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Three Keys: Super Bowl XLVIII

Posted Feb 2, 2014

Independent Analyst Andrew Mason takes a look at his three keys to Super Bowl XLVIII.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- They awoke this morning at various times -- some before the sun rose, others needing a few alarm clocks. Some may have not slept at all; others just a few bursts here and there.

Every Bronco will handle Super Sunday just a bit differently. 

And some will ponder the possibility, and perhaps think about the road to get here. And some might ruminate on their shared path to MetLife Stadium.

The ex-Jacksonville Jaguars on Denver's roster share more than a former team. Terrance Knighton, Jeremy Mincey and Brandon Marshall are not necessarily the biggest stars in the Broncos' firmament, but their smiles shine brightest. No one appreciates today's opportunity quite like they do -- because it wasn't long ago that it seemed a galaxy away.

"I think, 'Man, it's crazy how all three of us are here,'" Marshall said. "We were on a 2-14 team last year. We didn't have a lot of success. For us to come here and have a chance to win a Super Bowl, that's unreal. Sometimes, I'm at a loss for words, because it's funny how things work out, and things work out how they're supposed to.

Knighton was with the Broncos the entire year after signing in March, but Marshall didn't join until Sept. 2 -- signing with the practice squad before being promoted in December -- and Mincey wasn't on the roster until Week 16, days before the Broncos began their current four-game winning streak.

Mincey was with the Jaguars until Dec. 13, enduring most of a 4-12 steason that began with an 0-8 start that virtually eliminated them by Halloween. Through that start, MetLife Stadium seemed as far away as Oz. But these ex-Jaguars aren't in Kansas anymore.

"It was pretty far away -- especially after we jumped out 0-3, and I'm like, 'Whoa; that's not what I signed up for,'" said Mincey. 

Marshall was cut by the Jaguars in September. Waived by a team perceived by many pundits to be the worst in the sport when the season began, a bedraggled club that some hyperbolic wags theorized could lose to the University of Alabama.

"I was like, 'Man, I don't know. Will I get picked up?' I didn't know what would happen," Marshall said. "So when Denver called, I was like, 'Okay, I know my chances are limited, so I'll have to make the best of it.'"

He did in practice, and earned a December promotion. Now he plays on special teams, and he's prepared for the opportunity to run downfield in the Super Bowl. Mincey will have the chance to rush the passer. And Knighton, an integral part of the Broncos' hopes, will hope to draw the double-teams up front to free the linebackers to slow down Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch.

There was anticipation galore at the Broncos' team hotel Sunday morning. But the ex-Jaguars share something: an appreciation for a moment that in recent years, seemed an impossible dream.

But to make that moment happen, there'll be a lot of moving parts, including three keys that we will revisit after Super Bowl XLVIII.

1. DON'T GET TOO CLEVER; FOCUS ON WHAT WORKS.

In the Super Bowl XIII highlight film, narrator John Facenda described a touchdown pass from Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw thusly: "When you're invited to the biggest party of the year, you dance with who brung ya." 

That applies to another offense led by a Louisiana quarterback today. No passing offense is more prolific the one that Peyton Manning has guided, and it has succeeded through balance, taking what the defense concedes and finding the one man in the softest coverage. Manning has rarely forced passes into oppressive coverage, and has minimized the window for potential havoc.

Seattle will try and disrupt the Broncos, particularly with its safeties. They can supplement the pass rush, come forward to stop the run or lay back and play deep, depending on the situation. But the Broncos haven't gotten to this point by over-reacting to defensive gambits; they did it by focusing on themselves and trusting in the quality and depth of their skill-position players to keep a defense off-balance. Fundamentally, that should not change Sunday night.

2. REMOVE THE SEAHAWKS' RUN FROM THE EQUATION.

It will be more difficult against Marshawn Lynch than LeGarrette Blount in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 19. Blount's emergence was timely for the Patriots in the regular-season finale and divisional playoffs, but he wasn't a central aspect of their offense in most of the season. Lynch has been the Seahawks' offensive touchstone since powering the playoffs to an unexpected postseason appearance and wild-card upset of the then-defending champion Saints in the 2010 season.

Lynch isn't built like an elusive back, but he becomes one by shedding potential tacklers. Often, he appears to do it easily. The truth is that Lynch is a near-perfect mix of size, vision, footwork and persistence. Tackling him alone is nearly impossible; the key is often to hold him up long enough until help arrives.

"He has great balance and he gathers himself well," said Mincey. "He can get low and powerful -- very fast -- and he can change directions well. The key to stopping him is populating the ball, making sure you get enough hats on him to slow him down. Try to stop him and limit the yards after contact."

If the Broncos can limit the effectiveness of Lynch and Robert Turbin, they will put the game in Russell Wilson's hands. Although he is capable of carrying the ground game on his own if the need arises, he prefers to throw. And if that happens, he will use his legs to extend plays. Which brings us to …

3. MAINTAIN COVERAGE INTEGRITY WHEN WILSON EXTENDS THE PLAY.

Wilson can -- and will -- extend plays for six to nine seconds by breaking outside of the pocket to look downfield. His receiving targets are well-adjusted to this, and some of Seattle's biggest plays had an extemporaneous quality. The receivers abandoned their primary routes and focused on getting open at any cost, running in any direction, and Wilson found them, even if it meant throwing across his body and the field.

Such plays can be especially crushing to a defense's morale; few things frustrate more than having a quarterback pinned, only to see him wiggle away and still find his target. The challenge for the Broncos' secondary and linebackers will be to keep pace with Seattle's receiving targets when Wilson has the opportunity to move, and not be beaten after he extends the play. The cornerbacks will need help from the safeties and linebackers who drop into coverage to do this, which could also impact the Broncos' pass rush.

Plays like this are where Wilson's skills shine brightest, and where he has established a growing legacy. He will take downfield shots, and the Broncos defense can't be caught trailing a receiver or out of position; otherwise, they will pay dearly.

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