NEWARK, N.J. — It's XL vs. XL in the XLVIII.
For the first time since 1990, the NFL's top-ranked offense is pitted against the No. 1 defense. It's a big deal because the receivers and defensive backs are a big deal. Peyton Manning is a magnet for attention, but somebody had to catch his passes. He had four receivers reach double figures in scores. His receivers don't have a nifty nickname — System of a (Touch)down, perhaps — but it's the only thing missing. No defense has completely stopped the Broncos this season.
The Seattle Seahawks embrace the challenge. They are built back to front, relying on their “Legion of Boom” secondary to spoil Manning's going to a Disney World ending. They are built to do it with their size at cornerback and safety and their thirst for violence.
Their secondary averages 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, and has a cornerback in Richard Sherman whose arms are like branches. The Seahawks led the league in nearly every pass defensive statistic, and stamped it with a snarl.
“We are going to hit from the beginning to the end,” said safety Cam Chancellor. “It's not just one moment. That's our thing. That's our team.”
The longer Chancellor talked Tuesday, the more he sounded like a boxer. The Seahawks don't major in nuance. Led by defensive backs who like to mug receivers, Seattle would rather punch their opponents in the face rather than trick them with a disguised coverage. They know how good the Broncos' receivers are. Their concern is the man in the mirror, not the Manning in the backfield.
“I don't want to slide into no trouble or nothing like that, but it's all about us. I don't really put anybody on the same plane or whatever. I don't want to take it out of context. But it's all about us, and we know what we have to do to win,” safety Earl Thomas said. “We know how to win. We're going to run and hit and have fun.”
The Broncos' receivers aren't exactly in the fetal position. This group has made fools of teams all season. And they didn't do it by running past guys. The Broncos' Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas average 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. They won't be looking to duck out of bounds on Sunday at MetLife Stadium,
“We have to match their intensity,” said tight end Julius Thomas. “You can't come out and get pushed around. That's not something you can do if you want to win a football game.”
Added Demaryius Thomas: “I like the matchup. I am a big guy. I like the physical play.”
The Seahawks offer an interesting challenge. They can use Sherman and Byron Maxwell, their cornerbacks, to jam Demaryius Thomas and Decker at the line of scrimmage. And, with their hybrid scheme, the Seahawks can release their corners from man coverage into a zone, something few teams dare to even try. However, the Broncos are so dynamic, they can use alignments — and, of course, Manning audibles — to counter the Seahawks' size at the line. Earl Thomas expects the Broncos to use bunch formations or overload one side of the field, creating a potential mismatch with nickel back Walter Thurmond, who could end up covering the 250-pound Julius Thomas.
That's where safety help could arrive. The Seahawks led the NFL in takeaways, and will seek big hits.
“In the back end, they make plays and they get after receivers,” Decker said. “We've got to make sure that we break, we hedge, we bring physicality to this game because that's what it's going to take to have success.”
Quarterbacks were never more miserable than against Seattle this season, compiling a league-worst 63.4 passer rating. But the Seahawks never faced the likes of Manning and his weapons.
The teams have spent the past nine days working out scenarios to stop each other. In the end, this will be less about scheme and more about size. A Kaboom offense against Legion of Doom ballhawks.
“They are a group that's competitive, and smart, and physical,” Chancellor said. “But we aren't going to change who we are. We are going to do what we do and bring the boom.”