Young Seahawks Ready For The Big Stage
By Corbin Smith
This weekend's clash between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will pit two teams with contrasting styles against one another in arguably the most compelling Super Bowl matchup in years. Aside from both teams finishing 13-3 this season and landing top seeds in their respective conferences, Sunday will feature storylines that mostly revolve around stark differences.
Denver enters the big game with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning running a high-octane passing attack that shattered record books in 2013, while Seattle hopes to grab the Lombardi Trophy with second year quarterback Russell Wilson orchestrating a run-heavy offense predicated on ball control. The Broncos want to put points on the board in bunches, while the Seahawks intend to keep Manning and his core group of receivers held in check and make this a low scoring affair. Denver also has a much more experienced roster, as players like Manning and Wes Welker have played in multiple Super Bowls and head coach John Fox will be making his second Super Bowl appearance after leading the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, don't have a player on the active roster who has ever played in the Super Bowl, and despite the fact that Pete Carroll has enjoyed tremendous success at USC and with Seattle, this will be his first chance to coach in the title game. Regardless of what experts say, experience does matter, especially with a championship on the line and increased exposure to the media. If you're not accustomed to having people scrutinize your every move, the whole build-up process for this game can be demoralizing and distractions truly can be the difference between winning and losing. This will be especially true with this year's game taking place in New Jersey, where the media consistently hunts down players like a shark pursues its prey.
Don't tell the young Seahawks they can't win this game because of experience, however. Led by the charismatic leader Carroll and the ever-confident Wilson, the Seahawks never set their sights on simply making the Super Bowl. This team didn't fly to New Jersey yesterday simply to take part in the game- they're hungry and eager to bring a championship to the Pacific Northwest. Experience alone won't dictate who wins, and Seattle believes its preparation and focus on the moment will provide an opportunity to head home with the Lombardi Trophy.
When asked about the pressure of playing in the Super Bowl and dealing with all the attention away from the playing field, star safety Earl Thomas responded by saying, “Most people when their work is almost finished, they kind of spoil it because they kind of feel it in their grasp and they kind of ease up. But we understand we can’t ease up. We’re staying all the way through. We’re not going to let anything get in our way as far as off-the-field distractions."
Carroll's team carries a shared, unified vision, and that in itself could carry this franchise to new heights this weekend. The roster as a whole has bought into Carroll's "each week is a championship game" philosophy, and that collective mindset should ease pressure on the players this week and allow an inexperienced team to flourish in the limelight on Sunday. Statements like the one by Thomas indicate that despite having one of the NFL's youngest rosters, this roster has been constructed of players mature beyond their years.
Veterans like center Max Unger who have been with Seattle since Carroll took over in 2010 have seen first-hand how effectively the coach has cultivated an atmosphere built around winning football games week in and week out, and his coaching style has prepared this team for success in situations like this one. Unger, who has received lots of attention for his impressive playoff beard since arriving in New Jersey, commended Carroll for helping lead his players to this position and said his philosophy will allow for Sunday to feel like "just another game" for the playoff-tested Seahawks.
The Broncos will have the luxury of having Manning under center, and he'll be aiming to cement his legacy as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game by winning his second Super Bowl title. He destroyed the previous NFL record held by Tom Brady of the Patriots when he tossed 55 touchdown passes this season, and he broke several other significant records along the way. Seattle will counter with Wilson, who just turned 25 years old two months ago, and the 12 year age gap between quarterbacks will be the largest ever for a Super Bowl contest.
Many have questioned whether Wilson will be able to handle the pressures of playing in this moment, but his coach remains convinced that he'll be ready to perform at his best and ready to "take care of business" at Metlife Stadium. Based on his confidence and ability to prepare for games, fans shouldn't have any concerns about his readiness for a championship atmosphere. Even though he's only in his second year in the league, Wilson knows how to win games, and don't expect the poised young man to be unsettled at all under the lights. He's prepared for this moment ever since Seattle picked him in the third round in April 2012, and he's expected to be in this position all along. His situation could be even better if Percy Harvin can return from his latest setback and give the passing game a boost.
The Seahawks understand the challenges they will face on Sunday. The Broncos have the most explosive offense in the NFL, led by Manning and his "four horsemen" Demaryius Thomas, Welker, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas. Denver also has an underappreciated rushing attack headlined by Knowshon Moreno and Wilson's former college teammate Montee Ball, giving Seattle's top ranked defense its toughest obstacle yet. Playing against such an explosive unit would normally make a team cringe, but this Seahawks team remains unfazed.
When looking at the Broncos' offensive firepower, Carroll said, "It's historically as hard as it gets. They’ve done everything, broke every major record in the throwing game and points, everything. Peyton has been extraordinary. So we’re up against it. It’s an extraordinary challenge."
But Carroll also knows that the Broncos will have to deal with the defensive juggernaut he and John Schneider have built since taking the reins a few years ago. Armed with talented stars like Richard Sherman, Thomas, and the rest of the "Legion of Boom," Seattle can match Denver man to man on the outside. The defensive line may turn out to be the real difference maker for the Seahawks if the unit can get pressure on Manning early and often. Key free agent signings Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have played exceptionally well throughout the season and provided big plays during this postseason run, and they'll be major ex-factors for the Seahawks on Sunday.
Manning's ability to read defenses and run Denver's offense like a coordinator will make the secondary's job much tougher, but disrupting the pocket affects all quarterbacks, Manning included. Blitzing Manning rarely works out and Seattle doesn't bring extra defenders much to begin with, so pressure from the defensive front will be imperative if the Seahawks want to successfully generate a pass rush and take him out of his comfort zone. If the defensive line can create havoc by winning battles in the trenches and allow the secondary to play physically at the point of attack, Seattle has a great shot to win even with the considerable experience disadvantage.
Carroll knows what his team is up against, and he's perfectly fine with it. His team has been prepared for a moment like this one, and his players wanted to play the best opponent possible for a title. Carroll remains highly complimentary of the Broncos and showed great respect for them yesterday, but don't think for one second that making it to the Super Bowl is enough. Like his players, he's here to win.
Denver may be getting all the love from the media, but Carroll and his players don't mind. Confidence is at an all-time high in the locker room, and considering how well this team has played all season long, why shouldn't it be? Regardless of the experience differential prior to kickoff, this team has developed the mentality it takes to become a champion, and this group will be more than ready to put on a show on the game's biggest stage.