Need a last-minute primer on the teams before heading out to your Super Bowl party? Here's everything you need to know about the Seahawks for today. You can find our Broncos preview here.
The Broncos head to the Super Bowl with the season's best offense; the Seahawks come in with the best defense in the league. Seattle allowed 231 total points in the regular season, while the defense allowed 172.0 passing yards per game, both league lows. But Seattle's dominance goes so much deeper than that.
We've talked about that defense before, but it bears repeating: It's awesome. According to Football Outsiders, Seattle's defense leads the league in points per drive, turnovers created per drive (20.1 percent of all drives!), touchdowns given up per drive, points given up per red zone trip, touchdowns given up per red zone trip, and weighted DVOA, and third in yards per drive. The Seahawks are better against the pass than they are against the run, but that's somewhat indicative of their leading by an average of 6.31 points (third-highest in the league) when the defense takes the field.
The Seahawks generate formidable pressure not only from the line, but from the "Leo" position, and any other extra pass rushers. The blitzes come from almost everyone. Check out the graphic from Pro Football Focus below (and really, check out the whole page when you have time). Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Chris Clemons create the most quarterback pressures individually, but the defense as a whole is incredibly versatile by design. Denver's offensive line will have to handle a fluid front which doesn't have just one strong point that can be doubled, like J.J. Watt on the Texans.
Obviously, Seattle's pass rush has benefited the secondary, including Richard Sherman, who is just unbelievably good. As good as he'd have you believe, though? Well, yes. Quarterbacks throwing at Sherman had a combined 47.3 QB rating in the regular season, worst in the league out of cornerbacks who played at least 100 snaps. He allowed just 0.77 yards per coverage snap, second fewest after Darrelle Revis, and quarterbacks throw at him less than they throw at any other corner—once for every 9.5 snaps he plays in coverage. Sherman also had eight picks in the regular season, most in the league.
Sherman can cover only one man, however. And with Brandon Browner suspended, the remaining Seattle defensive backs are going to need to play near-flawless coverage on the bevy of Broncos receiving options. (We'll pause here to remember that, because of some marijuana and missed drug tests, the best defense in the league won't be intact when it faces the best offense in the league—in the Super Bowl.) Fortunately, they've got coverage help from the front seven. Outside linebackers Bruce Irvin, K.J. Wright, and Malcolm Smith have performed excellently when asked to play in pass coverage.
The Seahawks are the only team in the league in the top 10 in DVOA versus WR1, WR2, "other" WR, TE, and RB receivers. This is something of a magic trick, since taking away a team's best option—like holding Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to just one catch for eight yards in the divisional round—isn't the same as locking up all of Denver's receivers. But every level of coverage is solid, and the mutant Cover 3 that the Seahawks play should at least slow down the vertical game—although fast guys out of the slot, which Denver has plenty of, have given the Seahawks trouble at times this year, like when T.Y. Hilton hit them for 140 yards and two TDs in week 5.
The one thing about the Seattle defense is that it's volatile. This can be a good thing—turnovers are inherently volatile events—but it also means that the defense, while excellent overall, can have some bad games. It ranks just 31st out of 32 teams in FO's "variance" stat, which measures how consistent DVOA rating is from game to game. You see this in micro in Seattle ranking just 15th in three-and-outs, and 12th in plays per drive as well.
On the other side of the ball, Seattle's offense is a run-heavy, time-killing nightmare that ranks in the top 10 in time of possession per drive—2:43, according to Football Outsiders—and a major reason is Marshawn Lynch. The fifth-best running back in DYAR this season is an asset with his ability to break tackles. He caused 75 missed tackles this regular season, most for any running back. (Adrian Peterson was in second with 58.) Of Lynch's 1,257 rushing yards, 752 came after contact, good for a respectable 2.5 yards after contact per attempt. Broncos defenders can't afford to make sloppy tackles on him.
Russell Wilson also contributes to the ground game: He had the third most rushing yards (539) out of all quarterbacks. He's not nearly as involved in passing as Peyton is for the Broncos, with just 3,357 passing yards this season—and a game high of 33 pass attempts—but Wilson still doesn't make many bad decisions, throwing only nine total picks. He does, however, make huge plays, and is one of the very best deep passers in the league.