JERSEY CITY - The story line for Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday at MetLife Stadium is an obvious one -- it's Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and the NFL's No. 1 offense against Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and the league's No. 1 defense. Broncos defensive end Shaun Phillips isn't about to argue given the chance to play the "disrespect" card.
"Our offense put up a lot of points, and their defense has not allowed a lot of points and has created a lot of turnovers," Phillips said. "They're first in the league in creating turnovers, plus-22, which is unbelievable."
But anyone who believes powerful Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch will run over the Broncos does so at his own peril. Denver was seventh in the NFL against the run in the regular season and ranks first in the playoffs after allowing an average of 64.5 yards in two games. The Broncos stopped New England's 250-pound LeGarrette Blount cold with six yards on five carries in the AFC title game warm-up for the battle against Lynch.
"They call him 'Beast Mode' for a reason," Phillips said. "He's an unbelievable player. We're up for the challenge. In order to be the best, you've got to beat the best. It's understanding how they're going to attack us and how to defend it right."
During his nine seasons in San Diego, Phillips was one of the better pass-rushing outside linebackers. But since signing as a free agent with the Broncos this season, Phillips switched to defensive end and expanded his skill set to include stopping the run.
"We knew we were getting a guy that has some pass-rush ability, but we got more than that," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I think he's really improved as a run defender, taking on blocks, stacking tight ends and tackles and setting a vertical edge for us.
"He didn't play with much technique in the run game. We helped teach him a little bit about that, and he's embraced it and gotten very good at it . . . Shaun has been even more of a leader in the locker room with the D-line group than we anticipated."
During the regular season, Phillips had 10 sacks, his third-highest total, and two more in two playoff games. But rather than focus on getting upfield against the Seahawks, he'll concentrate on setting the edge against Lynch and staying in his rushing lane to contain Russell Wilson on read-option plays.
"He's definitely a guy that knows how to keep things alive," Phillips said of Wilson. "He keeps his eyes downfield, and he's always looking to make a play. The key to the read-option is understanding your responsibilities. You're always cautious going upfield against a guy like [Wilson] because you never want him to escape."
As much as he's preparing to stop the run, Phillips would appreciate it if Manning can build an early lead, forcing the Seahawks to pass in catch-up mode. "We showed we can get at the quarterback quite a bit," Phillips said. "We're second in the playoffs in sacks."