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Broncos vs. Russell Wilson should be the show that counts

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Updated: March 3, 2014 4:36PM



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The undercard in Super Bowl XLVIII also could be a classic.

The Denver Broncos’ No. 1 offense against the Seattle Seahawks’ No. 1 defense is the main event Sunday at MetLife Stadium. But it’s more likely that the Seahawks’ 17th-ranked offense against the Broncos’ 19th-ranked defense will decide the winner.

Peyton Manning vs. Richard Sherman might never materialize if Manning prudently avoids trying to beat the Seahawks’ brash cornerback with one of his ‘‘ducks’’ just to prove a point. But Russell Wilson vs. the Broncos’ defense will be a battle from start to finish.

Though Sherman and Manning attracted the most attention during Super Bowl week — as they should have — Seahawks quarterback Wilson is the most intriguing factor in the game. Manning vs. the Seahawks is likely to be a wash. But Wilson’s ability to escape precarious situations and not only avoid disaster but make plays on the move is a weapon that could be lethal against a Broncos defense that is susceptible to broken-down plays.

‘‘His instincts [are the best part of his game],’’ Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said of Wilson. ‘‘He has a great feel for the pocket. The [dangerous] thing about him is that he scrambles to throw.’’

Asked to pick a play that illustrates what Wilson does best, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell pointed to the 51-yard pass play to Doug Baldwin against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, when Wilson rolled to his right, avoided pressure, went back toward the middle of the field and found Baldwin open downfield.

‘‘That’s kind of who Russell Wilson is,’’ Bevell said. ‘‘He was able to keep that play alive for one thing. And when the play breaks down, sometimes that’s when he’s at his best. He was able to keep the play alive long enough and then have enough arm strength to get the ball downfield.’’

Wilson outdid that play later in the game when, on a fourth-and-seven in the fourth quarter, he stepped up under pressure and threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse that gave the Seahawks a 20-17 lead.

Those plays happened two weeks ago, but they also happened against a much better defense than what Wilson will be facing Sunday. The 49ers were fifth in yards allowed and third in points allowed and playing well. The Broncos’ defense has had its moments this season, but it’s not playing its best football without four injured starters: All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, defensive end Derek Wolfe, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and safety Rahim Moore.

‘‘The thing with him is you can’t think the play is over,’’ Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. ‘‘He has the ability to extend plays, and he’s always looking for the home run when he gets out of the pocket. And he hits it most of the time. That’s a danger for us.’’

That’s yet another unique quality that makes Wilson such an intriguing player: He makes very few mistakes. Even the fumble he lost against the 49ers came in the first quarter, when his team had plenty of time to overcome it. But he swings for the fences — physically and mentally. He’s 5-11 and has to work for everything he gets. Yet he’s trying to be Peyton Manning.

‘‘[Manning’s] done a tremendous job of being a great leader,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘He’s so consistent every year in his ability to make plays and put his team in a great position to win. That’s what I want to be like.’’

Wilson is a long way from coming close to Manning’s stature in the NFL. But it’s not Wilson vs. Manning on Sunday. It’s Wilson vs. the Broncos. The Seahawks have the matchup they want.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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