Super Bowl may rest on arm of Seahawks' Wilson

Quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seahawks throws the ball in the first quarter against the Saints during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at CenturyLink Field on January 11, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seahawks throws the ball in the first quarter against the Saints during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at CenturyLink Field on January 11, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Posted: February 03, 2014

The Super Bowl meeting between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, as you have no doubt heard, matches the highest-scoring offense in the NFL against the defense that allowed the fewest points this season. It is also a matchup between the offense that gained the most yards and the defense that allowed the fewest yards.

In the history of the Super Bowl era, those two things have never been the case before in the same game. So, yes, Peyton Manning's offense vs., for want of a better figurehead, Richard Sherman's defense, is the story line that makes the most sense and has garnered the most attention.

Of course, that also means it is probably wrong.

Let's say the Broncos are held below their season scoring average, but the Seahawks give up more points than usual, which is a reasonable assumption, and the two teams meet right in the middle, somewhere around 26 or 27 points for that side of the game.

It could happen that way. In fact, it should happen that way. And if it does, then the NFL championship will be decided in breezy and cold East Rutherford between the No. 17 offense in the league and the No. 19 defense.

Not only is that fine, it might be the most fun this game has to offer, because then the spotlight will fall on a quarterback who was considered too small to do big things, and one who might just represent the template for Chip Kelly's vision of the Eagles offense.

Peyton Manning is interesting in one way, like a visit to an old, favorite place, but Russell Wilson of the Seahawks makes every game a venture into the unfamiliar. He is short, just 5-foot-105/8, according to the scouting combine stats, but he can think, can run, and is blessed with a big arm capable of bringing thunder from the sky at any time.

"He's a difficult guy to deal with," Denver linebacker Paris Lenon said. "Some mobile quarterbacks use their legs to just take off and run. Some use their legs to create opportunities to throw the ball. He does a little of both."

Kelly has said his ideal quarterback doesn't have to be a great runner, but he has to be capable of running. He has to be elusive enough to buy time when the protection isn't perfect, and he is mobile enough that defenses must assign a man to account for him.

In his 10 starts this season, Nick Foles did enough of that to earn the right to enter training camp as the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback. But did he do enough to convince Kelly about what should happen in the long term? Only one of Foles' starts came against a defense that finished the season ranked among the top half in the league (the Arizona Cardinals, against whom the Eagles scored just 24 points and were shut out for the final 20 minutes).

Next season, the Eagles play a big-boy nondivision schedule that includes five of the top seven defenses in the league - Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco, Arizona, and Houston. Those tests will go a long way toward making up Kelly's mind for him. If Foles survives that and continues to win games, well, maybe he's the quarterback. If not, it might be time for someone like a Russell Wilson. Consider Sunday's game a possible preview.

"I don't consider him a runner. I consider him a scrambler," said Seattle running back Michael Robinson. "You see some of these other quarterbacks. They go off their first read and then they're looking to run. We have two parts to a play, the part when he drops back and everything's on time, and the part when the play breaks down and he starts to scramble. That's when he's most dangerous."

Wilson was one of seven NFL quarterbacks to finish the season with a quarterback rating over 100, and he is the only QB in league history to top that mark in both his rookie and second seasons. In those first two seasons, including the postseason, Wilson has 27 wins, tied with Ben Roethlisberger for the most in the Super Bowl era. He can break that tie on Sunday and become the second-year quarterback with the most wins in history.

That's not bad for a quarterback many people don't seem to think is very good. It probably gets back to his size, or lack of it, and the way he must find passing lanes as if dodging between trees. People had the same questions about Drew Brees, who is barely 6 foot, and it took a while to answer them. Russell, of course, could answer a few against the Broncos.

"Sometimes the defense is going to guess correctly and have the right coverage, but he can extend the play with his legs and at that point for me, it's kind of like playing backyard football," receiver Golden Tate said. "Find a way to get open."

The deep-route receivers typically come back toward the line. The short- and medium-route receivers take off long, and Wilson dances around until he can pick one out. It's uncanny how well he does it, and maybe that's why he doesn't get universal respect yet. His methods don't look as if they should work.

They work, however, and if the great Denver offense and the great Seattle defense balance each other out, Russell Wilson will have the chance to decide a Super Bowl on Sunday night. That's pretty big regardless of how tall you are.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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