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Analysis of Broncos', Panthers' performance against common opponents

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The Panthers and the Broncos only had two common opponents, Green Bay and Indianapolis. Their performance against those common opponents is informative.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In a strange confluence of scheduling, the two common opponents between the Broncos and the Panthers were played in consecutive weeks. In Week 8, the Broncos played the Packers in Denver while the Panthers were playing the Colts in Charlotte. The Broncos went to Indianapolis to play the Colts the following week while the Panthers stayed in Charlotte to play the Packers. The fact that our two common opponents were played in consecutive weeks makes the common opponent analysis more applicable than if they had been played at relatively different points in the season.

Performance Against The Packers

The Broncos beat the Packers 29-10, and the game was not as close as the score would indicate. The beatdown of the Packers was our only blowout win this season as we forced Aaron Rodgers into his worst NFL performance.

The Panthers beat the Packers 37-29 the following week, but the game was essentially a blowout until the Packers made a furious fourth-quarter comeback after getting behind by 23 (14-37). The Packers scored 15 points in the fourth with their final TD coming at 3:43. They then got the ball back immediately on an interception with 3:38, down 8 on the road at the Carolina 22. They drove to the Carolina 4 where they turned it over via a fourth-down interception with exactly two minutes left to play. The Packers were able to get the ball back, but it was with six seconds left to play on their own 21.

vs GB
Passing ATT COMP PCT YDS YDS/A YDS/G LONG TD TD% INT INT% SACK YDSL RATE
Panthers 30 15 50 297 9.9 297 59 3 10 1 3.3 0 0 104.4
Broncos 29 21 72.4 340 11.7 340 47 0 0 1 3.4 0 0 96.9
GB off. vs CAR 48 25 52.1 331 7.7 331 53 4 8.3 1 2.1 5 38 96.6
GB off. vs DEN 22 14 63.6 50 3.5 50 17 0 0 0 0 3 27 69.7

Rushing ATT YDS YD/A LONG 20+ TD YDS/G FUM FUML 1DN
Panthers 36 130 3.6 23 1 1 130 0 0 9
Broncos 34 160 4.7 28 1 3 160 0 0 9
GB off. vs CAR 19 71 3.7 15 0 0 71 1 1 3
GB off. vs DEN 21 90 4.3 17 0 1 90 0 0 7

The Panthers offense put up 37 points off of 427 total yards. Cam Newton threw for three touchdowns against the Packers, but he only completed 50 percent of his throws with one potentially costly interception late in the fourth quarter. The Panthers, as they did all season, ran the ball for over 100 yards with nine rushing first downs. Their long run that day was only 23 yards, so on their other 35 rushing attempts they gained 3.1 ypc, or less than we allowed for the season as the best rushing defense. Even including that long run, the 3.6 for the game was significantly lower than the 4.3 the Panthers averaged on the year.

The Panthers defense allowed 402 yards and 29 points with most of that coming through the air after they got up 23. Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns with the final two coming when the Packers were in desperation/catch-up mode. Much like our defense did all year, the Panthers defense stiffened when they needed to most at the end immediately following their offense turning the ball over deep in the their own territory. The Panthers sacked Aaron Rodgers five times in this game tying their season high. They had five games with five sacks (JAX, PHL, WAS, ATL and GB). Their pass-rush was feast or famine though since they only got 19 sacks in their other 11 regular season games.

Our offense had its best game of the season against the Packers defense, who came into the game leading the league in scoring defense. The 27 offensive points were our second-best output of the season as were the 500 yards of total offense. Our 340 passing yards were our best of the season - we only broke 300 passing yards twice this year. We had runs of 28 and 16 yards included in our 160 rushing yards, but even leaving those out, we would have still averaged 3.6 yards per catch for the game.

Our defense held the former league MVP to 108 yards of total offense (77 passing, 31 rushing). We held Green Bay to 140 yards of total offense for the game. Surprisingly that was the third time this century that the Packers were held to less than 150 yards of total offense. The Broncos rushed to contain Rodgers hence the relatively small number of sacks (for us) - three.

The Packers defense was unable to sack Cam Newton or Peyton Manning in their games against the two Super Bowl opponents.

