Football is a game of matchups, and that will prove to be true for the 2014 Super Bowl. In a battle between the league’s best on both sides of the ball, individual matchups will determine which team hoists the Lombardi Trophy when it’s all said and done. But which one-on-one contests should you be watching in between those memorable Super Bowl commercials?
Given the tremendous amount of media coverage surrounding Peyton Manning and Richard Sherman in Super Bowl week, it would be easy to think that the two were competing head-to-head, but we will only see them do battle indirectly. Here are four of the must-watch tussles for the final game of the 2013 season.
Terrance Knighton vs. Max Unger
Let’s start with the “unglamorous” battle that will actually go a long way to swinging the balance one way or another. Quarterbacks and receivers get all the publicity, but football games are won in the trenches—especially when a physical team like the Seattle Seahawks is involved.
The Seahawks offense revolves around Marshawn Lynch, so the offensive line will have to block well to get him going.
Nose tackle/defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is known in the Denver Broncos locker room as “Pot Roast” because of his beefy physique, and he’ll be the main cog in the Broncos run defense.
Knighton was a disruptive force in the AFC Championship game, as evidenced by the grades he received from ProFootballFocus (subscription required):
|Terrance Knighton vs. New England Patriots|
|Overall Grade||Run Defense Grade||Pass Rush Grade||Stops|
Runs up the middle has been a strength for both the Seahawks offense and the Denver defense, so the battle between Knighton and Unger will be critical to the outcome of the game.
|Runs Up the Middle|
|Team||Rushing Yards Per Carry Over Center|
|Denver Broncos Defense||2.84|
|Seattle Seahawks Offense||4.80|
Earl Thomas vs. Peyton Manning
This may as well be the “Peyton Manning Bowl” with all the talk of how important this game is for Manning’s legacy. There isn't a Seahawk that will truly match up with Manning for every play, but the hopes of the Seattle defense rest on the shoulders of Earl Thomas.
Thomas had a tremendous season en route to Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, but this will be his toughest test of the season.
Peyton Manning is definitely one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and his ability to manipulate safeties and exploit defensive play calls is legendary.
The Seahawks will generally unleash press-man coverage on the outside, which will leave the middle of the field open for Manning to exploit with a combination of Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Knowshon Moreno.
Thomas’ tackling ability on short passes will be critical in preventing big plays after the catch, but he also has to stay disciplined in case his corners get beat deep.
Furthermore, the Broncos are sure to use a lot of bunch formations and rub plays to give their receivers some free releases, which will put pressure on the Seattle safeties.
Thomas talked to ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha about how he focuses on opposing quarterbacks, but he’ll have to be in the zone against Manning:
The whole game, I'm just staring at the quarterback. I don't care if it's a huddle situation or any situation. I just want to let him feel me. I look into his eyes the whole time. I can kind of tell. I don't want to get my traits out, but I understand the game, and I know how to play it.
Thomas is making his case as the best safety in the game, and the Super Bowl showdown with Peyton Manning would go a long way to cementing his status as not just the best safety, but one of the best defensive players in the league.
Kam Chancellor vs. Julius Thomas
Looking back on the past two seasons, they might be referred to as the emergence of the tight end as a receiving force.
Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have been some of the best receivers in the game, and they've paved the way for tight ends like Julius Thomas—who finished the year with 65 receptions for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Thomas has thrived in his first year with Peyton Manning, but his year will probably end on a sour note against Kam Chancellor and the Seattle defense.
The Seahawks have been excellent against the elite tight ends they've faced this season: Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham.
Seattle’s linebackers are good in coverage, but Chancellor will be the defender that spends the most time matched up against Thomas.
As mentioned above, Manning would be best served to attack the middle of the field and not force balls into tight coverage against Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell.
If Chancellor locks down Thomas, it will be that much harder for Manning and the Broncos to move the football. If Thomas has a big game, things won’t look too good for the Seahawks.
Richard Sherman vs. Demaryius Thomas
Richard Sherman may actually have overtaken Peyton Manning as the biggest media target of the Super Bowl thanks to his infamous postgame press conference after the NFC Championship game. But as much as the talking heads want to make this a battle between Manning and Sherman, Sherman will instead be going toe-to-toe against the Denver receivers.
This matchup won’t be present throughout the game, since Sherman stays on the left side and Thomas is moved all over the field in the Broncos offense.
But when they are matched up? It will be a sight to behold.
Sherman is the best cornerback in the game, and Thomas is one of the best up-and-coming receivers in the game with a devastating combination of size and strength.
Watching Thomas trying to free himself from Sherman’s press coverage will be an entertaining battle and could determine whether the Seattle defense or Denver offense comes out victorious.
Thomas is such a dynamic big-play threat, that it will only take one lapse on Sherman’s part to change the game.