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Game plans key for both Seahawks, Broncos

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Now New Jersey is ready for Super Bowl Sunday.

Every Super Bowl is unique, but this one is special because it’s the first one that New York/New Jersey is hosting, and will take place at an open-air stadium in cold weather.

This year’s NFL championship game is a matchup between the No. 1 seeds from the AFC and NFC for only the third time since the 1991 season when the current 12-team playoff format was instituted.

The Broncos’ league-leading offense takes on the Seahawks and the league’s stingiest defense, the first such matchup in over a decade.

Here are three things that will be keys in order for the Broncos to win the franchise’s first title since the John Elway era:

1. Secure the ball

The fumbling problem hurt the Broncos early in the season. Overall, the Broncos lost a league-most 16 fumbles during the regular season. There is no room for that in the Super Bowl, especially when they face a Seahawks defense that led the league with 39 takeaways.

2. Contain Russell Wilson

Wilson is one of the best running quarterbacks in the game, and he has the ability to avoid the pass rush with his legs and still make a big play. In the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers, he was forced to run back deep beyond the line of scrimmage in order to escape the pass rush, but was still able to throw a 51-yard bomb to Doug Baldwin to set up a field goal.

The Broncos need to keep him in the pocket to prevent him from becoming a running threat.

3. Minimize Marshawn Lynch’s yards after contact

Lynch, in his “Beast Mode” form is tough to stop. He always gains a little extra yardage after initial contact, turning a potential 3-yard run into a nice 6-yard gain. That will wear on the Broncos’ defense over the course of the game.

Stopping Lynch is the priority for the Broncos, who prefer to make Wilson beat them with his arm.

On the other hand, the Seahawks are looking for the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history. To make that happen, they’ll need to do the following things:

1. Keep the Broncos receivers in front of you

It’s impossible to shut out Peyton Manning & Co., an aerial attack that produced 55 touchdown and 5,447 yards in the regular season, both NFL records. Manning can deliver the ball to any receiver on the field — as many as eight different players caught at least one pass from him during the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.

The Seahawks have to make sure they don’t let the Denver receivers get beyond their defensive backs. Speedy Demaryius Thomas led the league in the run- after-catch statistic, and Wes Welker is always a threat out of the underneath zone.

Keeping them in front of you helps limit the damage.

2. Bring back a few read option plays

Wilson has become more of a pocket passer and has seldom used the read option this season. But this is the last game of the year and Pete Carroll could allow Wilson to loosen up and run the ball like he did last season.

That should be especially effective when the Broncos defense is focusing on Lynch and also open up the passing attack.

3. Make the best of punt coverage

Everyone talks about the Broncos offense and the Seahawks defense, but don’t forget that the Seahawks’ punt coverage unit gave up the second-fewest return yards in the league this season.

Jon Ryan’s punts sail high to give the coverage team enough time to attack the returner. Which is crucial as the field-position battle will be one of the keys to the game.

Snow plays a role: Although the weather forecast says to expect only a slight chance of snow on game day, the white stuff made some impact during the annual news conference of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who took advantage of the venue, the Rose Theater in the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

Of course the cold weather is one of the hottest topics during Super Bowl week and Goodell couldn’t avoid it during his opening remarks.

As he mentioned, “of course we can’t control the weather,” fake snow fell down from the theater’s ceiling, drawing laughter from media members.

Defensive background: Both Carroll and John Fox have defensive background. “I take tremendous pride,” said Fox, who started his coaching career in the NFL under Chuck Noll, the legendary ex-head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “This is a prideful thing to be in this position and play in a game like this such great history.”

Carroll provided more information, mentioning the two were defensive back coaches.

“It’s interesting that’s how it turned out,” Carroll said. “It is an offensive era that we’re in, and with all the passing game it’s gone crazy. We’ve been fighting our whole life trying to slow this thing down, and we get a chance to do it here on the biggest stage.”