Performance Against the Colts

Broncos played the Colts in Indianapolis immediately after their convincing demolition of the Packers. The Panthers played the Colts in Charlotte the week before they played the Packers. We lost by three, 24-27, in the only game this year where both our offense and our defense faltered badly in the fourth quarter.

The Panthers won in a game where they led by 17, 23-6, only to see the Colts score 20 unanswered. The first 17 tied the game to send it into overtime on a 24-yd FG as time expired. The Colts then got a FG on their first OT drive which was answered by a Panther FG to tie and then another game winning FG set up by an interception. The victory over the Colts was the only overtime game that Panthers player this season.

vs IND
Passing ATT COMP PCT YDS YDS/A YDS/G LONG TD TD% INT INT% SACK YDSL RATE
Panthers 35 16 45.7 239 7.1 239 48 2 5.7 1 2.9 2 9 76.8
Broncos 36 21 58.3 274 7.8 274 64 2 5.6 2 5.6 1 7 78.6
IND off. vs CAR 47 23 48.9 223 4.9 223 30 2 4.3 3 6.4 2 8 50.9
IND off. vs DEN 36 21 58.3 245 7 245 38 2 5.6 0 0 1 7 98.4

Rushing ATT YDS YD/A LONG 20+ TD YDS/G FUM FUML 1DN
Panthers 36 140 3.9 14 0 1 140 2 2 7
Broncos 14 35 2.5 12 0 0 35 0 0 2
IND off. vs CAR 35 136 3.9 23 1 0 136 1 0 5
IND off. vs DEN 40 120 3 17 0 1 120 0 0 7

The Panthers offense averaged 367 yards per game. They got just above that against the Colts - 379 - 239 through the air and 140 on the ground. Cam Newton had a bad game from a completion % standpoint, but still managed to throw for two touchdowns. His 45.7% completion for the game was very Tebow-esque. His 239 passing yards was just slightly above his average of 224 yards per game this season. The Panthers offense turned the ball over three times (one INT, two fumbles) which they did two other times during the regular season (vs the Eagles and the Saints).  The 140 rushing yards that they got was also right about at their average of 137 for season.

The Panthers defense forced four turnovers during the game all of which led to scores. The three touchdowns that the Panthers offense scored were all set up by the defense or special teams. The drives were 37, 29 and 30 yards long and they were set up by an interception, punt return and interception respectively.  The Panthers defense forced Andrew Luck into his worst game of his injury-shortened season. The Colts were able to run the ball decently effectively against the Panthers. Their 136 rushing yards that game was a season high.

The Broncos offense against the Colts was abysmal for most of the game. Prior to Omar Bolden's punt return touchdown, we had about 100 yards of total offense and every drive had ended in punt, except for the one that ended with an interception. In the second half, the offense was great scoring on the first three possessions (TD, FG, TD). The offensive falter came on the fourth possession of the second half when Peyton Manning was intercepted to set up the Colts for the go-ahead FG. The running game was non-existent against the Colts mustering a pitiful 35 yards on 14 carries as the Colts were stacking the box and daring the injured Manning to beat them with his arm.

The Broncos defense had one of their worst games of the season, allowing 365 total yards (second highest allowed during the regular season) and 27 points. The key failing in this game was our defense's inability to get off the field on 3rd down. The Colts converted 12 of 20 3rd downs against us.  To put that in perspective, we only allowed 92 3rd down conversions (including 3rd down conversions by penalty) all regular season. Luck played a great game that day despite getting pounded on almost every throw (hello! ruptured spleen). It would be his last game of the 2015 season.

Conclusions

The Panthers won against the Colts and the Packers, but they nearly blew both games after getting big leads. The Broncos trounced the Packers and lost to the Colts despite having a chance to win at the end.

The Panthers' defense (and special teams) played a huge role in setting up the offense in both games. The Broncos defense (and special teams) played a huge role in both the victory over the Packers and the loss to the Colts.

Finally, I also want to note that in the only game where we truly blew out our opponent this season, we had two weeks to rest and prepare. We played the Packers after our week six bye.