This is the date that everyone in Broncos Country has had circled on the schedule since it's release. The World Champion Seattle Seahawks. This week offers up the chance for a measured dose of revenge.
Not a full dose, however. The only way to fully avenge what happened on February 2nd, 2014, is for the Denver Broncos to make it to the Super Bowl again and defeat the Seahawks therein. But there's a long and arduous road ahead, if the Broncos even hope to be able get back to the big game.
At 2-0, the Broncos have taken care of business thus far. It hasn't always been pretty, but at the end of the day, they've gotten the job done. With so many new faces, it takes time to gel. And the Broncos are going through that curve right now. Since the Super Bowl, the Broncos have 12 new starters. Think about that.
The Seahawks have 6. Continuity is important to a team's stability. But at the most important position, namely; quarterback, the Broncos have had continuity. His name is Peyton Manning.
Every acquisition, every draft pick that John Elway has made since that fateful day in February, has been geared toward improving the team's physicality. And balancing the roster. In 2013, the Broncos were top heavy. The team's success began and ended with Manning. If an opponent could take away, or neutralize that element of the Broncos game, the rest of the team would crumble.
This year, it's all about physicality and balance. Elway knows what it's like to be a team's sole source of production. And he knows what type of fruits it produces. In the 1980s, Elway and the Broncos made it to 3 Super Bowls, only to be dismantled in humiliating fashion.
But when Mike Shanahan finally built a team around Elway, one that was balanced and physical, and put playmakers around the veteran quarterback, the team shot into the stratosphere, winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997-98. The benefit of hindsight and experience has informed how Elway has built the 2014 Denver Broncos.
With DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller on the edges, rushing the passer, it'll create opportunities for a stacked secondary to force turnovers. The defensive line is beefed up and consuming blocks, which lets the Broncos linebackers swarm and pursue. The defense is very well put together, which makes the team balanced. The Broncos already boast the best offense in the history of the NFL. But when your defense can't get off the field, it doesn't matter how good your offense is.
Physicality. T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib were brought in specifically to enhance this element for the Broncos. And it's working. The 2013 Broncos defense would have found a way to lose the games the Broncos won vs the Colts and Chiefs. Not this year. This year, the Broncos defense is tough mentally and physically.
The Seahawks think they know the Broncos. They think they have them all figured out. But they don't. 12 new starters. 12 new faces, some of which are the faces of All-Pros like Ware, Ward, Miller and Ryan Clady. The Broncos went to the Super Bowl as a proverbial case of the walking wounded, missing 6 starters in the big game.
One of the reasons the Seahawks were so successful in the post-season is because they had a remarkable run of good health. Not so for the Broncos. It says something about this team that they were able to make it to the big game so depleted.
Last week, the Seahawks got thumped by the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers' game-plan for the Seahawks, mirrored the one they had for he Broncos last year in week 15, when they beat the Broncos at home 27-20; keep the opposing offense on the sideline and grind out the clock. And despite the vaunted reputation of the Legion of Boom, the Chargers were able to do just that.
The Chargers possessed the ball for 42:15, leaving the Seahawks with just 17:45. They stopped the Seahawks running game, the focal point of the offense, which forced them into a lot of 3rd and longs. But you say, the Seahawks rushed for 108 yards? 45 of those came on 2 jet sweep type of plays by Percy Harvin. Take away those 2 runs, and the Seahawks only rushed for 63 yards. Not exactly Pete Carroll's recipe for success.
The Chargers biggest success, however, was moving the ball at will vs the Seahawks defense. That is easier said than done. Phillip Rivers played like a man possessed, as did his trusty tight end, Antonio Gates, who notched 3 receiving touchdowns. Rivers and company also made it clear that Richard Sherman is not bulletproof. He had a very difficult time containing Keenan Allen and Rivers did not shy away from him. If the Broncos hope to achieve what the Chargers did and beat the Seahawks, it all starts with making the most out of your offensive possessions. Can Manning and company do this Sunday, what they could not do last February, and score consistently? I feel that they can and will.
It will be imperative that Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson get into a rhythm early and often and soften up that defense, which will open up opportunities for vertical play-action plays down the field. The Seahawks aren't invincible, although their home record would beg to differ.
They can be beat. But on defense, first and foremost, you've got to stop Marshawn Lynch. The Broncos, with a depleted defense, stopped him in the Super Bowl. They're going to have to do it again, on the road, in hostile territory.
It'll also be important to keep Russell Wilson in the pocket. The Broncos defense cannot afford to let him get out and make plays with his legs, or throws down field with his arm. He's one of the best at breaking contain in the NFL. The Broncos would be wise to put a spy on him. And pressure him consistently.
At the end of the day, the Seahawks are World Champs because they're a complete, balanced team, that executes when the chips are down. The Broncos have taken some cues from them on this front and hope to showcase that on the road. But they'll have to execute and play smart football for a full 60 minutes.