6 Things I Learned From Super Bowl XLVIII
It wasn't surprising to see the Seahawks lift the Lombardi. But to do it in that fashion? That was shocking.
The Seattle Seahawks are Super Bowl champions after knocking around Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos. They didn't just beat the Broncos though. They manhandled them. They were the big brother. They were the varsity team, while the team in orange was full of freshman and sophomores.
For fans outside of Seattle, the game wasn't overly enjoyable. It's hard to love a blowout when you've got no horse in the race. But that doesn't mean we can't learn anything from it - it doesn't mean we can't find some sort of enjoyment from the contest. And I'll tell you what, last night I learned a whole lot about the game of football.
1. You can’t go down early against Seattle.
One thing I wrote a lot about leading up to the big game was the fact that Denver had to run the football. But when you go down early like Denver did, that becomes increasingly difficult.
Seattle’s pass defense was by far the best in the league this season according to our metrics, and while the rush defense was solid, ranking eighth in Adjusted Rushing Defensive Net Expected Points, it was the one area for Denver to try and exploit.
One thing I found interesting when digging into Seattle’s games this year was their tendency to give up rushing yards in close contests. And yes, game flow certainly calls for that to happen, but the discrepancy was pretty massive. They played in eight regular season games where the margin of victory was no greater than seven points. And in those games, the average number of rushing yards allowed per game was 146. In the other contests? 57.
I’m not necessarily blaming the lack of ground game as the reason Denver lost. Rather, I think we should all realize how incredibly hard it is to come back against Seattle’s secondary. You want to pass the ball – you feel as though you have to pass the ball – but you can’t because that plays directly into Seattle’s strength.
2. You still need an offense to win a championship.
Many football fans - especially casual ones - will look at a lot of situations and storylines with a very black and white attitude. Perhaps this is media-driven, but regardless, a “this or that” approach to football isn’t exactly a smart way to watch the game.
What I mean by this is that you’re going to hear about Seattle’s top-ranked defense, and the fact that it carried the team to a Super Bowl victory. But it’s not as though Russell Wilson’s offense was this Trent Dilfer-like one that could barely move the ball.
Going into the playoffs, Seattle had put together the eighth-best offense in the entire NFL according to our Adjusted Net Expected Points metric (which adjusts for strength of schedule), with an 11th-ranked rushing offense and 5th-ranked passing one.
Just because the rushing and passing offense wasn’t the best unit on the Seahawks doesn’t mean it was automatically a bad one, or didn’t play a role in the victory. Without the offense, Seattle wouldn’t have been able to be so aggressive and opportunistic defensively. It’s the ultimate team game. Remember that.
3. Efficiency is king.
In football, it’s not just about making big plays, or getting turnovers (though the turnover part certainly mattered in Super Bowl XLVIII). Extending drives and converting those third and shorts are just as important.
In essence, this is why looking at our Net Expected Points data can be so worthwhile. If a player extends a drive or converts a third down, he’s rewarded more than someone who catches a pass for the same number of yards on first down. Why shouldn’t he? The third-down play is much more important.
As noted, Russell Wilson’s Seahawks were the fifth-most effective team throwing the ball in the NFL during the regular season when adjusted for strength of schedule. But on a per play basis, Seattle was actually the fourth-ranked team in the league, as volume wasn’t on their side.
And that efficiency showed last night. When Seattle was still having to throw the ball on third down (before garbage time started), Russell Wilson was a ridiculous 6 for 8 converting. Those are the kind of plays that help teams win.
4. Seattle is much more dynamic with Percy Harvin.
Not only did Harvin show us his speed on a couple of runs, but he returned the opening kickoff in the second half, sealing the game for good. I wrote about Harvin last week, mentioning that his presence would help even when he didn't have the ball in his hands. The fact that he did so much with the rock just made this game an even bigger blowout. Denver didn’t have an answer for the speedster early, and although he was silent for most of the game, his big plays helped spark a Seahawks offense that was lacking big-play ability down the stretch.
5. People will want this to change Peyton Manning’s legacy, but it shouldn’t.
On the loser’s side, the big question is how this will impact Peyton Manning’s legacy as the best – or one of the best – passers of all time. While I’m of the belief that one game shouldn’t change that, I’m fully aware that it will.
I ranted about quarterback wins and why they’re irrelevant a week and a half ago, giving an example of Matt Ryan versus Tom Brady in 2013. Essentially, many gave Brady all the credit in the world this year for performing at a high level with such little talent around him, but meanwhile, Matt Ryan played at just as high of a level with just as poor receivers for most of the season. Brady’s team went to the AFC Championship, while Ryan’s is sitting with a high draft pick.
Clearly there’s a disconnect. Quarterbacks are always going to be unfairly judged, especially when folks use wins to describe how good or bad a passer actually is. But we have to remember that Peyton Manning didn’t lose last night – the Broncos did. Did he play poorly? That’s debatable. He certainly didn’t play up to his record-breaking season ways, but no quarterback in his situation was going to beat Seattle last night.
The fact is, we can look at our advanced metrics and say, “Peyton Manning was brilliant in 2013, accumulating the best Passing Net Expected Points total we’ve ever seen.” And those numbers span a 16-game sample. Not only that, over his time in the league, no passer has come close to the kind of metrics Manning's posted year in and year out.
In truth, the man is incredible under center. He should be part of the greatest of all time discussion regardless of the Super Bowl XLVIII outcome, or the fact that he has a losing playoff record. How are we so sure a player in his position - a great player - would have done any better?
6. Seattle may become a dynasty.
While the term “dynasty” has a loose definition, I think it’s easy to understand the concept: A dynasty in football is a team that wins a whole lot of Super Bowls in a short period of time.
Seattle has the pieces to make a run at more than just this Super Bowl. And you can’t (and don't) say that with every winner. The average age of the team, 26.4, tied for the youngest of any Super Bowl winning squad, and they were the fourth-youngest team in the entire league this year. That alone screams potential.
But with any team in the NFL, it’s going to be difficult to retain every piece. Seattle’s fortunate to have a lot of late-round draft picks as playmakers though, meaning those players have smaller salaries and cap hits. Russell Wilson is one of them, which allows the team to sign and build elsewhere.
Will they become a dynasty? It seems to me that they have just as good of a shot as any team we’ve seen in a long time.