Sometimes timing is everything.
Offense is waging a battle of timing against defense on every snap in the NFL and who wins that battle determines the play’s success or failure.
This Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos isn’t going to be about individual matchups, nicknames, trash talking, Omaha calls or any of that stuff – it’s going to be about timing.
Peyton Manning is the master of controlling timing. No offensive line gave up less pressure than the Broncos this season. They gave up four fewer total pressures than the next best unit and had the best Pass Blocking Efficiency of any of them given how many snaps they were asked to pass protect. Manning was only sacked or knocked down 38 times in the regular season and has only hit the turf once so far in the playoffs, but it’s sure not because Denver has the league’s best offensive line. It is because Manning is the master of timing on offense.
No quarterback had the ball in his hands less on average than Manning did this year. Opposing pass-rushers had just 2.36 seconds to get to Manning on most plays. That’s not a lot of time to beat a man and close distance, but it becomes even harder because of his pocket presence. When he feels pressure developing he knows instantly where to go with the football to prevent disaster.
Manning can be looking downfield, sense pressure developing and in an instant flick his eyes to the right and dump the ball off to the running back in the flat. While most quarterbacks would have taken pressure and been hurried on the play, increasing the chance of a poor play for the offense, Manning has prevented it ever becoming an issue. Even if you beat your man quickly he has the ability to neutralize it by simply going to his dump-off targets. A minimal gain is better than rolling the dice against pressure.
He picked the Patriots apart doing exactly this. They were completely unable to knock him out of his rhythm and disrupt the timing of that Denver offense so despite the game ending 26-16 and it being a low-scoring affair for much of it, Manning put up 400 passing yards. He was hurried on just 5 of 43 passing attempts.
The Seahawks have the kind of pass-rush that can generate serious pressure. The bulk of the New England rush comes from Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the edge. If they are shut down, there is nobody else they can rely on to pick up the slack, and neither is exactly a pass-rushing stud. The Seahawks are able to deploy multiple players that pose a legitimate problem for blockers. Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Clinton McDonald, Bruce Irvin and even Brandon Mebane can all bring pressure in varying ways so whatever happens Manning is likely to have to contend with a lot more broken pockets than he saw against the Patriots. But Seattle also has the crucial second part of the equation – a physical, dominant secondary.
For all the weapons Denver has, they are a timing offense. If you get physical with their receivers you can mess with that timing. Once you’ve done that you introduce an element of hesitation into Manning’s play that only helps the pass-rush and compounds the problems. Seattle has the ability on defense to mess with timing from both sides.
In theory a guy like Demaryius Thomas should be the perfect kind of receiver to withstand the physical assault from the Seahawks defensive backs. He is 6’3, 229lbs and one of the most impressive physical specimens at his position, but when Washington got physical with him in week eight this season he shrank from the fight. He caught seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown that day, but he was also bullied off routes and the Redskins intercepted Manning twice on passes intended for Thomas – the only time this season he has thrown three picks in a game and two intended for Thomas. DeAngelo Hall was the player that beat him physically that day, and nobody will confuse Hall for Richard Sherman when it comes to physicality any time soon.
Manning’s offense has come off the tracks in the past when teams turned the game into a physical battle. The league may have changed since Colts were beaten up in the 2003 AFC Championship game, but Manning will think he’s staring straight at those ’03 Patriots when he looks across the line at the Seattle Seahawks come Super Bowl Sunday.
At times the Denver offense has looked virtually unstoppable, but there is formula for stopping them, only so few teams have the required ingredients to make it happen.
The Seahawks have the perfect set of ingredients to derail Manning express and pave the way for the unfair headlines people are just waiting to write – another Peyton Manning choke job on the biggest stage.