Super Bowl Thoughts
We made it to the top ladies and gentlemen of Broncos Country! In front of millions of people our Denver Broncos get to face the Carolina Panthers to decide who is the undisputed champions of the 2015 NFL season. This game represents the pinnacle of my hopes for the team I cheer for and have for over three decades.
Last week was pretty low key for me as I was really recovering from the AFC Championship Game. My voice was raw on Monday. My energy was spent for a couple of days honestly. Those of you out there who bleed orange and blue know what I'm talking about.
Now it is time though. Time to look forward to what could be and prepare with anticipation for enjoying our team on the biggest stage. Big win, last second win, last second loss, or bad loss...we've seen it all before. We've been here before. Keep that in mind brothers and sisters. We've seen the worst of the worst on the biggest stage. We've got players who lost it in spectacular fashion. We've also got two trophies in the cabinet and a great chance to add another one this year regardless of what the latest narrative from the MSM is about Super Bowl 50.
Pat Bowlen deserves credit for Broncos' success
The only thing that could make this week better is if Mr. B were able to be in Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50, see it and be a part of this accomplishment.
Broncos Offense vs Panther Defense
In the trenches
Looking back at the season I have to think the edge here goes to the Pather line. They have some legit starters up front who can be very disruptive and stout against the run. If we were still running a 4-3 front, I'd be happy having the starting unit that Carolina brings to the table on Sundays. Jared Allen is a HOFer. Kwann Short is an interior guy a la Malik Jackson who penetrates that I would love to see in our helmet.
The one part of this match-up that has me hopeful is that the ends don't really impress. They seal the edge better than they bring pressure. That means that Broncos Country can be hopeful that our tackles Ryan Harris, Michael Schofield, and Tyler Polumbus can hold down the outside well enough.
The down-side I see is that there is a lot of potential for pressure up the middle. That has been a weakness all year for our O-Line. We should absolutely expect to see a couple of A-gap blitzes get through and cause havok on a handful of plays. It has been the story of the year and if our offense was going to clean it up, it would have happened long ago honestly. The best hope here is that we have plays where Manning can either dump off a pass quick enough to avoid a big loss or eat a sack that doesn't hurt us too badly.
The running game
Much like the AFC Championship game, our team is going to keep running the ball come hell or high water. Also much like the NE game, I expect it to be mediocre in results. We'll have some success, but a lot of limitations and longer downs because of 0-2 yard runs.
The good thing is that our two running backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have shown this year that they can get hot and we only need it to happen in one game. One idea I actually like a lot is some early play action to get their defense to back off some and play on their heels so that we can work the run game in. The problem here is that our play calling this year has been very lackluster most of the time. I expect we'll see a lot of runs on 1st down instead give us limited production.
The passing game
This is the one part of the offense where I think Denver has a pretty good shot of doing some damage. No, I haven't forgotten the record setting pace of INTs our QB was on early this season. But have you forgotten the very solid passing with few risky throws of his last 3 games?
Yes, Peyton Manning is past his prime as a NFL QB. His repeater is a little worn and rusty, but from what I've seen so far this post-season, this sheriff still has some good fight in him. He's not been throwing only the short stuff. He's throwing the intermediate stuff very well. He's still missing on his deep routes, but it has been SOOOOO close. Much more accurate than what he was doing earlier in the season.
Indeed, I do believe that if this team has success on the Panthers, it is going to come at the expense of their secondary. Yes, I know Josh Norman is legit. He's a guy I'd love to have on this team honestly. But outside of that, I see a lot of mediocre talent on the Panthers on the back end. They have some really nice linebackers that can create plays, but if we can attack the safeties and 2nd and 3rd CBs, I think Peyton can have a very good day.
Stopping the Panthers running game
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.
Broncos Defense vs Panther Offense
In the trenches
We're all sick of hearing about Cam Newton, sure. But here's the thing: dude can talk until someone stops him. The guy is so very talented. He represents a kind of talent at QB that we haven't faced this year and it is going to be a huge challenge for our team to stop him.
I've said it all year though: this is the most talent I've seen on a Broncos defense ever. We have breadth and depth on this defense like no other and the stats back this up. If there is any team that can slow down a QB like Cam Newton, it is the Denver Bronco 2015 defense.
It starts with our defensive front and we have the experience, talent, and capability to not only contain Cam (most of the time...he'll have some plays to be sure), but to hurry him into bad decisions or even sack him. I know it was their rookie season, but Von Miller has been acquainted with Cam Newton. He can and will get home.
To do this, the defense has to scheme smartly though. The pass rush needs to be be more of the containment type of pass rush that we used on Aaron Rodgers earlier this year though. Push up the middle so the QB can't step up while the ends keep leverage and collapse the pocket in a controlled manner from the outside. We will see times where the pass rush is going to go full out as we take risks to cause disruption, but that probably shouldn't be the standard operating procedure against a team that likes misdirection and broken plays.
The running game
The biggest thing that our defense needs to do here is stay disciplined and read the ball properly. Do. Your. Job. Carolina gets big plays from the times where they get your defense to bite hard on misdirection. The team is going to have to play smart in this game and hold their lanes to make sure these misdirection plays don't get space to work with.
The biggest burden to me is on our ILBs and our safeties. Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall need to play the best games of their careers against the run, and we will have half the battle won. The safeties this game don't need to carry the run game, they just need to diagnose it and come clean up well. The good thing is that if T.J. Ward and Darrian Stewart are healthy, they are two of the best in the league at coming in and taking out the trash in the trenches.
The passing game
Cam lives off of extending plays until coverage breaks, misdirection, and playing loose with little to no pressure. It could happen that way in this game to be sure, but I don't find it likely. This defense has the corners that are some of the best in the business. They don't break down in extended plays much and misdirection won't often affect their game since we typically don't have them responsible for zone coverages that need to read the run.
The only real weakness I see is the depth at safety. When we've been without Ward or Stewart (and especially when both are out), our safety play goes in the tank largely. The two safeties we've got behind them are young and not as quick to diagnose plays as our vets. This leads the defense by nature to play a little more conservatively because our safeties don't break on the ball so quickly and stay back more to protect against the big play. The hope there is that all the experience they've gotten in game filling in will pay dividends and they'll be better players in this game than they have been in the back half of the season (for the record, I've seen more flashes from Bush...he still has some poor plays but had more good than bad in the AFC Championship game).
One of the big surprises of the season has been what Joe DeCamillis has done with our Special Teams units. They have not been a liability all season long. My biggest gripe looking back has been the punting of Britton Colquitt, but even that dissipated once the post-season arrived...he's been punting out of his mind.
I don't know how any fan can not worry about a young place-kicker though. This is going to be a big stage. I liked what I heard from Brandon McManus in the playoffs though: he was big on keeping his routine right from sideline to the kick and making every kick consistent. That's always the key to good kickers: muscle memory and a calm mind.
I'm a little more reserved in my expectations than a lot of my brethren in Broncos Country. As a fan, I feel so blessed to be able to cheer for a team in the Super Bowl. Win, lose, or draw, it has been a true joy to cheer for this team this season. From where I've sat, this team has gone about the year the right way: hard work, heart, unity, and a belief in each other.
We like to talk a lot about numbers, stats, tidbits, names, and comparisons about football. Throw all that stuff out though. There are lots of formulas that can make a team the caliber that can win a Super Bowl. Heart wins them though. For us to have victory, our team needs to be plugged in and ready to go to battle this Sunday. The chance to champions is on the line. Glory is out there. I look forward to seeing if our team will go out there and take it on Sunday.