PFF scouting report: 20 things to know about Panthers-Broncos
Before the Broncos and Panthers kick off on Sunday, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both teams. Here, we’ll dive into 20 things to know about the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, using 2015 PFF grades.
1. Panthers’ rankings (by PFF grades)
2. Cam Newton is getting better
Including the playoffs, Cam Newton is PFF’s number one overall ranked quarterback. He is also PFF’s top-ranked rushing QB (as he has been throughout the year).
3. He’s at his best when kept clean
Cam Newton has played best this season when kept clean in the pocket (third-best QB in such circumstances) and when blitzed (second-best).
4. Cam Newton’s biggest weaknesses
Newton has graded positively in nearly every aspect of play. However if there is one thing he has not done well, it would be throwing to the right.
When Newton has been pressured, he has not been nearly as good as when kept clean. The only game they lost (versus Atlanta) was when they were pressured the most.
5. Speaking of that one loss…
As I mentioned above, in the team’s lone loss, Carolina was pressured more than in any other game.
Most of the assigned pressure came over the tackles.
Cam Newton was not able to escape, scrambling for only 14 yards on two attempts.
6. Yardage comes from Carolina’s TEs, not RBs
The Panthers have the second-highest percentage of yardage coming from the TE position, and the second-least from running backs.
7. Carolina has one of the best defensive lines in the NFL
Many think Kawann Short came out of nowhere in 2015, but in truth, he was good as a rookie and has been increasingly better year over year.
In 2015, he was great against the run, and if anything, even better rushing the passer.
8. As well as one of the best CBs
Josh Norman started his rise to prominence towards the end of the 2014 season, and through Week 8 of 2015, he was—by some margin—the best CB in the NFL. He fell away a little thereafter, but has been very solid again in the playoffs.
He was the fourth-best CB in passer rating against through the conference championships.
9. Luke Kuechly is the NFL’s best linebacker
Kuechly was the third-rated LB in run defense this season, and top-rated in coverage (by a huge margin).
In passer rating against, he was No. 1 and, his 48.4 rating (through the playoffs) is better than any corner.
10. Carolina deploys diverse coverages
The Panthers have one of the most diverse coverage schemes in football, being one of only two teams (the Bengals are the other) to have over 100 snaps in four key coverage buckets: cover-1, cover-2, cover-3, and cover-4.
11. Broncos’ rankings (by PFF grades)
12. Peyton Manning’s career-worst year
After a superb return from injury in 2012 and 2013, Manning’s play has fallen off markedly the last two years, particularly poor in 2015.
13. He had trouble when pressured, as well as when kept clean
He was poor when blitzed, even worse when not blitzed, and even terrible when playing from a clean pocket.
14. Struggles with deep passes and reading underneath coverages
Manning’s biggest issues came when throwing deep and, remarkably, reading underneath coverages.
Conversely, his intermediate work was generally good.
15. The offense has changed during the season—twice.
16. Denver’s offensive line has not played well this season.
Evan Mathis is our top-graded run blocker, but has struggled in pass protection this year (probably due to injury).
Louis Vasquez is our 10th-rated pass-blocker, but has been a poor run-blocker. Additionally, for awhile at least (Weeks 15 through 17), Paradis has also shown he has some skill as a run-blocker.
17. Key players on defensive line have excelled
The key players on the D-line have all been great. Wolfe is an excellent run-stuffer who also gets pressure, while Jackson is a fantastic pass-rusher who is also a good run-defender.
Vance Walker is a superior backup for Wolfe, while Antonio Smith has, throughout his career, been a very poor run defender who nevertheless generates pressure. This year, that has faded, but he still grades out as an average rusher, which is fine as a backup.
18. As have their linebackers
Every linebacker but Shane Ray has had an outstanding season, and he’s had some injury issues.
For most other teams, Shaquil Barrett would be a starter, and probably-fan favorite—he’s an excellent all-round 3-4 OLB.
If there are any minor weaknesses, it’s the coverage of Marshall and Trevathan, who are usually good, but have had poor games, such as against NE in the CC.
19. Denver is the only team to boast positive grades from all secondary starters
Every member of the Broncos’ starting nickel secondary have positive coverage grades. They are the only team for who this is true.
20. Denver has changed its coverage schemes for the playoffs
For most of the season, the Broncos played cover-1 and cover-3 schemes, although in the playoffs ,they have played a lot more quarter, quarter, half.