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Friday, January 24, 2014
Missed tackles could mean shattered dreams

By Jeff Legwold

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos see Marshawn Lynch run the ball for the Seattle Seahawks, they can see the math.

They see the back-to-the-basics equation that every broken tackle by the running back in Super Bowl XLVIII will be a chance for the Broncos to have a broken heart.

"With such a strong back … a quick back and somebody his size, you have to gang tackle," Broncos safety David Bruton said. "You can't just leave it up to one guy. We have to try to get 11 hats to the ball all the time."

Marshawn Lynch
"I haven't seen on film any guys really taking him down by themselves or knocking him back," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton of Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.
When it comes to the dimensions, Lynch is not what would be considered a big back by many who evaluate football players as a livelihood. He's 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, bigger than some of his peers as a team's primary ball carrier but smaller than some others.

But Lynch runs heavily, and when it comes to adding the force and acceleration to his mass, he is one of football's best finishers. Bigger players slide off or are shoved aside.

And it isn't a confetti run every time he touches the ball. Sometimes, it's a 3-yard run after several 3-yard runs, before Lynch drops his shoulder on a defender who doesn't finish the job. His earthquake run in the 2010 wild-card game, when he stiff-armed former Broncos and New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter on the way to a 67-yard touchdown run when eight New Orleans defenders had a chance to tackle him brought cheers loud enough to have formally registered as seismic activity.

"You have to gang tackle a guy like that," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "You try not to have so much pride as a defensive player and want to go out there and make the plays yourself. Especially with me being a D-lineman. Obviously, I think I can go out there and handle it all by myself, but we have to gang tackle him. I haven't seen on film any guys really taking him down by themselves or knocking him back. We'll have to do a good job containing him and not allow him to break big runs."

Since the start of the 2011 season, Lynch leads the NFL with 39 total touchdowns, two more than Adrian Peterson and three more than Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

And for the most part, the Broncos know where Lynch plans to get to work. In the NFC Championship Game win over the San Francisco 49ers, 107 of Lynch's 109 rushing yards came between the tackles. The Seahawks use plenty of two-back looks as well to help clear the way. The Broncos have often this season answered heavy-run formations with more of a 3-4 look on defense without outside linebackers standing up on the line of scrimmage with three down linemen, especially on early downs.

But a lot of how things go against Lynch will be how the Broncos fare in those initial one-on-one moments, defender and running back. And the Broncos will have to either get him down on their own or at least slow him long enough until the help arrives.

“Every week has been a challenge," Knighton said. "We stepped up to the challenge last week stopping New England's run game. San Diego had success running the ball in the regular season and we stepped up to that challenge in the playoffs. It just gets worse and worse each week. Going against a back like this -- we obviously have to stop him and can't allow him to get going. A guy like that who builds momentum and has confidence that he can run the ball just makes it worse for us."

"A guy like Marshawn Lynch, he requires us to do some extra film study and do some extra hitting," Broncos defensive end Shaun Phillips said. "He is that kind of player."