Legion of Boom looking to lower the boom on Broncos

Posted Jan 31, 2014

Most of the talk this week has been all about all the things Peyton Manning will throw at the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. But the Broncos’ QB has never thrown into a secondary as deep and talented as the one he’ll face on Sunday.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Pete Carroll was discussing everything the Denver Broncos’ No. 1-ranked offense would throw at his defense in Super Bowl XLVIII, so you can imagine how long that took.

But before the Seahawks’ all-but-breathless coach was done, he added, “They have to play us, too.”

Despite all the record-breaking efforts by Peyton Manning and the high-scoring offense he directs, the Broncos have not faced a defense like the one the Seahawks will throw at him. Because only the Seahawks’ defense led the NFL is average points, yards, passing yards and opposing QB passer rating during the regular season and then held the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers to a combined 32 points in the playoff wins that delivered Seattle to this Super showdown.

And, no defense in all of football has a secondary as good and deep as the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom.

NO. 1 VS. NO. 1

This is the last in a three-part series examining how the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense will matchup against the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked offense in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Today, the secondary.

Key stat

27-4: The Seahawks’ record under coach Pete Carroll when they win the turnover battle – including 10-1 this season, when they led the NFL in takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover differential (plus-20).

Key matchup

Seahawks CB Richard Sherman vs. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas: This won’t be one of those games where Sherman covers the opponent’s leading receiver wherever he goes, as was the case in the home opener way back in Week 2 – when Anquan Boldin was coming off a 13-catch, 208-yard performance in the 49ers’ season opener and Sherman held him to no receptions (Boldin’s only catch, a 7-yarder, came against zone coverage). But those times that 6-foot-3 Sherman is matched against the 6-3, 229-pound Thomas will be intriguing, and could prove to be integral to the outcome. Thomas was the Broncos’ leading receiver during the regular season (92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns) and remains their leading receiver in the postseason (15 for 188 and two of Peyton Manning’s three TD passes). Sherman, meanwhile, led the league in interceptions (eight) this season and has led the league in interceptions (20) and passes defensed (60) since stepping into the lineup midway through the 2011 season.

Cornerback Richard Sherman and the Thunder and Lightning safety tandem of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas were voted All-Pro, and to the Pro Bowl they couldn’t participate in last Sunday. Byron Maxwell has stepped in as the third option at the corner opposite Sherman and played like a longtime starter the past seven games. Walter Thurmond has returned from his league-imposed suspension to reclaim the nickel back spot, and Jeremy Lane played well while subbing for Thurmond during his absence.

The Seahawks will need each and every one of them, and the spectrum of skills they bring, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

“That is a close-knit bunch of guys, from what I see on film,” Manning said this week. “They are constantly high-fiving each other, picking each other up off a pile.”

And that’s when they’re not dancing to the music in between plays. It’s the entire defense, but the beat that drives this stingy, ball-hawking unit is supplied by those guys on the back end – the last line of defense, if you will.

There’s more to the Seahawks than catching nicknames and their reaction to catchy tunes, however.

“I see them constantly communicating,” said the 37-year-old Manning, who was throwing TD passes in the NFL when the Boom Brothers were still in the second and third grades. “That just jumps out on the game film. They communicate. That’s a big part of their defensive success.”

To be successful against one of the most-successful quarterbacks in NFL history and the highest-scoring offense the league has ever seen, the Seahawks’ secondary will have to turn those words of communication into actions of consequence.

Are they ready? Are you kidding?

“We embrace this challenge,” Chancellor said. “We always talk about, ‘If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.’ We always say that. We always say that. We look at this group as one of the best in the NFL, so we’re ready for the challenge.

“We want to go out and compete. We always talk about competing. We do it every day in practice. But now it’s time go out and compete in this game. And we are ready, because of the way we’ve compete all season – not just in the games, but every day in practice.”

That confidence comes from overcoming what they have to arrive on this biggest stage in their chosen sport. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Chancellor was a fifth-round draft choice in 2010, the same round that delivered the 6-3 Sherman in 2011, the same year the 6-1 Maxwell was added in the sixth round. All had to wait their turn to not only be drafted but play once they arrived in Seattle.

Thomas? The 5-10, 202-pounder was the 14th pick overall in the 2010 NFL Draft and stepped in as the starter immediately. But he still plays with a chip the size of Chancellor on his shoulder, because he has been told since the first day he ever stepped on a football field that he’s too small for this spot.

As if this group needed any more pressure this week, Carroll continually has talked about getting pressure on Manning to get him off his comfort spot to disrupt the timing of a passing game that could pass for the finest Swiss time piece. To do that, the pass-rushers will need an extra tick against a passer who gets the ball out on average in 2.3 seconds. To do that, tighter coverage is imperative, starting with being physical with the receivers off the line.

And it’s not just Manning getting the ball out quickly; it’s who is getting the ball to so quickly – wide-outs Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker; tight end Julius Thomas and running back Knowshon Moreno. Each had at least 60 receptions, and they combined to catch 50 of Manning’s league-record 55 TD passes.

“We can’t wait,” Chancellor said. “We love playing man coverage. We love covering. We love being on that field, period, on defense. And we just love playing with each other on that field. So any time we get a chance to compete out there, we’re all for it.”

Even with all the things Manning will throw at them.

“When you overthink stuff, that’s when you can set yourself up for trouble – when you get caught up in, ‘Omaha. Omaha.’ ” Thomas said of the pre-snap call that Manning has made famous, and the city in Nebraska along with it. “I’ve been hearing it. I’m tired of hearing ‘Omaha.’

“You can get caught up in all that or it will kind of mess your game up. So the best thing to do, especially in this environment, is just focus on yourself and make sure all the little fundamentals that carried you here are right.”

So, despite all Manning’s gaudy numbers, Thomas reiterated Carroll’s assessment that he still has to deal with the Seahawks defense, and his receivers still have to deal with the Legion of Boom secondary.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Thomas said. “We could face as many great quarterbacks in the world as possible, but the receivers still have to get open. The quarterback can’t just make magic happen and all of a sudden the ball just appears. The receivers still have to get open.

“So we’re excited for that challenge. That’s what we’re all about.”