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Three Keys Unlocked: Super Bowl XLVIII

Posted Feb 2, 2014

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

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Everything that went right for 18 games went wrong in Super Bowl XLVIII. 

The most prolific offense in NFL history endured its first single-digit output in 38 games. The defense that had held up so well in spite of injuries in the last four weeks, buckled under the strain of short fields and the Seahawks' ability to use Percy Harvin to keep the Broncos off-guard with end-arounds.

It was Harvin who provided some of the most decisive blows, beyond the ones that were self-inflicted -- namely the four turnovers that led to 21 points.

"They had two weeks to get him some plays in there, and they got him some good plays and they got him going," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "The guy's an explosive player. I said that all week. I knew it. It's no surprise that he made some plays. You've just got to find a way to eliminate them."

The Broncos didn't; Harvin averaged 34.3 yards every time he touched the football, and the X-factor had provided one more problem for a Broncos team that by that point was beset with issues in trying to contain the athletic, swift and destructive Seahawks.

And now, a look back at how the three keys played out.

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

The Broncos did. When Seattle pressured, they often responded as they did in the regular season: with screen passes designed to take the potency out of an opposing pass rush.

The problem was that the Seahawks had enough speed elsewhere on defense to compensate. Unlike other foes, Seattle's defense was able to identify, disrupt and ultimately stop screen passes from behind, bringing down receivers before they had a chance to take advantage of the offensive linemen who had already moved upfield.

This is how Seattle's defense led the league, and it was unlike anything the Broncos had seen before. In the battle of premier units, the Seahawks dominated in a way that had not been seen in an NFL championship game in 73 years.

2. REMOVE THE SEAHAWKS' RUN FROM THE EQUATION.

They removed Marshawn Lynch in the first half. Terrance Knighton was his usual self, getting under and outside of Seattle center Max Unger when in one-on-one situations and freeing teammates to make plays when he was double-teamed. Lynch had the Seahawks' only offensive touchdown of the first half on a one-yard plunge, but was swarmed and contained effectively.

But Seattle used a pair of end-arounds to Percy Harvin and some Russell Wilson scrambles to puncture the Broncos' run defense. Seattle ran for 135 yards, but Lynch and Robert Turbin were responsible for less than half of that tally (64 yards), even though they combined for 24 of 29 rushes. This could fundamentally change how Seattle's offense attacks foes, and might make the Seahawks an even more potent all-around team next season -- a frightening thought for the rest of the NFC West.

3. MAINTAIN COVERAGE INTEGRITY WHEN WILSON EXTENDS THE PLAY.

This was where the Broncos' defensive injuries finally caught up with them. A secondary that was without Rahim Moore and Chris Harris, Jr. was unable to keep Seattle's quick receivers tightly covered for stretches that spanned six to eight seconds. Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin didn't need much room, and eventually were able to find gaps in the defense, which Wilson exploited to keep the chains moving, particularly early in the game.

Throughout the season, Wilson had made plays downfield on these sequences; Sunday, he used his legs and the length of time required in coverage to exploit the Broncos underneath. The final example of this was on a third-and-2 pass from Wilson to Baldwin early in the fourth quarter. Wilson rolled right, giving him the chance to find the late-opening receiver for six yards; two plays later, the Seahawks had their final touchdown.