Redemption or redo, what will it be?
For the first time in 17 years, the two teams who battled in the Super Bowl will play each other in the following season. The Denver Broncos, 43-8 losers to the Seattle Seahawks seven months ago, get a chance to make amends Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
A victory by the Broncos (2-0) would be a bit of redemption after the humiliating loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. A win by the Seahawks would show they're still at the top of the heap and they've regrouped after a surprising 30-21 loss last week at San Diego.
Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a look at some of the key issues entering the Super Bowl rematch.
Blount: Jeff, the Seahawks defense had some major problems stopping the Chargers offense last weekend, which, as you know, is very similar to the schemes the Broncos use. The Seahawks had no answers for San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. Do you think the Broncos saw some things they can exploit?
Legwold: Terry, there is no explaining away a 35-point Super Bowl loss -- or at least no explaining that would satisfy the team's faithful. But there has been a nagging feeling around the team in the weeks and months since the Super Bowl blowout that if you look at the game video, the Broncos had receivers open, that they left plays out there they had made for months. So, the Broncos feel like if they execute, they can find some room to work. In looking at the Seahawks' scheme, my belief is any team has to stay patient, be content with the short and intermediate routes and wait for the chance for the big play. That's certainly easier said than done if the Seahawks get pressure up front. For the Broncos, tight end Julius Thomas has been a matchup nightmare for defenses thus far with four touchdowns in two games. The Broncos have been far more efficient out of a two tight end look early in this season, and, more importantly, more willing to use it. By the time they reached the Super Bowl, they had worked out of a three-wide receiver set on offense almost exclusively down the stretch.
Terry, staying with the Broncos offense, do you think the Seahawks look at it any differently with Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, instead of Eric Decker, Montee Ball at running back and Ryan Clady back at left tackle? Or do you think they see the same scheme with just different personnel than they faced in Super Bowl XLVIII?
Blount: I honestly don't think they see it much differently, believing it's still the same formula overall with Peyton Manning leading the way. One thing the Seahawks players and coaches say over and over again is they want to force teams to adjust to what they do, not the other way around. No matter who the Seahawks are playing, they tend to stick to what they do best on defense, which is aggressive play in the secondary, ferocious tackling and a relentless pass rush off the edge from multiple line sets. The goal is to coax the opposing offense into making mistakes and going all out to force turnovers. No matter who they play or how renowned that team's personnel, the Seahawks take the attitude of "This is what we do. Beat us if you can." The Chargers did last week. They dink-and-dunked them to death. So the Seahawks probably feel if they clean up what happened last week it should work this week since the Broncos have a similar style.
Legwold: Overall, the group still hasn't quite put together the full four-quarters, get-it-done effort they believe they can. The defense has made fourth-down plays in the closing minutes to preserve each of the first two wins, but it has had some issues on third down -- the Chiefs repeatedly converted in situations of third-and-8 or longer -- that need immediate attention. But those signings in free agency have already paid dividends. Ware, who was voted a team captain after his arrival in March, has 1.5 sacks, and Talib and Ware have given the Broncos more of a physical edge. But maybe more importantly, the two have allowed defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to use a bigger variety of looks because of their versatility. Ward lines up all over the formation, even putting in snaps at weakside linebacker at times. The Broncos also had five defensive starters on injured reserve for the Super Bowl. The return of some of those players, such as linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore, will give the defense a vastly different look than what the Seahawks saw in the title game, or even in the preseason game in August.
Terry, the Seahawks had the inevitable talent drain of a Super Bowl winner after the free-agency dust settled. How effective do you think they've been to stay true to their plan and replace the players who departed?
Blount: It's still to be determined how this will turn out. Seattle lost 10 players who had 58 years of combined experience. They've been replaced, for the most part, by much younger players and, in many cases, players with a lot more talent. But it's hard to make up all that experience they lost. So far, it seems to have hurt them the most on the defensive line in losing defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. Those three players accounted for 11.5 sacks last season. The Seahawks added veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but his impact has been negligible so far. Rookie Cassius Marsh, who was expected to make a difference as an edge-rusher, hasn't shown much yet. Depth on the defensive line was a huge team strength last season because it kept everyone fresh late in game and into the playoffs. After two games, that same depth isn't apparent, but it's early.
The Broncos got a tiny bit of revenge in the preseason opener, when they beat the Seahawks 21-16 in Denver. But is this really the game they've been looking toward for the past seven months?
Legwold: A regular-season win would not erase a Super Bowl blowout, it just won't. Deep down, even the Broncos know that. But the item the team has carried around, what they've had to listen to, is they were "soft" or "intimidated" in the Super Bowl. The Broncos will admit to mistakes in the game, but they are tired of hearing they lost because they were too shaken to succeed. That's the part of the narrative they'd like to do something about, and if they can put together a quality effort Sunday, that would probably close the book a little for them on the whole thing, at least until the playoffs start. In the end, though, they know they can't make a Week 3 game of the new season be everything, either. There's plenty of work for them to do moving forward, win or lose Sunday, to get them back for another shot at the trophy.
Terry, in the end, an awful lot of people around the league believe if these two teams get their respective acts together and keep them together, it could be a repeat Super Bowl. From the Seahawks' perspective, how have they handled the title aftermath, and do they see what happened in San Diego as just a bad outing or something that might need a little more attention?
Blount: That's always the key question: Will all the fame and accolades change you? Richard Sherman has become a national celebrity who transcends football. Russell Wilson seems to appear on every other TV commercial here in Seattle. Sherman, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett all received big-money deals in the offseason. But through the offseason, organized team activities and training camp, I didn't see the slightest indication this team had become complacent. If anything, it seemed more driven to prove it could return to the Super Bowl and win it again, breaking the trend of teams not getting it done the following season. However, they fell off the horse a little last week. It wasn't that they lost, but how they reacted to the loss. They said and did some things that were uncharacteristic, but they were clearly stunned about getting beat. How they react to it this week will say a lot about where they're headed.