Earl Thomas key to stopping Peyton

That position is so vital in a game against Manning because he defuses every other aspect of a good defense with relative ease. The Seahawks may have a vicious pass rush, but so did the Kansas City Chiefs at one point earlier this season. Every time they faced the Broncos, Manning unleashed the ball so quickly -- usually in less than three seconds -- that the idea of harassing him in the pocket became almost a running joke. There were entire games that Manning never even hit the ground.

Manning is equally effective at finding the weakest links in an opposing secondary. As much as Sherman has become the unquestioned focus of the pregame hype for this contest, it's his less-heralded teammates who will be on center stage come Sunday. Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane had better get ready for plenty of passes flung in their direction. Manning will be eager to see how well they hold up against talented targets like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker.

What all this means is that Thomas has to affect this game with both his mind and his athletic ability. Seattle loves to play zone coverage, but Thomas, who played cornerback in college, might have to match up with Welker or tight end Julius Thomas on occasion. As Reed often did in his prime against Manning, Thomas also will have to pick his spot to take his chances. For a defense that led the league in takeaways, big plays will be critical to whatever success the Seahawks hope to create against a future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Thomas already has made it clear that he loves the idea of intimidating an opposing quarterback.

"The whole game, I'm just staring at the quarterback," Thomas said. "I don't care if it's a huddle situation or any situation. I just want to let him feel me. I look into his eyes the whole time. I can kind of tell. I don't want to get my traits out, but I understand the game, and I know how to play it."

Thomas, like all his partners in the Seahawks secondary, doesn't lack for confidence. Unlike the other three starting defensive backs, though, he is the only one who knows how it feels to be coveted. While Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Maxwell (who has replaced suspended starter Brandon Browner) were lower-round draft picks, Thomas was the 14th player selected in the 2010 draft. He likes to claim he was slighted that year -- the Philadelphia Eagles decided not to select him after trading up -- but he doesn't have nearly the chip on his shoulder that his teammates carry on theirs.

Instead, Thomas is equipped with the knowledge that he was brought to Seattle to be the type of difference-maker the Seahawks sorely needed. He has rewarded the franchise's faith with three trips to the Pro Bowl, two first-team All-Pro nominations and the wide-held belief that he is the best at his position today.

This week, Thomas raised the expectations on himself even higher by saying, "I want to be the best -- not just safety or corner -- but defensive player [in the league]."

If Thomas truly has his sights set on that goal, then Sunday would be the perfect time for him to start adding to his growing legacy.

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