Super Bowl Preview Part 2: When Carolina Has the Ball

Posted: 02/07/2016 by levcohen in Football

I think the more interesting matchup (or set of matchups) in this game is the one that will occur when the Carolina Panthers have the ball. The Panthers, after all, have been on fire offensively, romping to 31 points (all in the first half) against the Seahawks and then 49 against the Cardinals last week. Throw in the fact that the Panthers have scored at least 27 points in every week but one (their loss in Atlanta) since week three and it’s pretty clear that this is an offense that’s hard to stop. On the other side, of course, is a Denver defense that might just be up to the task. The Broncos are coming off an impressive defensive showing against the Patriots in a game in which they harassed Tom Brady, hitting him more times than any quarterback had been hit in any single game all season. They’ve allowed more than 24 points just three times this season and are 12-1 when giving up 24 or fewer. In this one, holding the Panthers to 24 probably won’t be good enough considering the likely struggles the Broncos’ offense will have against Carolina’s defense. So can Denver hold the Panthers under, say, 20 and force them into the teens, where Carolina’s finished once all season?

First of all, Carolina’s offensive dominance might be a little overstated. Remember, their last game away from home was their only loss, a 20-13 snoozer against the Falcons. In their two road games before that, they scored a lot of points, but they didn’t blow inferior teams out; they beat the Saints and Giants, the two worst defenses in the NFL by most metrics, by three points apiece. So much of what we think we know about Carolina might in fact be what we know about them as a home team. I will agree with the fact that they’re a good offensive team. But they’re a team whose high point totals are often driven by great field position, so if Britton Colquitt, who had a great punting game against the Patriots, can pin the Panthers down inside their own 20, they have a chance at shutting down Cam and Co.

The Panthers’ offense is predicated around running with Cam Newton, running with Jonathan Stewart, a heavy dose of Greg Olsen, and some deep shots down the field. They’re going to run the ball a lot, and they’ll have some success, but the key for the Broncos is getting enough stuffs to force the Panthers into must-pass situations. When the Panthers do have to throw, I don’t expect it to go too well for them. Olsen will get his targets and make some plays, because he’s the second-best tight end in the league, and the Broncos just got roasted by Rob Gronkowski, who happens to be the only tight end better. But the deep passes to Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn, and Corey Brown that have worked so well this season? Not likely to work against a healthy Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby. Better news for the Panthers is that they have Cam Newton, and Cam Newton can mask a lot of matchup problems with his leg, arm, and head. The key for the Panthers is avoiding big mistakes offensively (huge sacks or turnovers), things they’ve managed to do pretty much all season. So if the stage isn’t too big for this young team, and if they just keep pounding the rock with Cam and J-Stew, they should score some points.

Two weeks ago, the Broncos destroyed New England’s offensive line and consistently harassed Tom Brady. Looking at Carolina’s offensive line, you might expect them to do the same this week, but the Panthers should be able to keep the defense off-balance enough simply because they have such a wide variety of running plays. With that being said, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are always a factor, so I’d be remiss to leave them out of the equation here. The health of Denver’s safeties, T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart, is also very important. Both safeties left the game against the Patriots, and it was when they left that Gronk really went off. In order for Denver to subdue Olsen, those guys are going to need to be healthy, and I think they will be, which is why I also think the Broncos will have a lot of success against Carolina’s offense.

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