PAUL BUCK/EPA
PAUL BUCK/EPA

Kam’s the Man Who Should’ve Been MVP

The Seahawks’ suffocating defense in Super Bowl XLVIII wasn’t just the best performance of the season, but of the last decade in the NFL. Only one thing went wrong on their way to the Lombardi Trophy

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·

All season long Andy Benoit has studied NFL game film to break down tendencies, tactical concepts and the hidden games within the game. This is his analysis of the big one.

Broncos offense vs. Seahawks defense

This was the most impressive defensive performance of 2013, and perhaps the last decade. Seattle’s physical domination, plainly evident on the live broadcast, was even more pronounced on the coaches’ film. The Seahawks were the faster, stronger unit in every facet. As they closed on tackles, they looked like an SEC team taking on a Sun Belt Conference school. Truly.

Seattle’s clever tactical measures on defense didn’t confuse Peyton Manning as much as they out-leveraged the Broncos. The Seahawks’ best ploy was using strong safety Kam Chancellor as a lurk defender a yard or two behind the linebackers, which isn’t atypical. Chancellor basically plays this role in the base 3-over, 4-under zone, and it’s a common league-wide alignment behind man coverage, which the Seahawks used in certain obvious passing situations. The lurk concepts were especially potent on Super Bowl Sunday because Seattle also had a zone-dropping defensive lineman who essentially served as an extra, shallow lurker in front of Chancellor. This took away Denver’s inside crossing patterns and forced receivers to win in isolation against the suffocating press corners on the outside. Eric Decker never came close to getting open, nor was Demaryius Thomas, despite his big numbers (13 receptions for 118 yards), great in this sense either.

Speaking of Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, did you realize your Super Bowl MVP played only 34 of 69 snaps?

It can be argued that the interior clogging got inside Manning’s head. On the failed 4th-and-2 at the end of the first half, the play was designed for Wes Welker down the seam. Welker was open, and check-down target Julius Thomas was uncovered five yards downfield, over the middle. (Given the circumstances, Thomas could have been treated as the primary read on fourth-and-short.) But Manning uncharacteristically fixated on Demaryius Thomas, even though Thomas was clearly running a decoy route on the outside (he hardly even looked for the ball).

Manning did not make many mistakes like this, but he rarely looked comfortable. The extra lurk defender left the Seahawks with only a three-man rush, but that wasn’t a problem because their outside edge-rushers aligned wide enough to still command one-on-one matchups against offensive tackles Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin, who were both consistently bull-rushed into Manning’s lap. (Franklin also struggled with awareness at times.) And on the many occasions when the Seahawks still used their traditional four-man rush, defensive tackles Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald consistently generated pressure. Manning was hit after several throws and frequently moved off his spot. Pressure was a critical factor that led to both of his interceptions, especially Malcolm Smith’s pick-six, which was a well-designed Broncos deep-shot attempt ruined by Franklin being driven back into Manning.

Walter Iooss Jr. and David Bergman/SI/The MMQB
Walter Iooss Jr. and David Bergman/SI/The MMQB

Speaking of Smith, the third-year linebacker who was taken in the seventh round out of USC, did you realize that your Super Bowl MVP played only 34 of 69 snaps? The Seahawks spent a lot of time in nickel against the Broncos’ three-receiver base, which is a package Smith often sits out, behind K.J. Wright. Smith only happened to be on the field for his pick-six because Seattle suddenly switched from nickel to their base 4-3 on the fly during Denver’s fourth series. The nickel D had only played seven snaps to that point, so fatigue wasn’t a factor. Most likely, the Seahawks realized their hybrid man-zone concepts were dominating the middle of the field, which meant Welker was not his usual threat. So, presumably, Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn figured they might as well put more size inside.

Of course, we can’t say for sure because the next time the Broncos had the ball, they were already trailing 22-0 with 3:21 left in the half, which meant they would be passing (might as well play nickel then). And the series after that, it was 29-0, which just meant more passing (and even more nickel).

