There’s little doubt this 2020 season has been a meatgrinder. The Broncos went into it hoping to chase a playoff berth with a talented defense carrying a young offense and have reached the final month having played five different right tackles, four different quarterbacks, three different guards, two starting linebackers, and a partrid...
Just kidding, but you get the point.
Dead in the water at 4-8, the Broncos have to win four straight games to steer clear of their fourth straight losing season. Up first is the Matt Rhule Panthers. Like Denver, the Carolina plays in one of the strongest divisions in football. Outside of the division, the Panthers have played against the NFC North and AFC West this year. The schedule’s tough enough that I wondered if their 4-8 record was a bit misleading as I looked over some tape. With a point guard type of quarterback and a savvy offensive coordinator, they could present a number of problems for the Broncos’ battered corner room.
To get a better bead on the Broncos’ next opponent, I reached out to Cat Scratch Reader’s Billy Marshall.
1st and 10
As I watch the Panthers, I get the vibe that they’re definitely playing better than their record suggests. Would you agree? What stands out as strengths of the team this year?
Marshall: The Panthers have been a tough team this season. Their point differential is -20, they are 16th in total DVOA, and they are 2-6 in one-score games. The only team that dominated them has been Tampa. While 4-8 isn’t a great record, they probably should be a 6 win team given their metrics.
Their primary strength is the pass offense. They have three reliable, but also unique wide receivers. D.J Moore is the classic X receiver. His strengths are winning in contested situations, gaining yards after the catch, and his toughness. Curtis Samuel is a versatile chess piece. He could be receiving handoffs in the backfield, jet motions or reverses, bubble screens, and he’s been outstanding as a traditional wide receiver too. Finally, Robby Anderson is primarily deployed in the slot. He is excellent at creating separation off the line of scrimmage, which helps their short passing game get in a rhythm.
On that deep dig to DJ Moore that was nearly intercepted, Anderson was schemed up for a long TD on a drive route... pic.twitter.com/szSCM056In— Billy M (@BillyM_91) September 17, 2020
2nd and 8
Teddy Bridgewater and the offense have hit a bit of a pothole recently and could face the Broncos minus two of their top 3 receivers. If that happens, how do you expect the passing game to function since Denver will be without their top three corners?
Marshall: While the Panthers strength is the passing offense, it is by no means an explosive unit. They are efficient at moving the ball, but they’re typically not going to connect on downfield throws. Part of that is the structure of the offense, but another part is Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a great deep ball passer. Denver will present an interesting challenge for Carolina, but the defense that has been the biggest issue for their offense has been the Bucs. Todd Bowles’ heavy blitz schemes along with disguises have caused a ton of issues for their protections. The Broncos shouldn’t worry too much about who is playing corner. If they can find ways to attack Carolina’s protection and tackle well in the secondary, then they’ll give the Panthers offense fits.
3rd and 3
Outside of the Saints’ game, the Broncos have found success on offense in recent weeks by deemphasizing the passing attack. They’ve leaned into their running game and found quite a bit of success attacking the right side. When Lock does throw, Shurmur tries to keep reads simple and marry the concept to play action.
Could that work against this defense?
Marshall: The talent level on defense is mediocre at best. They are young, but some of their higher paid players haven’t been playing well. The defense has improved throughout the season, which is partially a reflection on the players learning Phil Snow’s defense. The Panthers run defense has gotten better since they’ve made a change at linebacker, but the problem is they are too eager especially in the middle of the field. Denver should exploit the middle of the field on play-action concepts. Carolina has done a decent job of defending the naked boot concepts. This was evident against Kirk Cousins a couple weeks ago, but when the Vikings started attacking with traditional play-action or RPO concepts the Panthers ran into issues.
4th and inches
I see shades of young Von Miller when I watch Brian Burns, and think Garett Bolles and Demar Dotson will have to be at their best on passing downs. I know for most in Broncos’ Country, he’s kind of the one big name up front. How do you expect Rhule and Snow to make Lock uncomfortable on passing downs?
Marshall: Many fans have been unhappy with the lack of pressure from the defense all season. Phil Snow’s scheme at Baylor relied on his secondary creating disguises, which forces quarterbacks to hold onto the ball. That would be enough time for the front to get home. Carolina attempted to replicate that approach, but it was clear the only player creating pressure was Brian Burns. That isn’t enough, so they’ve been much more blitz heavy in recent weeks. Snow has used different stunts, fronts, and sub packages to manufacture pressure. For the most part it has been successful, so I would imagine the defense sticking with that approach.
What’s your prediction for the game?
Marshall: The Panthers are coming off a bye week, but they also have a few big names on the COVID list including Derrick Brown, Curtis Samuel, and D.J Moore. Carolina’s worst offensive game came against the Bears, which is when they were without Curtis Samuel. He is integral to their offense due to how much attention defenses place on him before the snap. The reports are Samuel is on the close contact list, so I’ll assume he plays. I will pick Carolina to win a close one 23-20. Denver traveling for a consecutive road game in an early start while Carolina is coming off a bye could be factor.
Who ya got?
This poll is closed
Broncos by a ton.
Broncos by a little.
Panthers by a ton.
Panthers by a little.