Welcome to our Super bowl edition of Behind Enemy Lines. This week I spoke with Rich Kurtzman, managing editor of cover32’s Denver Broncos site. I asked if Peyton Manning plans on throwing Richard Sherman’s way and more.
Tim Weaver: Hey Rich. All I’ve heard about this year is the Broncos offense. Tell me about the defense – what do they run? I’ve heard it’s mostly 4-3. Will they change anything against the Seahawks?
Rich Kurtzman: Denver does run a 4-3, although it more closely resembles a 3-4 when Von Miller is in. He’s out and they will continue to rely on the front four to get pressure on most plays. Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips especially have been good-to-very good at getting to the quarterback this year, while Malik Jackson and even Terrance Knighton have been busting through opposing offensive lines for sacks or run stuffs. The secondary is talented, though they lost second-best cornerback Chris Harris Jr. against the Chargers, meaning 34-year old Champ Bailey will get the start. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and young safety Duke Ihenacho are both playmakers and each will be important. The Broncos offense has been so sensational, they’ve stolen the news that this defense is actually pretty good considering all the injuries. To wit, in their last four games they’ve allowed an average of 15 points and just 70 yards on the ground; four wins.
TW: It seems like the Broncos have given up a lot of passing yards this year. Is that just because other teams are always playing from behind or are there coverage issues?
RK: It’s a bit of both. To start, Rahim Moore was placed on the IR, meaning Ihenacho had to step up. He has, while giving up a few big plays here and there. When Harris tore his ACL against San Diego, Quentin Jammer came in and was burned over and over again by Keenan Allen and Philip Rivers, while rookie Kayvon Webster was picked on at times during the season as well. This week they’ll trot out Rodgers-Cromartie and Bailey at the corners, Tony Carter at the slot, with Mike Adams and Ihenacho the safety. They understand how big a game it is and after Denver gets up in the second half, they’ll rise to the occasion.
TW: Richard Sherman is still a thing. Does Peyton Manning tempt fate or just avoid that side of the field entirely?
RK: Manning has a history of attacking the best corners in the league. Will he? Likely, but probably only a few times or in sneaky ways (ala a bubble screen). The Broncos have so many weapons, even outside the 10-TD guys, that Manning could avoid him altogether and still enjoy a very strong passing and scoring day.
TW: Who’s the X factor outside of Peyton? If this one guy has a big game, the Broncos have a real chance of winning. Is it Moreno?
RK: Knowshon Moreno will be counted on to play well, yes, but the X-factor is Julius Thomas in my opinion. Who will cover Thomas? If it’s the 5’10” Earl Thomas, the 6’5″ and very athletic Julius Thomas will have the clear advantage. He’s tall, fast for a tight end and can jump out the gym; a former basketball player turned top-notch tight end, sound familiar? Thomas scored 12 touchdowns with nearly 800 receiving yards this season, if he has a big game catching passes up the seam of the field, the Broncos will run up the score like usual.
TW: There’s a lot of weapons in your receiver core. Do you really think they can get separation against the legion of boom?
RK: Yes. Simply, the Broncos watch an incredible amount of film; giving Peyton Manning two weeks to prepare is a recipe for disaster for any defense. He’ll find some weaknesses and exploit them where and when possible. I don’t expect him to go for 400 yards, but over 300 with two-three touchdowns sounds just about right. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker are the main four, but don’t forget about backup tight end Jacob Tamme and fifth wideout Andre Caldwell; Seattle can’t stop them all.
TW: Care to make a Super final score prediction?
RK: Denver 27 – Seattle 17.
TW: If it doesn’t work out, what’s next for the Broncos? Do you think Peyton hangs it up?
RK: Manning is more likely to retire if they win. That will give him two Super Bowl wins, a 2-1 record in the biggest game, a winning playoff record 12-11 as well as every single-season passing record out there. If they lose, I think he’ll definitely be back. If they win, it still seems more likely he will come back than retire, but only he will know for sure and he’ll have to decide after the outcome of this great game. He still has three years left on the contract he signed with the team in March of 2012 and he still wants to play; he’ll be back.
Watch comedian Jon Stewart skewer the media’s coverage of Richard Sherman.