As much as Super Bowl XLVIII has been portrayed as a battle of the Denver offense against the Seattle defense, several Broncos see it differently.
This week, Denver players have repeatedly stressed that their ability to walk away as winners Sunday is directly tied to their ability to contain the Seahawks’ running game.
“Their offense is really based on Marshawn Lynch,” cornerback Quentin Jammer said. “He’s an explosive running back. He gets yards after contact, and his big runs are after contact, and he sets up the passing game with play-action run fake. Everything starts with Marshawn.”
The Broncos have given no indication that they believe it will be easy.
“He doesn't want to go down, and he doesn't go down,” Denver defensive end Shaun Phillips said. “He's a very hard runner. He wants to deliver the blow instead of take the blow. You have to respect a guy like that. We have a challenge this week, but we're looking forward to it.”
Statistically, the Denver run defense allowed an average of 106.1 yards per game during the regular season – tied with Seattle for seventh in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Seahawks had the fourth-best rushing offense, averaging 136.8 yards. Lynch was sixth in the league with 1,257 rushing yards.
The matchup becomes even more intriguing when limited to postseason numbers.
Lynch leads these NFL playoffs with 249 rushing yards in wins over New Orleans and San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Broncos have the top rushing defense of the postseason, allowing an average of 64.5 ground yards in wins over San Diego and New England.
“We feel underrated a little bit … because we had a slow start as a defense early in the season,” safety Mike Adams said. “(But) we finished the season strong and we carried it on to the playoffs. And we’re trying to continue that streak that we’re on – playing great defense, playing together, not making the little mistakes – because that’s what we had to fix earlier in the year.”
Of course, Denver hopes Adams isn’t forced into too many tackles against Lynch. Ideally, their front seven will be able to get him down – or at least slow him up – before he reaches the secondary.
Over the regular season, Denver’s top two tacklers were linebackers: Danny Trevathan with 124 and Wesley Woodyard with 83.
This week, Trevathan sounded eager to test himself against Lynch.
“He refuses to go down,” he said. “You don’t find many running backs that don’t try to avoid contact. He is one of those guys that keeps his feet moving. As a linebacker, I like the challenge. I’m not one to talk a lot, but I enjoy watching his running style. It’s going to be an honor to play with him.”
One level forward, tackle Terrance Knighton has emerged as a leader of the defensive line.
Knighton made perhaps the key play in the win over New England that sent the Broncos through to their seventh Super Bowl, sacking Tom Brady on a fourth down attempt in the third quarter.
Come Sunday, Knighton expects to line up in front of Seattle center Max Unger.
“He's real crafty,” Knighton said. “He knows a lot of tricks of the trade of trying to influence you to do certain things. I've just been watching him over and over, and trying to figure out what he's thinking about, and how other guys in the league have been successful.”
For all that, Knighton also believes that football usually comes down to its basics.
"One thing our coach is always talking about is changing the line of scrimmage,” Knighton said. “We want to knock it back two yards before the running back gets to the line of scrimmage. That's really what they can look for, just based on knock-back … The o-line, they're trying to knock us back. The d-line, we're trying to knock them back. So whoever wins the line of scrimmage and establishes the line of scrimmage usually comes out successful in the game."