Here is the single most amazing and telling stat of the Super Bowl, via Pro Football Focus: The Seahawks blitzed on just six of Peyton Manning's 51 dropbacks.
Doesn't that seem wrong? Think back on your memories of Manning last night. Beyond the omnipresent Manningface, the lasting image is his happy feet. For a QB who cherishes time in the pocket, Manning was under pressure on nearly every play, unable to get set long enough for anything to develop downfield. You can win a Super Bowl on the strength of a pass rush, and last night was just another piece of evidence.
Malcolm Smith was named the game's MVP, just the third linebacker and eighth defensive player to win the award. His line was sterling: nine tackles (five solo), two passes defended, a fumble recovery, and an interception returned for a touchdown. The INT wasn't his doing—he was in the right place to snag a fluttering ball that went up for grabs because Cliff Avril was on Manning, just as Smith was the recipient of Richard Sherman's munificence at the end of the NFC Championship. He was as good a choice as any for MVP, which is to say there was no ideal choice at all.
The game started and ended up front, as it usually does for these Seahawks, with the likes of Avril and Michael Bennett keeping Manning on the move. Even without much help from the linebackers, their pressure was enough to force one of the game's smartest quarterbacks into quick, occasionally unwise decisions.
Richard Sherman was a nonfactor on the statsheet, which meant he was everything in the game. He registered just three tackles and a single pass defended, and the Broncos entire offensive mindset seemed to be built around keeping the ball away from him. With Sherman having the deep field locked down and the D-line forcing action, all that was left for Manning was a series of shallow routes over the middle—those dinks and dunks, combined with the early deficit, explain why Manning and Demaryius Thomas set Super Bowl records for completions and receptions, and why both marks were so empty.
The second Thomas or Welker received the ball on their crossing routes, they were swarmed by Seattle's lightning-fast safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, who seemed to be everywhere, and the Seahawks linebackers, freed up to patrol the middle ground by the lack of a blitz. Look at the photo above. Thomas is being tackled by three Seahawks, with two more in the picture. That's what it felt like all night, and why the Broncos, who entered the game with the most yards after catch this season, saw their YAC/reception drop 2.4 from its regular season average.
The defensive domination was total, as Super Bowls pairing elite offenses and defenses tend to be. The MVP went to the defensive player who put up the most takeaways, just as it did in the last time the No. 1 scoring D faced the No. 1 scoring O. (Not coincidentally, that game, Tampa's destruction of Oakland in 2003, was the last true Super Bowl blowout before this one.) Malcolm Smith gets the trip to Disney World only because someone had to. I'd say last night was a case for allowing units to win MVP, but how do you distinguish between Seattle's D-line and its secondary, when both were immaculate? Two units, perfectly executing a perfect gameplan, exploiting the strengths of the other to build a whole more impenetrable than either alone could have managed. If anything, it's a case that MVP is a shiny, useless bauble in the ultimate team game, and the Seahawks are the ultimate team.