Early Impressions: Denver vs. Seattle

Nothing can change what happened in February. Seattle fans and players will always have 43-8, they will always have those gleaming rings, and they will always have the banner that hangs in CenturyLink Field. But the Denver Broncos are coming to our neck of the woods with the goal of proving the past is completely divorced from the present. They have been telling themselves that game was a fluke and due to Denver injuries. They have been telling themselves they could buy toughness with free agent dollars. They even have been telling themselves the Seahawks cheated their way to the Lombardi Trophy because the referees were not calling enough holding calls on the Seattle secondary. People with delusions have a way of finding any scrap of evidence to support their version of reality. This game on Sunday is sitting in the Broncos sights like a candy apple. The Seahawks job is knock the Broncos back to reality, and to force them to face their worst fear of simply being an inferior team.

Broncos start the week in the pole position

The Broncos offense looks as dangerous as ever after two weeks of play. Peyton Manning boasts a 126.5 passer rating, and has done it without Wes Welker, who is almost certain to return this week. Manning has targeted tight end Julius Thomas in his stead, and had terrific results. Seahawks fans are certainly paying extra attention to any tight end after Antonio Gates owned the Seattle secondary on Sunday. 
Denver had a relatively soft landing as they started the season with two home games, and will not hit the road for the first time. They also faced two defenses in Indianapolis and Kansas City that rank among the worst in the NFL through two weeks. And that’s not just a reflection of playing Manning. Both defenses were trounced in their other game as well. 
It is not clear to me that the Broncos are any better on offense than they were last season. In fact, the Seahawks enter the game with more points (28.5 ppg vs 27.5 ppg) than Denver despite having only 40 plays in their second game. Getting Welker back will help, but I’m not convinced Emmanuel Sanders works as well in this offense as Erik Decker did. The Broncos running game also seems to be missing Knowshon Moreno. 
The Denver defense, on the other hand, looks different than last year. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are significant upgrades on the edge. T.J. Ward is a hard hitter at safety, and Aqib Talib adds to their depth at corner. 
They are getting good enough play on both sides of the ball to enter this week feeling very good about their chances.

Seattle has ground to make up

The Seahawks defense has something to prove. They played well in week one, if not exactly dominating. Then they were dragged up and down the field in week two. Even the most ardent Seahawks supporter would have to acknowledge that the defense is not yet matching the level of play they achieved last season. Something is off, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is.
The team is struggling to get off the field on third down. They are giving up touchdowns in the red zone instead of field goals. They are not getting turnovers. Entering a game against Manning expecting to improve in those areas is a tall order, even when playing at home.
Denver, though, is more reliant on the running game than people think, and Seattle has been excellent against the run so far (3.1 YPC, good for 4th-best in the NFL). The Broncos run game has been less impressive than a year ago, so any Seattle plan has to start there. 
Figuring out their approach to the trio of Demaryius Thomas, Welker and Julius Thomas will likely determine the outcome of this game. Nobody, not even last year’s Seahawks, were able to keep Demaryius Thomas down. I would be curious to see how the Broncos offense functioned if Thomas was taken away. Seattle has very rarely allowed Richard Sherman to move around the field. This could be a good game to consider it. That would be a fun chess match to watch.
The Seahawks offense has played like one of the best offenses in the league, but they need to show they can win a game when their defense is unable to. This past week was a perfect example. Say what you want about the defensive failures, the Seahawks offense had multiple chances to take the lead, and stalled each time. They are good enough to take the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, and it will be games like this that prove it. Everyone will be focused on Manning versus the LOB. Russell Wilson and the offense have an opportunity to shift people’s attention to how a defense is going to slow down this offense.

A few notes

  • Kansas City entered their game with Denver clearly committed to the run. It was an effective strategy. Even after they lost Jamaal Charles early, the Chiefs went to backup Knile Davis for almost 80 yards. He was under 4 yards per carry, but there were a series of gashing runs because the Chiefs stuck with it.
  • Alex Smith had 42 yards rushing on Sunday. He had 46 and 52 yards rushing in his games against the Broncos last year. Denver had a lot of trouble containing Smith as he rolled out and created extra time. 
  • I have more tape to watch, but I have concerns about the use of Jordan Hill so far. Brandon Mebane, Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel provide heft in the middle that Hill simply has not proven he can match. The obvious goal here is to see if Hill can be an effective nickel tackle, and he does flash some ability to get up the field, but much of the Chargers running success came when Hill was in there. 


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