They’re No. 1 for a reason — there’s not many weaknesses. They play too good. They fly around to the ball. They make good tackles. They get turnovers. They’re No. 1. —Denver halfback Knowshon Moreno, on Seattle
NEW YORK — Seattle’s defense might have the best nickname since Blitzburgh, or even the Steel Curtain.
The Legion of Boom celebrates both the NFL’s top-ranked defense and how it plays the game, lowering the boom on offenses.
But nicknames do not win Super Bowls, as that Blitzburgh defense of the mid-1990s discovered, and Sunday’s 48th playing of the NFL’s big game will test the bromide that offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.
Do they still?
Super Bowl XLVIII could be the perfect laboratory to study the equation because Seattle’s opponent, the Denver Broncos, sports the NFL’s top-ranked offense and Peyton Manning. It will be No. 1 vs. No. 1, shake hands and come out fighting.
“They’re No. 1 for a reason — there’s not many weaknesses,” Denver halfback Knowshon Moreno said of Seattle’s defense. “They play too good. They fly around to the ball. They make good tackles. They get turnovers. They’re No. 1.”
Said Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril, “I feel like we don’t care who we are facing . . . It doesn’t matter which quarterback is throwing the ball.”
The NFL has passed rules to help its offenses for at least the past 35 years, starting famously in 1978 when it allowed for less bumping of receivers and more holding by offensive linemen. The offense-friendly rules kept coming, more recently under the guise of player safety that has outlawed many of the types of hits some of the great defenses in the past laid on players.
While points and yards have increased steadily during the regular seasons — Denver set a record by scoring 606 points in 2013 — the outcomes of Super Bowls have not. Fifteen times the NFL’s top-scoring defenses have played in these games and they are 12-3. The top-scoring offenses managed only a 10-11 record in Super Bowls.
It occurred only four previous times when the No. 1 scoring offense faced the No. 1 scoring defense in Super Bowls, all since the 1978 season when the Steelers’ top-ranked defense defeated Dallas for their third Super Bowl win. The three No. 1 defenses prevailed in those four games, only San Francisco’s offense winning Super Bowl XXIV.
While it was not No. 1 vs. No. 1, the Steelers’ most recent Lombardi-winning effort featured the NFL’s top defense that hung on to beat Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII with the help of James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return, the longest touchdown in the game’s history.
“Honestly, I don’t think you can shut the offense down, but you’ve got to be able to slow it down,” said linebacker Bruce Irvin, Seattle’s first-round draft choice in 2012 from West Virginia. “We just have to try to get after Peyton as much as we can because he doesn’t like to get hit.”
How many quarterbacks do? But Seattle, the second-youngest team (26.5 years old on average) ever to play in a Super Bowl, believes it has a plan to stop Manning from winning his second NFL championship.
“I know how Peyton Manning is from watching him on film,” said Seahawks defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.
“He is going to try to read our defense, get us to hurry up and rush us so we can’t get rotation on and off the field.
“He has happy feet when he is making a read. If he doesn’t see those guys open, he will get anxious and throw the ball.”
There is no lack of confidence in that Seattle defense.
“We are just going to go with our average game plan,” McDaniel said.
“We feel like we are physical and can handle the guys up front.”
Another antithesis to the modern game is at work; teams that run the ball are not supposed to have the kind of success of teams who throw it well. Seattle, with the enigmatic Marshawn Lynch gaining 1,257 yards, had the fourth-best running team in the NFL and ranked 26th passing.
Besides the fact the Broncos had the No. 1 passing game and Manning set an NFL record with 55 touchdown passes, Moreno was the fourth-leading rusher in the AFC and the Broncos have rushed for 240 yards in their two playoff games.
“If you look at what the Broncos did throughout the playoffs, they ran the ball,” McDaniel said.
“There is a lot of talk around their passing game because of Peyton Manning himself. To be a good, dominant offense, you are going to have to run the ball. I am definitely prepared to stop the run.”
Unlike the Steelers, who famously try to disguise what they are doing and play such a complicated scheme that rookies rarely crack it, Seattle’s is rather simple, which may be why so many youngsters can play in it.
That won’t change Sunday, said outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman.
“We don’t vary or disguise coverage for anybody. We play a pretty simple defense. For the most part, you know what we’re going to do every play, and you’ve got to line up and play it.”
It works. Seattle led the NFL with 39 takeaways or forced turnovers in 2013 — 28 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. By comparison, the Steelers had barely half that total, 20, tied for fifth from the bottom of the league.Comment on this story
“The Legion of Boom is a legacy!” Sherman proclaimed. “It’s a group, it’s a legion, it’s a vast army of individuals and we have countless bodies behind us that are more than capable of doing the job.”
That final lab test comes on Sunday
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