JERSEY CITY — Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn't shy away from Super Bowl XLVIII's vital matchup question: Can his fast, fierce defensive front slow record-setting Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's quick-rhythm tempo?
"Really, nobody has pressured him at all — 18 sacks for the regular season is nothing for 659 throws," Carroll told USA TODAY Sports. "For us to win the football game, we're going to have to get pressure."
Former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck cites the in-the-trenches battle between five virtually unknown Broncos linemen tasked with one enormous mandate: keep Manning upright against a constantly rotating, seven-deep front that combined for 44 regular-season sacks.
Carroll was a defensive assistant in 1985 under then-Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant, orchestrator of the "Purple People Eaters" pass rush of Alan Page, Carl Eller, Gary Larsen and Jim Marshall in the late 1960s and early '70s.
"Seattle is not a trick defense, they're going to play old-school Bud Grant, Minnesota Vikings-style defense — and good luck to you," Hasselbeck, the current Indianapolis Colts backup, told USA TODAY Sports. "Seattle plays the exact defense every single play. And Peyton knows it.
"At the line of scrimmage, the only thing that will matter is whether it's press coverage or press bail and Peyton exploiting the right matchup."
Brock Huard, a Seattle ESPN Radio analyst who once backed up Manning in Indianapolis, added: "The Seahawks front has got pressure all year. That will be key to this game, that five-yard piece of real estate behind the line of scrimmage.
"That Denver line isn't great. But Peyton compensates, getting the ball out in 2.3 seconds."
Still, Manning's blockers haven't allowed a sack in Denver's two postseason wins. In the AFC Championship Game defeat of the New England Patriots, Manning shredded Bill Belichick's defense through the air for 400 yards and two touchdowns.
"That performance by Denver's offensive line in the AFC Championship Game was as impressive of an overall pass-protection performance as I can remember," said former NFL lineman Ross Tucker of Sirius NFL Radio and The Ross Tucker Football Podcast.
"Peyton was hit once. ... For that line to do what they're doing with a third-string center and a backup left tackle is really, really impressive."
Manning likes to step up in the pocket, cycle through his progressions quickly, and if given a clean interior, he is going to seek between-the-hashmarks matchups underneath against Seattle's vaunted "Legion of Boom" secondary.
Credit Hall-of-Fame quarterback and Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway for creating an O-line that fits the league's only four-time MVP like a glove.
"I'm looking at all the moves John made whether it was signing right guard Louis Vasquez or adding Manny Ramirez at center," former Broncos safety and current FOX analyst John Lynch said. "John knows Peyton likes a firm pocket."
Manning made a note of Seattle's defensive identity when the Seahawks beat Denver 40-10 in an Aug. 17 preseason game.
"That is a close-knit bunch of guys from what I see on film," Manning said. "They are constantly high-fiving each other, picking each other up off a pile. ... I see them constantly communicating.
"That just jumps out on the game film. ... They communicate. That's a big part of their defensive success."
Interior pocket pressure that forces Manning off his mid-line spot could be critical for Seattle.
"Peyton does a great job of getting the ball out of his hand, but I believe we'll rise to the occasion," Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant told USA TODAY Sports. "We've been able to put a lot of quarterbacks under duress. And hopefully, we can continue to do that to Peyton."