JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Statistics say Super Bowl XLVIII will pair Denver’s top-ranked offense against Seattle’s top-ranked defense.
More specifically and subjectively, it may also pair the best secondary, led by the best cornerback, against the best receiving corps.
Or at least, that’s what Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas said this week.
“I think so,” he said. “You’ve got me, (Wes) Welker, (Eric) Decker, you even have Andre Caldwell coming off the bench. You even have Julius Thomas at tight end and Knowshon (Moreno) coming out of the backfield…
“There are so many options for (quarterback Peyton Manning).”
The numbers they put up are impressive. Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos with 1,430 yards, Decker added 1,288 yards and Thomas (788) and Welker (778) were productive. Moreno set career highs with 60 receptions for 548 yards.
Asked to assess the guys he practices against every day, Denver cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie identified Welker as the toughest to cover. But it is a versatile and deep group that doesn’t lend itself to a defense neutralizing any single threat.
“They’ve got a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things,” Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell said. “They’re athletic. They’re playmakers. Manning gets the ball out quickly; he allows his playmakers to make plays.
“At the end of the day, that’s what their skill set is: to create plays after catches.”
Over the week leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, Broncos receivers have spread their praise around.
Demaryius Thomas didn’t merely say the Broncos have the best receivers in the NFL. He also saved a superlative for Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
“I do feel like he’s the best in the game,” Thomas said. “Watching film on him, he’s in the right spot at all times. He knows what’s going on the field, he knows leverage and all this other stuff. I am going to have to figure out something (against him).”
Manning had nothing but praise for the Seattle secondary he will face.
“They’re excellent cover corner guys, and you have to know who is guarding your receiver on each play and what route that receiver is running,” he said. “… Their safeties are excellent, as well.”
Yet for all of that mutual admiration, each unit seems suspicious of the other. Each side expects contact – and perhaps illegal contact. The Broncos have been accused by their opponents of running illegal pick plays while the Seahawks have been accused of committing pass interference and holding.
Both sides have said one of the keys to this Super Bowl could be how much contact the officiating crew allows. Denver receivers are well aware of the Seattle secondary’s reputation for playing physical at the line of scrimmage, and sometimes well beyond.
“I think there's always that mindset that they can't call everything, so it's one of those deals where you just have to deal with it sometimes,” Welker said
“You've got to play through it and make it where they can't hold you. … The main thing is going out there and playing the best you can and we'll see how the game is called early on and see how they're playing it and try to be physical ourselves."
That physicality of Denver receivers broke into the national spotlight after the AFC championship game where Welker’s crossing-route collision with New England defensive back Aqib Talib knocked Talib out of the game.
Afterward, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Welker took out Talib intentionally and called it “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”
The Seahawks can and do expect Denver to cluster their receivers together and to run crosses. That will put a lot of big bodies in close proximity while in motion, so contact is expected.
“Sherman is 6-3, (Maxwell) is 6-1,” Broncos receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said. “… Having that length at cornerback poses problems for some people, but we have length as well at receiver on the outside with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. It’s going to be an interesting matchup to say the least.”