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Sanders, Broncos' offense ready to rise to the challenge of Panthers' D

The goal will be to start fast and not have to play catch-up with the NFL's top offense.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In case you're wondering, the word of the day around Broncos' camp is "challenge" - as in everything about this game on Sunday.

But while Cam Newton has been tagged as one of the Broncos' biggest challenges, it's the Carolina defense against the Broncos offense that is likely going to present a bigger - and more interesting - one. The Broncos' No. 1 defense against the Panthers' No. 1 offense is going to be exciting, but it's the other side of the ball for each team where this game might be won.

There's no doubt the Panthers' defensive line, edge rushers and secondary are keeping Peyton Manning and Co. focused on a pretty huge challenge this week.

"It's a very active secondary. They do a lot of different things, play a lot of different coverages. The linebackers make a lot of plays, they have great speed, they're physical tacklers, great coverage ability," Manning said Tuesday, noting there are a lot of things to compliment. "Like I said about their entire defense, it's an impressive group."

Leading the league in interceptions at 24 - compared to the 14 by Broncos defenders - the Panthers will present several tough match-ups, not the least of which will be Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Josh Norman and Shaq Thompson.

Despite a lot of hype over Norman - as much for his mouth as for his play - Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders concerned as much about him as with just playing his game well.

I don't concern myself with cornerbacks. If I stay true to my technique, I feel like there's no cornerback in the National Football League that can stop me.  -Emmanuel Sanders

"I don't concern myself with cornerbacks," Sanders said, including Norman who he described as a "big, physical" corner. "If I stay true to my technique, I feel like there's no cornerback in the National Football League that can stop me. I just focus on myself and it's been working."

That said, Sanders understands the problem Norman could present on Sunday - and he's looking forward to it.

"It's always fun to go against good competition," No. 10 said. "And he's one of the best cornerbacks in the National Football League, so it's going to be cool to go against him."

Demaryius Thomas called Norman a "big challenge" for receivers and their QBs.

"A lot of quarterbacks don't throw his way sometimes because he's always around the ball and making plays on the ball," Thomas said. "We're going to go out and do whatever we have to do to make it a good game."

Sanders, for one, knows that playing against his own team's No. 1 defense all year, but especially the past two weeks, will make a difference come Sunday.

"That defense definitely brings the best out of me," Sanders noted. "On  the right, you've got Talib and on the left Chris. You got to get your mind right definitely every day."

Practicing against the Broncos' defensive line and linebackers will come in handy for running backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman too as they likely come face-to-face with Kuechly and Davis a lot on Sunday.

Anderson noted Kuechly's instincts and Davis' tackling efficiency as the biggest obstacles for the running backs to overcome.

"Luke is really good. He's so smart, so instinctive and he's always in the right spot when you watch him on tape," Anderson said. "Thomas Davis is just an animal. He's not going to miss too many tackles and he's going to be all up on you."

Coach Gary Kubiak had high praise for the duo as well, calling the two linebackers among the top tandems in the league.

"They're as good as there is in this league. ...They play on the ball. They play in the A-gap; they do a lot of that," Kubiak said, noting that Thomas is both an edge rusher and a cover guy. "They are very impressive. They run, play hard, (are) very physical. It's a big task for our (running) backs."

The goal is to start well but to certainly finish even better.   -Peyton Manning

Although the Broncos' offense has been up and down to say the least this season, no player on that side of the ball is afraid of Sunday's matchup.

"They have a great front seven with what they do over there and it's a tough challenge, but I think we're ready for it," Anderson said.

The offense certainly knows it's going to have to be because the Panthers are not a team they want to be playing catch-up with.

Starting fast will be the goal, Manning said.

"There is no doubt the last two games that [the Panthers] haven't gotten off to good starts, they've gotten off to great starts," Manning said, pointing out that Seattle and Arizona got too far behind too early and could never recover. "That's not ideal against any team, that's not ideal in a playoff game, and it's not ideal against a team that's won 17 games this year....The goal is try to start well but certainly to try to finish even better."