Bill Frakes/SI/The MMQB
Bill Frakes/SI/The MMQB

When the Broncos did run the ball, it was ineffective. As they did against the pass, the Seahawks condensed the middle of the field. They featured “Bear fronts,” which align three interior defensive linemen over the center and guards. This was a shrewd tactic because the Broncos’ ground game, particularly their audibled ground game, takes place mostly in the A and B gaps.

The only blemish on the Seahawks’ defensive performance was actually out of their control: Smith had a stellar game, but Chancellor was clearly the biggest difference-maker and should have been the MVP.

Seahawks offense vs. Broncos defense

The Broncos’ defense was not awful, but it spent the entire game in reaction mode. That caught up to them down the stretch, illustrated by Seattle’s last two touchdowns. Jermaine Kearse’s TD late in the third quarter and Doug Baldwin’s early in the fourth were products of sloppy tackling. The Broncos did a good job taking away most of the Seahawks’ big-play designs, but due to an ineffective pass rush, they weren’t able to create any big plays of their own.

The Broncos, somewhat uncharacteristically, featured split-safety concepts, meaning they kept their entire secondary back and defended Marshawn Lynch with just a seven-man box. From this look they played a lot of quarters coverage, hoping to limit a passing game (and the big plays) that’s built on play-action and downfield patterns typically aimed at exploiting single-high coverage. Late in the game, figuring the Seahawks would nurse a big lead by staying on the ground, the Broncos started going to more single-high concepts—and the Seahawks responded with play-action.

Denver’s unaided front seven, led by nose-shade tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Danny Trevathan, successfully contained Lynch, but it could not contain Russell Wilson. The second-year quarterback was a little less impatient from the pocket than he had been down the stretch of the regular season, but he still often looked to flee and make sandlot-style plays. The improvising worked, especially when Wilson went to his left. That, plus a handful of well-designed passing plays out of three-receiver sets and a few misdirection concepts such as Percy Harvin’s end-around on the second play of the game, kept the Seahawks one step ahead all night.

mmqb-end-slug-square

62 comments
whidbeydc
whidbeydc

I can agree that Chancellor deserved MVP, but so did the entire LOB.  Every player it seemed had a great game and as a team played as good as anyone could have hoped.  They were so dominating that it is hard to imagine they didn't set the tone for future defenses. 

I wish they would have thrown more to Sherman's side as he was mostly avoided entirely which in itself shows an MVP status.  Plus if it wasn't for him they wouldn't have even been there.

I would have liked Smith too make mention that his whole team deserved MVP.  He may have been in a bit of shock I guess.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

Better than average set of comments. Got to love the Seahawks fans.

Spudland
Spudland

Nice article, Andy. I agree, Chancellor was the MVP. He made plays all game and set the tone on defense with his hit early on Thomas. The only argument for anyone else winning it would be for Harvin and his contributions. It wasn't just the plays he made...it was how his routes continually opened up voids in the defense for everyone else.  

DaveinOlyWA
DaveinOlyWA

Spot on analysis!  As good as Smith played, he was simply a beneficiary of someone elses great play.  He was simply in the right place at the right time and Seattle's stifling D just created more "right places"  by rights, the Defensive unit should have been honored but if DisneyWorld and Ram is going to cheap us out then it should have been Chancellor.


His hit on Denver's 3rd offensive snap of the game set the tone and sent Denver a message whose intent was unmistakably loud and clear (painful too!) which was that Denver would pay dearly for every single yard gained.

LOD28
LOD28

I agree.  Kam was all over the field.  He impacted the game in a BIG WAY.  Denver's receivers were worried about him.  The entire D payed great.  Thomas, Maxwell, and Sherman were great.  The men up front deserve a lot of credit.  Don't forget what the offense did.  They buzz sawed right through the Denver D.  They were great on third downs.

