- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. — The time for talking is finally over. After two weeks of relentless hype the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks get to leave all the chatter behind and decide Super Bowl XLIX on the field.

“It feels like an arena,” Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said on Super Bowl media day at Prudential Center in Newark on Tuesday. “But you’re sitting down and doing the boring part of it by talking to the media.”

Now they actually get to play, which is all any of them want. The league’s two best teams went 13-3 and were challenged in each of their two playoff games before ultimately prevailing. But they reached the Super Bowl in far different ways.

Denver led the NFL in scoring with a record 606 points. Seattle prides itself on a ferocious defense – dubbing itself the Legion of Boom – led by unheralded players like cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor (Virginia Tech), who have developed into stars despite being late-round draft picks.

Thomas was the team’s first-round pick in 2010. His ascent was expected. But two more fine cover corners join that secondary in Byron Maxwell, a sixth-round pick in 2011, and Walter Thurmond, selected in the fourth round in 2010. It was by far the best pass defense in the NFL at 172 yards allowed per game.

But that group is also going up against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, a Super Bowl champion and a technician unrivaled in NFL history. It is the biggest challenge the Seahawks have yet faced. And the Broncos aren’t conceding anything to what even they call the game’s best secondary.

“On the teams I played on, I’ve always had some real good receivers, and we felt like we had to try to get them the ball,” Manning said. “That was the best way for us to win. This team is no different. Seattle’s secondary, they’re excellent cover corner guys, and you have to know who is guarding your receiver on each play and what route that receiver is running. There are certain routes that are not quite as good against certain corners.”

The Broncos can’t say the same about their secondary, which was torched this season. Denver ranked 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (254). It will also be without starting corner Chris Harris, who tore his ACL in the Jan. 12 playoff game against San Diego.

At least Denver can turn to nickel corner Champ Bailey, a future Hall-of-Famer in the twilight of his career at age 35. He missed much of the season with a left foot injury, but played almost the entire AFC title game against New England.

But teams don’t win Super Bowls with just star players. The Broncos can help take some pressure off Manning and their wide receivers by running the ball with Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. It ranked 20th in the league with 4.1 yards per attempt. And that won’t be easy to do anyway given Seattle’s inherent advantage of letting its defensive backs handle the passing game and freeing up linebackers to stop the run. Predictable won’t win this weekend even for the league’s best offense and best defense.

“Have to change up some things,” Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “Our main focus is putting points on the board so we can win the game, and we’ve been able to do that so far. Now I feel like we’re more balanced, capable of running the ball and run some time off the clock and then we can throw it when we want to.”

But while Manning, his elite corps of receivers, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and bruising running back Marshawn Lynch will garner much of the attention, the game may turn on Seattle’s ability to exploit that obvious Denver weakness in the secondary.

Are the Seahawks‘ receivers good enough to make a major difference? Wilson helps by keeping plays alive and buying Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller time. It will help to have the speed of Percy Harvin (concussion) back, too, after he missed the NFC title game against San Francisco and much of the season after hip surgery.

Tate led Seattle with 64 receptions. Only Buffalo, Oakland and the New York Jets had a No. 1 receiver with fewer catches. Denver alone had four receivers with more catches than Tate. But none of that matters now. One big game renders a season’s worth of stats meaningless.

“If that happens, that means receivers just need to show up big, and that’s another opportunity for us to show who we are,” Tate said. “If it needs to be a scoring fest where we need to air it out, so be it. This is the perfect game to do that - when the whole world’s watching. I believe we’re ready to show up.”

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