ReFo: Broncos @ Panthers, Week 10
In an interconference matchup between two teams with uneven records, the final outcome was just as uneven. When Carolina struck first on a beautifully set up lob to a wide open Greg Olsen, the Panthers looked like the team that handled Washington a week ago. After a scintillating punt return touchdown (that shouldn’t have even been a touchdown) from Trindon Holliday made it 14-7 Broncos early in the second, the Panthers started to look more like team that had just lost six straight.
Over the next three quarters Peyton Manning had the Broncos’ no-huddle offense rolling and dropped 29 straight points before the Panthers scored another touchdown, with only five minutes left. It was the kind of play we have come to expect out of the Broncos’ offense, even if their running game was M.I.A. today.
Denver extends their division lead and it looks as though they are the class of the AFC West. For Carolina it is a different story. Their offense is currently 27th in points per game (7.3 fewer per game than last year) and what looked to be a promising season has lost all hope. All the talk has been about the woes in the passing game, but it has really been the Panthers’ rushing attack that has failed them the most. Carolina ran for over 150 yards per game in 2011, but this year the line hasn’t made near as many holes and their averaged has dipped to 109.1 yards per game.
In a game that featured the first linebacker selected in the past two drafts, here are the most noteworthy performances.
Denver — Three Performances of Note
If you saw the game, you already know. Von Miller was unblockable all day long and manhandled every player thrown at him. Usually we talk about a defender’s ability to disengage from blocks, but on Sunday the Panthers rarely were able to engage him at all. Miller routinely was in the backfield and finished with five hurries, a hit, and a sack. The Panthers tried to run at his side seven times and came away with 7 total yards. Miller showed Panther nation what they passed on when they selected Cam Newton one spot ahead of him last April. Miller finished with a grade of +9.4, the second-highest of any linebacker this year, behind only his own Week 5 performance.
Sunday’s game, more than maybe any this year, proved once and for all this year that accuracy and quarterbacking IQ are far and away the two most important traits of a QB. On one side, Newton was throwing rockets all over the field, missing wide open receivers and throwing into coverage. Manning carved his way through the Panthers’ defense with deadly accuracy and touch passes. While Newton averaged 2.98 seconds to throw, Manning averaged 2.34. The contrast was evident and the deciding factor in the game. Manning dropped back to throw the ball on 42 of 64 snaps, finishing with 301 yards and an Accuracy Percentage of 81.6. His arm strength may be a shadow of its former glory, but no other part of Manning’s game has changed a bit.
Former First Rounder Fills in
Robert Ayers has been relegated to a backup after three unremarkable seasons since being selected 18th overall in 2009. When Elvis Dumervil went down early in the game with a shoulder injury, though, it was Ayers who stepped up. Ayers played 49 snaps — his highest total of the season — and came away with a sack, three hits, and two hurries. Ayers’ six total pressures were the most of his career and, unsurprisingly, he finished with the best pass rush grade of his career as well (+3.1). For a player who appeared to be on his way toward the ‘bust’ tag, his play was a pleasant surprise and gives Broncos fans hope if Dumervil has to miss any time.
Carolina — Three Performances of Note
Rookie Coming On Strong
Heading into the draft Luke Kuechly’s athleticism and college production had prognosticators pegging him as close to a sure thing as there was in the entire class. Through three games, though, the game looked like it was moving a step faster than the rookie. All that is in the past now, though, because since then he has gone on a tear; compiling an overall grade of +9.6. On Sunday, Kuechly posted a Run Stop Percentage of 19.0 and allowed only two catches on five targets for 38 yards. One of those targets was an impressive pass breakup on the sideline on a third down in the fourth quarter. Kuechly now looks like he is fully up to speed and will be holding down the middle in Carolina for a long time to come.
Every Down Tight End
Greg Olsen has never been a great blocking tight end, but the seven-year veteran has been serviceable throughout his career and, because of his receiving skills, rarely comes off the field. On Sunday he was just plain outmatched. Von Miller lit him up on four separate occasions, all resulting in grades of -1.0 or lower. The most egregious came early in the fourth quarter when Olsen barely laid a finger on Miller and allowed him to reach Jonathan Stewart and knock the ball away before he could even make a move. It is a shame that Olsen’s blocking was able to overshadow the work he did in the passing game, though. He finished the day with 102 yards and two touchdowns, catching 9 of the 10 balls thrown his way. Olsen was the only Panther receiver consistently getting open, but at the end of the day his -3.9 run blocking grade led to a -2.1 overall.
Chalk another one up to the ‘Von Miller’ effect. Byron Bell struggled so much in trying to stop the Broncos’ All-Pro that he was eventually benched at the start of the fourth quarter. The undrafted right tackle had made large strides up until Sunday after his predictably poor rookie year in 2011. It was probably the right move by Ron Rivera to try and preserve the confidence he had built up this season allowing only one sack before Sunday. Against the Broncos, though, he allowed two sacks, a hit, and a hurry, good enough for a dismal Pass Blocking Efficiency of 88.3. Bell should be thankful that he won’t have to see Miller for another four years.
Von Miller. Hands Down. Whether it was forcing a fumble, causing a pick-six, or making four tackles for losses, Miller showed why he is in a class of his own at linebacker this year.
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