How Von Miller and Denver’s pass rush won Super Bowl 50

Sam Monson breaks down how Carolina's inability to adjust to the Broncos' pass rush cost them the game.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

How Von Miller and Denver’s pass rush won Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl 50 unfolded almost exactly as we predicted at PFF — a-low scoring affair that was determined by the defenses. The Broncos’ defense was good enough to keep the game close, and they came up with enough turnovers to not only limit the Panthers, but jump out to a lead and ultimately overcome the odds to win.

Once again outside linebacker Von Miller proved to be one of the league’s best defensive players, and as we pointed to all week, was simply too much to handle for Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers.

Miller was huge throughout the game, ending up its MVP as well as earning a PFF grade of +6.7, thanks to notching three sacks, five hurries and two forced fumbles.

Part of the problem of limiting the Broncos’ pass rush is that they are so deep and varied that you can’t easily take players from any one spot to help out elsewhere. If you give Miller extra attention all game, then DeMarcus Ware will hurt you — or Malik Jackson, or Derek Wolfe, or Shaquil Barrett, or the blitz … you get the idea.

There were occasions in the game, however, when the Panthers could have dedicated extra attention to Miller, and chose not to. These were big errors that cost them dearly.

It appeared as though the Panthers underestimated the Broncos pass rush coming in. They knew it would be good, but they hadn’t budgeted for the idea that it was so good they really should have changed some things on offense and made adjustments to try and limit it.


Here the Panthers lined up pre-snap with an empty backfield, but both Greg Olsen and Mike Tolbert tight to the formation in perfect position to chip the Broncos edge rushers before releasing into a pattern. Olsen stayed in looking for work before sliding out and presenting himself as a receiving option, but Tolbert gave Miller a free run at Remmers — which all throughout the game resulted in bad things happening for the Panthers.

Miller was around the right tackle and to the quarterback in an instant, and instead of just laying a big hit, went for the ball, forcing a fumble that the Broncos recovered for a touchdown.

The Panthers linemen were asked to do an awful lot in this game against the league’s best pass rush, and it was too much for them to cope with. Some of these plays were inevitable, but plays like this could have been avoided had Tolbert chipped before releasing as he was in position to do. These small adjustments are the difference between winning and losing Super Bowls.

Miller was once again sensational in the playoffs, and not just as a pass-rusher. Early in the third quarter he was tasked with running down the sideline on a double move with a wide receiver from the slot, breaking up a pass he had no business being anywhere near.

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With Miller entering free agency, the price to lock him up might have just increased significantly. He is a Super Bowl champion and a Super Bowl MVP, and he was biggest difference-maker in this game.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Jason Williams

    Von Miller deserves to get PAID after that performance. He almost single handedly won that game for the Broncos.

  • Leggo

    Von Miller>>>JJ Watt

    • Aaron McFarland

      I being a Broncos fan, I will say JJ Watt is still probably superior to any one in the NFL for defensive players, but Von does deserve to get JJ Watt money this offseason.

      • Johnny U.

        you are not a denver fan, watt is overrated

        • geo2209

          They play different positions geniuses. One is an interior defender and the other an edge defender. Know your players before typing stupid crap, both of you.

          • Aaron McFarland

            Yes, I am quite aware they play different positions. JJ Watt has three DPOY, tying only Lawrence Taylor as the most ever, so saying he is overrated is a complete false statement.

          • Malachi

            watt was predominantly an edge player this year, almost exclusively even

          • davechave .

            Malachi said it, Watt plays on the edge and the interior of the line. Actually he lines up wherever he wants throughout the course of a game. But he can’t cover guys like Miller so I’ll take Von any day.

          • Aaron McFarland

            I would take either, and be pretty happy.

        • Aaron McFarland

          No I am not a Denver fan, I have a basement filled with Broncos memorabilia and I am a season ticket owner…but no, I am not a Broncos fan (lol). But if you don’t realize how dominant JJ Watt has been since being the NFL, then I don’t think you know NFL football.

  • McGeorge

    Miller had a great game in the AFC championship too. He’s a big part why they won the Super Bowl. Were he to hit the market, he’d get paid top dollar.
    The question is how much will he ask from the Broncos?
    Ndamukong Suh is making 19MM. JJ Watt is 16.6.
    How much will he accept from the Broncos? Will he give a home team discount (i.e. “only” 16MM for example)

  • crosseyedlemon

    The best defense against a pass rush is of course a strong run game but it seems all the MVP talk convinced the Panthers that they could simply showcase Newton and win. Given a do-over I think they would reconsider that strategy now.

  • Jason Williams

    I will say I was dead wrong about Carolina – they were a WAY better team than I thought they were. That’s what made Sunday night SO. SATISFYING. =D

  • Dan Hachenberger

    That game was won in the trenches, the one thing teams could not do this year, is stop Carolina’s run game. We jammed them up in the middle. Got to give props to Malik, Sly, and Wolfe.

    • Malachi

      Sly really had a game, more base-D equalled more chances for him and he deliverd

  • themacabre

    It helped a lot that Trevathan and Marshall took Olsen completely out of the game making it easier for Miller and company to get to Cam. Unsung heroes.