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February 1, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Super Bowl: Five keys

Here we go with a special Super Bowl edition of Five Keys

1, Red zone defense: It’s been well-publicized that Seattle has the No. 1 defense in the NFL and the Broncos the No. 1 offense. But those rankings stand even when you dip into deeper stats, such as red zone offense and defense. The Broncos led the NFL this year scoring touchdowns on 76.1 percent of their possessions inside an opponent’s 20 (51-of-67), while the Seahawks led the NFL in allowing opponents to score touchdowns on just 36.1 percent of possessions inside the 20 (13-of-36). This battle looms critical, especially early in the game, as the Broncos figure to be able to gain some yards. The key for Seattle will be not allowing yards to turn into touchdowns, stops that could begin to frustrate the usually efficient Denver offense.

2, How the game is called: Seattle’s first Super Bowl appearance in 2006 is remembered now largely for a few controversial calls that didn’t go the way of the Seahawks. And how the game is officiated could go a long way toward dictating Seattle’s success in this one, as well, especially when it comes to the Seahawk secondary. There was much media attention in the lead-up to the game on the physical nature of the Legion of Boom. The Seahawks were called for pass interference 13 times in the regular season, tied for the most in the NFL, part of an NFL-high 128 penalties overall. However, Seattle has not had a single defensive PI call in the playoffs. That includes the New Orleans game, when the Saints threw 43 passes. The head referee for that game was Terry McAulay, who will also be the head referee for the Super Bowl. Everyone on both sides will be watching intently to see how the game is called early, and whether that requires any adjusting in strategy.

3, Unleashing the Beast: We’ve referred to this one often a lot this year. But that’s for a good reason as getting Marshawn Lynch going is always vital to Seattle’s offense. And after struggling a bit at the end of the regular season — five straight games averaging under four yards a carry at one point. But  Lynch has been at his best in the playoffs this year, breaking the 100-yard mark in each game, with 249 yards total on 50 carries, an average of 5.0 per attempt, compared to 4.2 in the regular season. With temperatures that figure to dip into the 30s and a desire to keep Manning and the Denver offense off the field, the Seahawks will want to unleash their Beast Mode as often as possible. A key to that effort will be whether center Max Unger can move Denver defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast’’ Knighton out of the way enough to make room for Lynch to run between the tackles.

4, Make sure MetLife is not Peyton’s Place: Time to address fully what is the highlight matchup of this game — Peyton Manning and Denver’s passing game against Seattle’s defense. This has been widely debated and discussed since the minute the matchup was set, so it’s hard to find much new on this one now. But having studied this all week, the key part of this feels like Seattle’s ability with its rush to make life at least a little uncomfortable for Manning. Manning was sacked just 18 times in the regular season, and one in the two playoff games. So it won’t be easy to get to him. But the Seahawks have to, as Pete Carroll said, move him around some. Make him throw without sitting back there patting the ball.

5, Who steps out of the shadows?: It wouldn’t be a Super Bowl if some relatively obscure player thrust himself into the spotlight with a key play at a critical time (and when I say obscure, I mean more in reference to his national standing — locally, every Seahawk is pretty well known at this point). The Seahawks need it to be one of theirs — maybe a Byron Maxwell or a Jermaine Kearse or a Clint McDonald or a Jeremy Lane. The anticipation builds.


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