ShawnThunderchiefLloyd
ShawnThunderchiefLloyd

The entire Seahawks Defense or The team as a whole should of won the MVP.......only reason why I suggest the entire team as an option is because Harvins 87 yard KO return and 3-5 receptions and 45 rushing yards is damn which totalled 150+ yards of total offense and a score is hard to pass and Wilsons 18/25 2 TD 0 int 129 passer rating is close to perfect statistically speaking.......Defense allowed 8 points only to the best offense in the history of the NFL statistically speaking, along with big hits and total domination of the opponent......enough said!!!!!

bigrig5656
bigrig5656

Cliff Avril / Michael Bennett deserved to split it. That right side of the line was dominated all game and put Manning off of his throwing lanes and was constantly forcing him to get rid of the ball. Malcolm Smith's pick was the direct result of Cliff Avril hitting Manning and making that ball float straight to him. Chancellor also played a fantastic game, but that D line deserves way more credit than they have been given.

wi_hoosier
wi_hoosier

The MVP was and should have been the defensive line. Period. They were able to consistently get pressure with 3-4 man rushes. It's easy to stick in coverage when you only have to do it for 2 seconds.

GoalieLax
GoalieLax

watching him get blown up over and over by Georgia Tech after he and his coach whined about the option offense was one of my favorite things ever.

Listening
Listening

MVP...  how about Joe and his premature coin flip????    : )

davidhd
davidhd

Seattle can cover the WRs and TEs, and it get pressure on Manning with only 3 lineman, which is embarassing. They can cover the pass all day long. The problem is that Denver can't do anything else well enough to keep Seattle honest. No other team can cover the way Seattle can, so Denver can just run its one dimensional offense and rack up points all day against everyone else, but Denver can't run, block, tackle, or play defense well enough to challenge Seattle's superior athletes, and it certainly can't cover kickoffs; so it can't beat the Seahawks.


I disagree with those that have been saying that San Francisco would have done the same thing. The 49ers give Seattle a run for its money by playing complete team football and are great on defense and have a balanced offense, but the Broncos would pick apart San Fran's secondary the same way the Ravens did in last year's super bowl. Denver is special in the one area of the game, passing, and that's good enough against 30 of the 31 other teams in the league.


The reason Seattle is so good, historically good if you ask me, is that they are the one team that can consistently limit even the best quarterbacks and WR groups to field goals or even punts. The only way to beat them is to play a complete game the way the 49ers and Colts did, or to play stifling defense, like the Rams and Cards, and force the pedestrian Seattle WRs to win matchups. There is a reason why Seattle hasn't lost a game by more than 7 pts since 2011, while beating Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Colin Krappernick, Matt Ryan, RG3, etc, in that same period, sometimes in blowouts.

David22
David22

This article just illustrates how the entire Seattle defense should've been named the MVP. Denver was never allowed to execute its game plan because the D-line got constant pressure on the star QB, the secondary/LBs stuck to receivers, and vicious hits upon receptions took the will out of the Broncos. In every manner that the '85 Bears and '00 Ravens used D to destroy their SB opponents, so did the Seahawks defense in XLVIII.


While the offense was opportunistic and the special teams electrifying, it was the Seahawks D that determined this game's outcome...and as such, deserve the MVP as a unit!

theerichoward
theerichoward

Didn't read the full article, however, wanted to throw my 2 cents in. How often is the player that makes the biggest difference in the game the Super Bowl MVP anymore? Peyton has 1 and Eli has 2 but neither of them were the main reason for their teams winning the game. The Colts RB's(Dominic Rhodes and Joe Addai) were the reasons they won the Super Bowl. And the Giants D line lead them to both Super Bowl victories over the Pats. Fun little side note, Brady and Peyton have not won a Super Bowl without Adam Vinatieri.

alhmiel1
alhmiel1

The young Broncos offensive coordinator seemed lost and unable to make adjustments or changes.

raja.govindarajan
raja.govindarajan

As a game, this Super Bowl was pretty bad. One team was playing exceptionally well in all three phases while the other played exceptionally bad on offense and special teams, and to some extent on defense too. Nothing taken away from Seattle - good teams make the other team look bad....real bad, and that is what Seattle did. Unlike the NBA (best of 7 games), NFL is decided on one game. If the teams were to play best of 7 series, I would still bet on Seattle beating Denver 4-0 or may be 4-1 so they are clearly the better and more comprehensive team. But they are not a 43-8 better team. This was just a freak game in which whatever Denver did, it was wrong and whatever Seattle did, it was right. One of those days. 

Disclaimer - I am a fan of the Chiefs so I don't have any love for Denver. But as a fan of football, I was disappointed with the game. Congrats to the team that showed up to play!!! 


