By Larry Fine
JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) – Claiming a first Super Bowl crown for the Seattle Seahawks could come down to whether the NFL’s leading defense can put pass-rush pressure on Denver Broncos record-setting quarterback Peyton Manning.
Defensive end Michael Bennett, Seattle’s leading sack man and wry humorist, and head coach Pete Carroll understand the difficulty in slowing down the quick strikes thrown by Manning.
“We would love to affect him,” Carroll told reporters after Monday’s practice about upsetting the timing of Manning, who set single season records for touchdown passes and passing yardage.
“That’s going to call for everything we can think of. Every style of pressure, every rush we can manage, the coverage change-ups, the disguises, the looks. All of that to keep him from being so efficient.”
Bennett, who joined the Seahawks as a free agent after four seasons in Tampa Bay, may be Seattle’s best bet after using his skills to register 8.5 sacks in the regular season.
“You just got to beat your man faster,” Bennett said about negating Manning’s quick release. “Every game you have to affect the quarterback and this is the Super Bowl so you have to affect Peyton Manning. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he’s the least sacked quarterback.
“It’s a big game for the D-line to go out there and get to him, whether it’s sacking him, hitting him or making him hurry to throw the ball.”
Carroll, who prides himself on getting the best out of each individual player, has given Bennett some leeway to freelance on the defensive line.
“Michael’s been an exceptional player. He’s had a great season for us,” the coach said. “He has tremendous versatility. He plays inside and outside. He’s got a great motor and great savvy about him.
“He doesn’t always do things in an orthodox manner. He has great feel for the game and makes great decisions in the game so we give him a little latitude in that regard so that he can make the plays that he’s capable of making.”
Bennett said the brilliance of Seattle’s secondary can give pass rushers time to get to the quarterback by sticking close to Denver’s talented receivers.
“Those guys are so good they make us look good,” he said about the vaunted secondary, which led the NFL in interceptions this season with 28.
Bennett praised teammates Richard Sherman as the NFL’s best cornerback, Earl Thomas as the leading safety and strong safety Kam Chancellor as the hardest hitter.
“Kam, he’s been the best player on our defense the whole season,” said Bennett. “He hits better than some of the linebackers in the NFL that are supposed to be ferocious. I think Kam is by far the most ferocious hitter in the NFL.”
Bennett said he was not fussed to check forecasts for Sunday’s game at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, which will host the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl.
“I don’t think we’ll feel the snow. We’re ready for the snow. We’re ready to play on rocks,” said Bennett, whose younger brother Martellus is a tight end for the Chicago Bears.
Bennett said he was not interested in New York night life, just happy to be able to enjoy a nap back in his hotel room away from his three kids, though a good dinner sounded appealing.
Back in Seattle, Bennett has been known to use the name of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to make a dinner reservation in a pinch, a strategy he did not think would work in Manhattan.
“I’m doing it as Barack Obama here in New York City, that’s the only way you can get a seat down here.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)