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Panthers-Broncos preview: This game will be all about that defense

The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers face off on Thursday Night Football to kick off the 2016 NFL regular season.

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 2016 NFL regular season has finally arrived and with it our first game preview. The Denver Broncos host the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl 50 rematch. The Broncos spent the offseason enjoying the spoils of their 24-10 victory over the Panthers, which is likely to give their opponent extra motivation to exact some sort of revenge for that game.

To turn Cam Newton into a crying Jordan meme again, the Broncos defense will need to rise to the occasion and the offense will need to do a heck of a lot more than they did in the Super Bowl.

Here is how the Broncos can achieve that.

Sack City all day long

Von Miller. DeMarcus Ware. Derek Wolfe. Shane Ray. T.J. Ward. These are the names the Broncos need to hear called after a play in the backfield. Cam Newton needs to be flustered. His jersey needs to be as dirty as possible. That is when he’ll start to misfire.

When he starts to misfire, the Miller and the Broncos defense begins to feast as they did in the Super Bowl. It’s (strip)Sack City, baby.

With the inexperience at quarterback, the Broncos defense will need to carry this day if they are to win this rematch.

Can Trevor Siemian get it done?

Here is the good, straight-shooting observation about Siemian: he hasn’t shown enough against first-team vanilla defenses this preseason to warrant such blind optimism from fans.

I get that he is a feel good story and the local Denver media has been pushing the narrative on Siemian all summer long, but it’s real now. It’s time to be objective about what the Broncos have at quarterback. He is no heir to Manning as Nicki Jhabvala would have you believe. But can he at least keep the Broncos above water?

So far, his only success against those vanilla first-team defenses have come in the form of dinking and dunking. He has led exactly one scoring drive against a first-team unit. Not one pass traveled more than six yards on that drive and the drive was capped by a 19-yard touchdown run from C.J. Anderson.

If he can do that against the Panthers, then hallelujah. My concern is that NFL defenses will adjust very quickly to this kind of play. The adjustments would produce more pick sixes too.

His fans will point out other throws he made that were deep or intermediate. Yes, he did that to an extant against second-team defenses in the preseason. However, I wanted to look at his specific successes against first-team units. He won’t be seeing any second-teamers on Thursday Night Football.

His first regular season game will go a long way in either confirming or adjusting my opinion. Siemian can certainly dink and dunk, but those short passes absolutely must have deep to intermediate throws mixed in. Keep the defense honest and he can succeed enough to help the Broncos to victory.

Do I hope Siemian succeeds on Thursday? Absolutely, because it will mean the Broncos win. However, I have serious questions regarding his actual NFL ability and I’m not going to kowtow to a very vocal legion of his fans by pretending he’s the second coming of Tom Brady. It’s now time to put up or shut up, because the leash is going to be very short with a first round pick sitting on the bench.

The bottom line

The game has two facets. The Broncos defense doing enough of the dirty work to keep the Panthers offense from putting up many points is one. The other is Siemian doing more good than bad at quarterback to help score enough offensively to win the game.

Siemian’s play in the preseason has produced a ton of concerns. Sure he beat out a terrible Mark Sanchez and an inconsistent rookie, but he wouldn’t have won a starting job anywhere else in the NFL and that should be a major red flag against a defense like Carolina’s.