Denver defense did its best initially but lost its gas when they were constantly on the field in their own side trying to defend. And the lack of third down efficiency did not help either. 

arrrrgh
arrrrgh

That is what I was saying at the end of the game! Kam was the man. It's all good, now lets go win another!

let_it_snow
let_it_snow

Wilson should have been the MVP. He was the engine and conductor of the Seahawk offense that also won the game. Denver stuffed Lynch early. Facing 3rd down Wilson repeatedly eluded the rush extending plays to buy his receivers time and then delivered the ball accurately. No turnovers! His line:

18-25, 206 yds, 2TD, 0INT, 123.1 QBRat coupled with 3 rushes/26 yards, 0 sacks

Any QB would have won the MVP had he been named Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers, or even Luck. Simply put, Wilson was extraordinary. The NFL is so QB-centric that Wilson deserved the glory more than any other single person.

SethFalstein
SethFalstein

I would have given it to Cliff Avril. He forced both the interceptions and put pressure on Manning the rest of the game. 

Buck2185
Buck2185

Completely disagree. Everyone knows tha tRichard Sherman was the MVP - just ask him

DonAaronSowell
DonAaronSowell

@whidbeydc

Agreed. Rest assured that Smith made mention of receiving the MVP on behalf of the whole defense several times. You must've just missed those comments. Admittedly, Smith's interviews aren't terribly polished since he rarely before garnered much attention. But he certainly did what you were hoping he would do in passing along credit.

davidhd
davidhd

@Listening  or Joe's fur coat. That thing was beautiful, first of all, and I think it's sheer awesomeness may have distracted Denver's offense to the point that it couldn't get ready for the opening snap.

kevinosborne_99
kevinosborne_99

@davidhd I am a Seattle fan but trying the short passing game against SF would have been a disaster for Denver, with their linebackers. Maybe the Broncos hit a long one or two and it is 35-21 but SF would have won that game, easily, my opinion. New Orleans would have won it as well. Denver just isn't that good

jeremy.pettibon
jeremy.pettibon

@David22 I agree, but I guess if you have to pick one player, you have to go by the numbers...  I also would have picked Kam - not based on numbers but on sheer impact on the game.  He eliminated the Broncos' biggest threat - Welker over the middle.  Take that away and everything else was cake.

duckfan59
duckfan59

@David22 I agree and several reporters said the same thing. The great thing about Seattle is they play and act like a TEAM in the true sense of the word. They didn't care who got the MVP.

AF Whigs
AF Whigs

@theerichoward :  Or how about Larry Brown?  Neil O'Donnell hit him twice right on the numbers in SB XXX and the guy was handed the MVP. 

RobKnorr
RobKnorr

@raja.govindarajan  I disagree. Maybe they're not a 43-8 better team, but they are a much deeper team, with a far superior 53 man roster. They are in fact, a faster, stronger team that doesn't rely on just one player the way the Broncos do. They are perfectly suited to beat the Broncos because of their balance, speed and power. They intimidate finesse teams like the Broncos with their sheer brutality.


If Seattle played Denver 10 times, they win at least 8. 

Personally I think you need to go back and watch it again, the real Superbowl was the NFC Championship game, (no surprise there, the NFC is far superior to the AFC), where the Seahawks played the NFL's second best team. 


Iron sharpens iron, and when you play in the leagues toughest division by far, you come out STRONG.

pirate
pirate

@raja.govindarajan   Not sure I agree that the Hawks were not 43-8 better. If you take away Manning's ability to read a defense and find a way to beat it, and his ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly, what else do the Broncos have? Between the press coverage from the corners, clogging the center and lowering the boom on crossing routes, and the heavy pressure up front, Peyton didn't have a chance. And the Hawks don't hide what they're doing. They just line up and dare you to beat them. I certainly expected about a 20-point margin. 


But as to the article's point, I couldn't figure out who from the D was going to get singled out with the MVP. Chancellor, Thomas, you could make a case for several guys. Giving it to Smith, a sort of "everyman" player, seemed like the way to honor the whole D.

