We are finally here! It is Super Bowl Weekend! Old School Peyton vs. New School Cam. Something’s gotta give. The annual Super Bowl fiesta is a bittersweet event for football fans. We are privileged to watch what we all hope is a fantastic game, but when the clock hits zero, it is back to the drawing board, and the offseason officially begins, which means no games! Before we are all completely bummed out, let’s break down the biggest game of the season.
To start, let’s take a look at each team’s signal caller and offense
Unless you are living under a rock, you have heard that Peyton Manning, one of the all-time greats, has regained his starting quarterback job after a seven-game Brock Osweiler show. It was intriguing to see the 6-foot-8 quarterback run an offense for the first time when it matters, but hey, didn’t we all want to see the Sheriff, Manning give it all he’s got for what is likely one last playoff run? Well, that’s what we got. Manning has been far from perfect, but has done the trick, beating the shorthanded Steelers, and the “mighty” Patriots thanks to a defensive masterpiece, led by coordinator Wade Phillips. Again, Manning has done his job, making key throws, and more importantly, playing turnover free. Manning must hope that his offence can generate a running game, specifically with CJ Anderson, who has started to pull away from Ronnie Hillman as the lead back. Anderson has ripped off some important runs this postseason, including a 30-yard run late in the AFC Championship Game win over New England. If the Denver offense can create a running game, this sets up the play-action game where Manning thrives with his top receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. If the Broncos can manage a relatively successful running game, the Denver offense can score points, and that will be key.
Now, time to discuss, the soon to be MVP, aka Superman, or the “Dabber,” Cam Newton. The man has been truly super the whole season, accounting for 50 total touchdowns this regular and postseason. He is the engine that drives the Carolina offense, no ‘ifs,’ ands’ or ‘buts’ about it. His incredible running skills, combined with his strong arm makes it extremely difficult to defend him. Newton shows, play-in and play-out, how unpredictable he and the offense truly is, with a read-option running attack. It gives Newton the opportunity to run himself, hand-off to his running back, or pass the ball; which gives the opposing defense a lot to contend with. Since Newton is such an impressive athlete, it is tough to guess who will have the ball on an option play, and this leads to big play ability. The Carolina receivers do not get a ton of respect as their statistics don’t jump off the page, but it truly does not matter in this offense led by innovative coordinator Mike Shula. The team does not need to rely on their receivers as much to make plays when their quarterback is such a threat in different aspects of the game, especially with stud Tight End Greg Olsen in the mix. This Carolina offense scored the most points in the league this season and has been a handful for all opponents over the past 5 months.
While the offenses will be the focal points of this game, many would argue the key reasons for these two teams being in the 50th Super Bowl, are due to the defenses of both teams. Denver finished with the #1 defense in the regular season, while Carolina finished 6th.
Taking a look at the Broncos #1 ranked defense, it is clear that Denver will face its’ toughest task of the season. Having to defend the multi-dimensional Newton, the superb running game, and Pro Bowl Tight End Greg Olsen is a major challenge. How will they do this? That is yet to be seen, but here is an idea. In trying to stop the read-option, their defensive ends and outside linebackers must be disciplined in their reads and make sure they know where Cam Newton is, in particular when he fakes the hand-off to his running backs. Defending the read option will be a total team effort, but the key players will be their best pass rushers, All-Pro Von Miller and future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware. If these studs can set the edge, this forces the option to become one-dimensional, and can impact the way the Carolina offense calls this game. With Denver’s superb secondary, not a ton can be expected from the Carolina receiving core, so it will be up to Cam Newton to improvise and get his receivers a chance to separate from the defenders. It will be interesting to see how Denver defends Greg Olsen as well. In the AFC Championship, we saw Denver have a linebacker and safety essentially double-covering All-Pro Rob Gronkowski for much of the game, and that did not matter, resulting in 8 catches for 144 yards, and a late touchdown. If Olsen gets anywhere near that kind of stat line, then the Broncos’ chances of winning are slim. Although Gronk and the Patriots did not win the game, the Patriots were really no threat in the running game, resulting in Tom Brady attempting 56 passes in the AFC Championship. It would be stunning to see the Carolina offense, under any circumstance, throw the ball 56 times. Carolina insists on offensive balance to achieve success, so if Olsen becomes a match-up problem, similar to Gronk, Denver must watch out.
One can argue that Carolina’s defense is just as accomplished as Denver’s. Carolina’s ranking as the 6th ranked defense might not tell the whole story as to how good this unit is. Since Carolina dominated multiple games this season, building up big leads, several opponents put up “garbage-time” statistics, where the outcome was essentially decided and that bought down some of Carolina’s defensive numbers. In reality, this defense is as talented as Denver’s. Where Carolina truly excels is in the takeaway category, as the defense caused a league-leading 39 turnovers. They also ranked first with a plus 20 turnover differential. Denver did cause 27 turnovers in the regular season, but had the worst differential of any playoff team, at minus 4. Carolina finds ways to put their offense in the best situation to succeed, and that includes setting up Carolina with great field position, courtesy of all those takeaways. In the postseason, we saw All-Pro Luke Kuechly have two pick-6’s, one in each game, and the defense forced 9 total takeaways…in 2 games! If Denver is sloppy with the football, you can kiss away a 2nd Super bowl Ring for Manning. In trying to avoid the turnover bug that bit the Broncos often with Manning at QB during the regular season, Carolina is well aware how important running the ball will be for Denver, taking pressure off of Manning, who simply does not have the arm strength he had in the past. This means Carolina’s All-Pro linebacking twins, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are in for a tough task in defending not only the run game, but also being responsible for Owen Daniels, who has quietly put together an efficient postseason, including 2 touchdowns in the AFC Championship game.
One of the few defensive liabilities Carolina currently possesses, is true depth in the cornerback department, due to injuries earlier in the season to two of their top 3 corners, Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere. Carolina has brought in veterans Robert McClain and Cortland Finnegan to replace them, and they have been solid in coverage. Where Carolina struggled defensively was when opposing teams forced Carolina to go with three, or even four cornerbacks onto the field, which we saw versus Seattle in the second half. Seattle would put 3 or 4 receivers onto the field to create the best matchup with Carolina’s depleted secondary. This ignited Seattle’s brief comeback, by getting as many cornerbacks on the field as possible. If Denver wants to have success in the passing game, firstly, they must run the ball, but they also must spread the field, and get as many of the Carolina cornerbacks on the field at once to try to defend Denver’s solid receiving core.
I am expecting a close game for much of the night, but one of the teams will start to pull away after a tipped-ball that is intercepted. Right now, I will take Denver to win this game, but that is sure to change, as I have not been able to completely wrap my head around which team is actually going to win this game. It would be truly magical to see Peyton Manning leave the game with a second ring, and DeMarcus Ware finally get his ring. However, on the other side of the field, veteran Jared Allen has a shot to finally get his ring, after his own, lengthy and accomplished career.
I hope everyone enjoys the game, the halftime show, the food, the probable power outage, the Malcolm Butler-esque late game interception, and all the other great aspects of Super Sunday!
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