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Super Bowl 2016 preview: Carolina Panthers rushing attack is tough to defend

Here is the second installment of what will be four game previews leading up to Super Sunday and it's all about stopping that Panthers run defense. In the table below we have where these teams are currently performing over the last four games and where they would have ranked in the NFL for 2015.

Carolina Panthers
Sunday, February 7, 2016 - 4:25 PM MT
Denver Broncos




7.95 (5th) Pass Off. 6.69 (28th)
4.32 (10th) Rush Off. 4.58 (6th)
6.97 (11th) Pass Def. 6.11 (1st)
3.65 (5th) Rush Def. 3.54 (3rd)
17-1 Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA 14-4
NFC Champion Spread: Panthers by 6 AFC Champion
Super Bowl Previews: DT getting physical Stopping the Read/Option Broncos must run Sacking Cam

Yesterday, I covered how Demaryius Thomas must get physical with Josh Norman at the line. Today, I'd like to examine that Carolina Panthers run game. The Denver Broncos sport one of the best run defenses in the NFL, but they have not really faced the read/option juggernaut led by Cam Newton.

And a juggernaut it is.

The one loss the Panthers suffered this year to the Atlanta Falcons gave us the best of the Panthers and the worst of the Panthers. It's the kind of game we will be hoping to see in Super Bowl 50. In that game, the Panthers opened up the game exactly as they did in almost every single one of their 17 wins during the 2015 season.

They ran the ball effectively.

Let's take a look at their final four plays of their opening touchdown drive against those Falcons. After getting the ball down inside the thirty yard line, Newton broke out their dual threat run game in all its glory.

On third and short, the Falcons were completely fooled by the inside fake. Newton ran to the sideline for an easy first down.

On the next play, Newton broke out the classic read/option. Having just been burned on the previous play, the Falcons defenders froze at that moment before reacting to the ball carrier.

On second and short, it looked like a passing formation. However, it was a perfectly designed outside run.

Make no mistake, the Panthers prefer to stretch the defense on running downs. They do so successfully with tons of misdirection due to Newton's athletic abilities. Defenses must contain that threat while still attacking the supposed ball carrier.

Not an easy task.

Especially when a defense has been burned by outside runs on three consecutive plays. For the touchdown, the Panthers spread the field with wide receivers only to have the play be a designed quarterback draw. The Falcons defenders had no idea what hit them.

This sequence of plays should have kept Wade Phillips up at night - until, that is, he figured out the best way to contain this run-first threat. Frankly, that containment must come from the edge rushers and inside linebackers. All four positions must have a huge game if the Broncos are to be successful in stopping the Panthers rushing assault.

The Panthers start out red hot in almost every single game they have played this season. If the Broncos defense can hold them from the end zone early in the Super Bowl, then we're going to be in for one of those classic dog fights the Broncos have won so often this season.

However, it will be important not to lose faith if the Panthers come out and score a touchdown early. That is something they have done all season long. They key will be limit the damage early.

If there is one weakness from this Panthers team in 2015, it is their penchant to give up a lot of second half points.