package, are certainly equipped to spread out.

On the flip side, only two defenses have really slowed down the Broncos’ juggernaut offense this year: the Patriots in Week 12 and the Chargers in Week 15. (Yes, the Broncos scored 31 against the Patriots, but the first seven points came off a Von Miller fumble scoop-and-score and the next 10 were off short fields that were set up by fumble recoveries.) What did the Patriots and Chargers have in common against Denver? They featured hybrid man-zone coverage concepts. That’s what the Seahawks defense is built on (granted, the Seahawks employ a more straightforward approach, particularly compared to the interchangeable approach that the Bolts used).

Of course, it helped in those games that the Broncos were shorthanded. Julius Thomas sat out Week 12 and Wes Welker wasn’t on the field in Week 15. Both were back in the rematch against the Chargers and Patriots, which the Broncos controlled with ease. Nevertheless, while not every team that has played a hybrid man-zone has halted the Broncos offense, every team that has halted the Broncos offense has played a hybrid man-zone. That bodes well for the Seahawks.

Something else to consider….

The common assumption is that snowy weather would favor the Seahawks’ defense. Yes, it would through the air. But on the ground? The Broncos’ running game has been productive largely because it has faced a litany of light boxes, as defenses keep both safeties back against Manning. That element would likely disappear in the snow on Sunday, especially against a defense that, with a rangy free safety like Earl Thomas, naturally uses an eight-man box anyway. But snow can have a greater adverse effect on a run-defending front four.

If the field gets slick, players can’t fire off the ball. We saw the Lions, who like the Seahawks have one of the fiercest D-line’s in football, give up 299 rushing yards in a blizzard at Philadelphia earlier this year. With no explosive get-off, their front four was dominated by the Eagles’ double-teams at the point of attack. The Broncos offensive line is among the best in the league with point-of-attack double-teams, particularly inside where guards Louis Vasquez and Zane Beadles work with drastically improved center Manny Ramirez. A snowy forecast wouldn’t be ideal for Manning, but it could spell a big day for Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.

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6 comments
JOHN140
JOHN140

The Seahawks are not the best defense since the 2000 Ravens (2002 Buccaneers are the last great defense) but they may be the best defense since the rule changes that started in 2004. Their only competition is the 2008 Steelers.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

Both teams are very good.  Both teams CAN win.  That's why they play the game.


I can't even say who'd win more if they played 10 times but it's a moot point as only the game later today counts.


When the Giants beat the Pats in the Super Bowl (I was glad as I don't like the Pats) I thought the Pats were much better and would have won like 8 out of 10 games between the Giants and themselves.


But the Giants won and that's that.


I'm rooting for Denver to win.  But each of these teams can win.  It just depends on who executes better during the game.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

How many articles can this guy write daydreaming about how denver has an advantage.  He doesn't even mention what beast mode would be like in the snow.  

CMFJ
CMFJ

Nice article - I definitely learned something.  I knew that man schemes has disrupted the Broncos, but hadn't know anything about the hybrid man-zone part of it.  This should really be a fun matchup to watch.


I would disagree with the idea that snowy conditions only favor a running offense.  Certainly, there is a certain level of snow that will disrupt passing, but I think that light snow with snow on the ground generally favors the offensive player, regardless of whether it is passing or running.  The player on offense has less footing that usual, so cannot make a lot of moves.  However, reacting to a players movement is much more difficult than that, so the defender, whether trying to fill a hole in run defense or react to a receiver's cut, is at a greater disadvantage.  Also, recovery from getting beaten is more difficult, so that smaller separation is necessary for receiver to be open.  Seattle defenders would probably be able to jam receivers for longer, because the offensive player would have poorer footing and less leverage, but if a receiver gets loose, the have a better chance of being open.  For example, in the Eagles/Lions game, there were several long pass plays, even though Foles and Stafford were less efficient overall.


So a massive storm that calms down to light snow by kickoff will, I think, favor the Broncos passing game over the seattle pass defense.   I think the only weather condition that really tilts it towards the Seahawks is high winds.  Cold weather with low wind and no snow will be relatively neutral.  

sarteestmd
sarteestmd

@logue.justinfAs a Broncos fan, I can say that Lynch scares me. But Denver has been great of late stuffing the run. I think Russell Wilson play action will test Denver and a few big yard plays will be given up. Seattle's defense is fantastic but Manning picks defenses apart, even Legions of Boom (or Doom). A wet field will favor Denver. Cold will be a wash. Wind will favor Seattle. But the forecast calls for a high of 49, no winds and 10% chance of moisture. That mostly plays into Manning's color wheel. Still, it will be a great game, two great teams, two great cities. That fish market in Seattle's downtown is wonderful.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

@sarteestmd @logue.justinf  I don't want to talk smack to such a balanced post but I will point out that Denver hasn't faced any top defenses.  You can argue back that Seattle hasn't faced many top offenses but Denver has yet to face a top defense.

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