ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – ** As future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning faces off against one of the best defenses in the NFL, all eyes and cameras will be looking downfield.
A record-breaking passing offense from 2013 versus a secondary with the potential to shut down the best of receivers – it's the ideal showdown.
While the Seahawks' defensive backs receive most of the accolades and attention, their run defense is nothing short of excellent, finishing the 2013 season tied for seventh in rushing yards allowed per game. Montee Ball, in his third game as an NFL starter, will look to make an impact on and spearhead the Broncos' ground attack.
"I've been telling myself that I have to start off to get three or four yards, keep the chains moving," Ball said. "Because with a team like this, we understand what type of team we're playing. You've got to keep the chains moving."
"First down, you've got to get positive yards. Second down, get positive yards. So maybe it's first, second, third-and-three. That's what we're focusing on doing. I'm sure every team is focusing on doing that, as well: keeping the chains moving. Like I said, I put that on myself."
The Seahawks currently rank ninth in the NFL in rush defense, allowing just 90.5 yards on the ground per game. So far this season, the Seahawks have been using a combination of players on the line—holding the Chargers to a 2.7 yards per rush average and the Packers to a total of 80 yards on the ground.
But their ceiling is high and, as Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said Thursday, neither team's defense has truly reached its potential yet.
And neither has the Broncos' run game.
After the Broncos' Week 2 win where they totaled 88 yards on nine attempts, Peyton Manning said he saw an improvement in the run game and that it allowed the offense to be more versatile.
"I felt Montee ran hard, I thought C.J. [Anderson] gave us a nice change of pace, and there were some nice little holes in there." Manning said. "When we could run the ball, that was I think keeping them a little bit off balance with could we drop back and pass, could we run some play action."
He said anytime you have three options—drop back, play action or run the ball—that puts a lot of pressure on defenses.
Head Coach John Fox said, in regards to the run game against Kansas City, there were "flashes."
One of those flashes included Ball's 23-yard run on third-and-24, leading to a fourth down conversion. Another highlight of his Week 2 was a seven-yard run in the fourth quarter, where the majority of those yards were accrued as he hopped down the field as Kansas City's Ron Parker was wrapped around his right leg, attempting to drag him down.
Check out the best photos of Friday's practice at Dove Valley, where players -- including linemen -- were working on their hands.
Ball averaged five yards per carry while Anderson held an impressive 6.2 yard average.
Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said there were too many tackles for loss against the Chiefs and that there is plenty of room for improvement. He noted that it's time "to start making some strides" in the running game. It won't be easy, but Sunday would be the perfect opportunity for the strides the running backs made in the offseason to come to fruition.
When asked if the Seahawks' defensive line is overshadowed by their all-star secondary, he said it's their linebackers that don't receive the credit they deserve.
"These guys are good pass rushers, that back end is about as good as there is if not the best and those linebackers are probably the ones that people forget about—that's a good group of linebackers," Gase said.
He compares their defense to some of the best in the history of football: the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens.
In the Super Bowl, the Broncos accumulated just 27 rushing yards on 14 attempts. As the Broncos were climbing an uphill battle throughout the lopsided loss, they couldn't find a rhythm or a run game. Ball said the loss in the Super Bowl "fueled" the team and it inspired them to work even harder during OTAs. While he was just a rookie, he learned something important in that game.
"I think everyone kind of has a bad taste in their mouth, wishing they had done something better," Ball said. "For, me, personally, it probably would have been capitalizing on opportunities when they presented themselves, and I didn't."
Ball speaks like a seasoned veteran. He'll need to play like one on Sunday and take advantage of those opportunities.