Joebuckster
Joebuckster

@raja.govindarajan  I'm guessing it would be more like 4-3, with the extra home game deciding. Both San Fran and NO were blown out on their first meeting, and both almost won on Seattle turf in the playoff rematch. Seattle simply overwhelms teams on their first meeting - I doubt Denver were ready for the intensity and speed, let alone scheme the Hawks were showing. But on a rematch I'm sure it would be much, much closer. Agreed that the Seahawks are certainly not 35 points better than the Broncos. Don't forget, they were also perfectly healthy for the SB, and the Broncos - particularly the defense, were decimated with key players out. Can't wait for the rematch, quite frankly... Just ask Baltimore how that went this season...

RobKnorr
RobKnorr

@let_it_snow  There's one very simple reason Wilson didn't win, the same people who had the vote would have had to admit that their entire narrative leading up to the game was dead wrong!

Russell Wilson is just a game manager (still not sure why that is anything but a compliment personally...every QB manages the game, some just do it better), who can't complete passes from inside the pocket. 
Haven't you heard that he's an overrated slightly better version of Tim Tebow? Broncos fans galore were trying to convince us all of that, with the lap dog media their willing accomplices. 

Unfortunately their narrative WAS completely wrong, but you have to actually know something about football, (most fans, and far too many sports journalists don't) and know a lot about the Pete Carroll led Seattle Seahawks...a team who is largely ignored by most fans and the vast majority of the media.

They look only at out of context numbers, which leads them to erroneous conclusions.

johnvas49
johnvas49

@let_it_snow  But Wilson's two touchdowns came in what was essentially "garbage time".  I think either Chancellor or Cliff avril should have won the MVP.  Chancellor with several big hits and intimidation over the middle.  Avril because he caused Manning to hurry his throws.  He helped cause Manning's first interception and was directly responsible for the second by hitting his arm and causing the ball to pop up for Smith to get his pick-six (which helped get him the MVP)...

justsomeguy
justsomeguy

@let_it_snow He had somewhere around 100 yards passing and 20 yards rushing in the first half, and by that point it was 29-0 and the game was over.  The only touchdown scored on offense during that span came off a turnover that started them at the 17 where he recorded one pass for 7 yards.  He played well, and nobody else really stood out either, but you really can't argue he was the most important factor in them winning the game.

j7apple
j7apple

@let_it_snow   OK stats, but most  watching this game knows that the D won this game. Completely shutting down the number one Offense in history was done almost flawlessly..

kenc29
kenc29

@let_it_snow  Wilson played well, particularly on 3rd down, BUTTTTT… the game was won in the 1st half, when Wilson's line looked far less impressive statistically. Chancellor was the MVP, but I'm fine with Smith getting it.

bltuor
bltuor

@let_it_snow I tend to agree. Since they cannot give the MVP trophy to a unit (Seattle's entire defense was the MVP), Russell Wilson's leadership, general-ship and command (125+ QB rating) WINs the spot, any and every other SB.

Anicra
Anicra

@Buck2185 Though if you take the 2 drops ( 1 was good D) Wilson would have been 20 25 for 238 yards 3 TDs

Anicra
Anicra

@Buck2185 Well you could argue that he was - One of the greatest QBs of all time w/ the greatest O did not want to throw to his side. 5 throws for 2 rec for 10 yards. He did his job well and supposedly played with ankle sprain in 2nd half. Heck Manning completed zero passes thrown 20+ yards on 6 attempts.


When Denver scored the only TD, it felt like Seattle soften up their pass D. It certainly felt like they held back on that drive.


I would still go with Kam or Avril

whidbeydc
whidbeydc

@kevinosborne_99 @davidhd   Though they looked bad that day, I disagree that they are not that good.  Before that game they were called the best offence in the NFL remember?

Seattle just had their number.

whidbeydc
whidbeydc

@RobKnorr @raja.govindarajan   Really, the score could have just as easily been 60-0.  Just not by a few simple mistakes.

I am glad it was a blow out.  Being a Seattle fan for years I am tired of the disrespect they have had by most other areas who don't consider them.  They do now I hope.

Joebuckster
Joebuckster

@pirate @raja.govindarajan  There are plenty of things the Broncos could have done, and a lot of 'ink' has been spilled as to why they didn't adjust or do certain things within their playbook or even outside of it. They certainly have the players to accomplish just about any concept on offense...

davidhd
davidhd

@Joebuckster @raja.govindarajan  NO didn't "almost beat" Seattle in the playoff game. Seattle had a comfortable lead until the 4th quarter, then it allowed a fluky deep pass when both Thomas and Maxwell had their hands on and easy INT ball and it bounced forward into the WRs hands. Even after that, NO never had the ball past the Seattle fifty with a chance to tie the game until the last play, which only made it to the 40. If Seattle hadn't been super conservative on offense (knowing NO had no answer for its defense), the score would have been more lopsided. 


As for Denver, 43-8 and 40-10. Those are the scores of the super bowl and preseason games. While the preseason means nothing,  both scores illustrate dominance. Seattle is better at every position on the field except WR and QB, and those positions are neutralized by Seattle having the best pass defense in the NFL by a lot. Denver would win 2 out of 10, if it got lucky, because Seattle can pass on its defense all day, Peyton has no one to throw to, and Seattle can stop Denver's half-hearted attempts at running easily. Seattle just has better athletes than Denver. Football is a team sport, and while Peyton can carry the day against the other 30 teams in the league, Seattle is built to deal with his style of passing attack. I concede that the score could have been closer, but making the score respectable and winning are two different things. 



RobKnorr
RobKnorr

@let_it_snow  Having said all of that, I would have given the MVP award to Kam Chancellor, who IMO easily had the best game.

In fact, I would argue that of all the Seahawks players, he finished the season stronger than any other. Over the last six or so games, he was the best player on the field in pretty much all of them.

SkeleTony
SkeleTony

@justsomeguy @let_it_snow 

Actually it was 22-0 at the end of the half. It became 29-0 after the kickoff of the second half.

But yes, the defense could have won the game even if the offense had not done anything, however the offense DID do a lot (they either scored and/or kept Payton off the field every drive).

let_it_snow
let_it_snow

@j7apple @let_it_snow  The D didn't win the MVP. THat's the point j7apple. MVP is for one player. The NFL is a QB centric league. And he played great, early, and throughout the game. His decision making and talent and overall play clearly kept Seattle going and added more pressure to Denver. Any media darling QB would have won it. Heck, even Flacco won it last year.

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@bltuor @let_it_snow  

Wilson made some great throws from the pocket without scrambling too.  The myth that he is just a running/rollout QB persists despite evidence to the contrary.  If he had a better O line he would never leave the pocket.

davidhd
davidhd

@Joebuckster @pirate @raja.govindarajan  I just don't think Denver fans understand the reason Denver lost. Denver has the WRs and QB, but what else? Seattle can cover the WRs and TEs, and they can get pressure on Manning. They can cover the pass all day long. The problem is that Denver can't do anything else well enough to keep Seattle honest. No other team can cover the way Seattle can, so Denver can just run its one dimensional offense and rack up points all day against everyone else, but Denver can't run, block, tackle, or play defense well enough to challenge Seattle's superior athletes, and it certainly can't cover kickoffs; so it can't beat the Seahawks.

pirate
pirate

@Joebuckster @pirate@raja.govindarajan  If there was "quite a lot they could have done," why in the world didn't they try to do any of it? The difference between the two teams was something much more basic than scheme or game plan – The Seahawks ran much faster, hit much harder, played much sharper. The Broncos had no answers.

SkeleTony
SkeleTony

@let_it_snow @j7apple 

j7apple did not say the defense won the MVP award. He said they won the GAME. Whether one thinks the NFL is "QB-centric" or not is a matter of opinion but the fact is that there were MANY players who should have gotten the MVP award ahead of Smith.

seahawkswag206
seahawkswag206

@unitcaptain11 @bltuor@let_it_snow  i agree and disagree. if the offensive line had a little more talent he wouldn't have to be fran tarkenton as much. however, they will always run the play action bootlegs that has him running outside the pocket. That's where he and the Seahawks are deadly. Teams will always bite on the run with Marshawn in the back field. Throw in Percy Harvin for a full 16 games and the talk next year will be whats more elite: Defense or Offense?

Newsletter