PFF scouting report: 20 things to know about Panthers-Broncos

Neil Hornsby breaks down the key things to know about the Broncos and Panthers heading into Super Bowl 50.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

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)

Panthers rankings


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).

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.21.37 AM


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).

When kept clean

When blitzed


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.

Cam weakness field

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.

When under pressure


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.

One loss

Most of the assigned pressure came over the tackles.

Pressure over 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.

Yardage from TEs


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.

Kawann Short


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.

Josh Norman 2015 game grades

He was the fourth-best CB in passer rating against through the conference championships.

Josh Norman NFL rating


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.

Luke Kuechly


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.

Diverse coverages


11. Broncos’ rankings (by PFF grades)

Broncos rankings


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.

Peyton Manning year grades


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.

Manning when blitzed

Manning when not blitzed

Manning when kept clean


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.

Manning deep pass


15. The offense has changed during the season—twice.

Broncos offense changes


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).

Denver Offensive Line

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.

Denver Defensive line

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.

Denver linebackersFor 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.

Denver secondary


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.

Denver coverages

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • anon76returns

    Miami had the league’s best graded pass rush??!!
    I get that it’s good to beat your blocks, but the goal of the pass rush is to get some production for it. The Dolphins certainly didn’t get many sacks (22nd in adjusted sack rate). I understand you can make up for that by getting other forms of pressure, but I just don’t see much evidence of it. They were 21st in allowed yards/reception, which indicates that they weren’t forcing short throws. They were 23rd in opponent’s completion %, which means whatever pressure they were getting wasn’t forcing a lot of incompletions. And they were 24th in opponent passer rating, which (convoluted a bit with the previous two stats) means that they weren’t forcing a lot of INTs on bad throws, nor were they preventing many TD throws. Of course, I’d love to see how they were collectively graded in PRP, but I’m no longer afforded the privilege of being allowed to pay for that info.
    Look, I can certainly understand a team getting graded a little better than their production showed, but you’re trying to tell me that a unit that got bottom 10-11 production out of everything effected by pass rush was actually the best pass rushing unit in the league? That seems very far-fetched.

    • SeattleSteve

      Crappy Linebackers and secondary (aside from Grimes).
      You can get quick pressure, but it’s negated when the QB completes an even quicker pass against trash coverage.

      • anon76returns

        Maybe. My premium stats ran out in week 6, but I was tracking defensive pressure and time to throw up to that point. Miami was getting pressure at the 16th highest rate in the league, and were facing QBs that were the 23rd fastest at getting rid of the ball (i.e. 10th slowest). So the ball wasn’t getting out particularly quick, and the pressure was not getting to the QB- no need to invoke crappy LBs or secondary. I have no idea what might have changed after that, but my recollection was that they had Cameron Wake with an insanely high pass rush grade at that point, even with virtually nothing to show for it.

        • MattV

          Last 9 weeks or so of the regular season Olivier Vernon had the highest grade of any 4-3 DE by a decent amount so I’m sure that has something to do with it.

          • anon76returns

            Could be. Doesn’t really change the problem. The fact was that Wake/Vernon/Suh had off-the-charts pass rushing grades, without anything to show for it. At some point you have to look at your grading system and realize that it’s not accurately reflecting what is going on out there. Saying that the Dolphins were the best pass rushing team in the league last year doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of what happened on the field.

      • Rob

        Grimes sucks nowadays bro

  • Rodrigo

    Wasn’t Denver change of coverage in the playoffs more about who they face and how they faced ?
    Steelers crazy pass atack they went with a zone heavy scheme.
    And the Patriots id say,giving how the game was going,probably required more free guys to go for Gronk.
    Im not very good at this,but does this make any sense ?

    • anon76returns

      It was also based a bit on the health of the guys available. CHJ was not in good form in the Divisional round. Both starting safeties were out by the end of the AFCCG. That does effect what coverages you can use.

  • Thomas Bell

    I wonder if Kubaik is planning to switch back to the Manning offense for the super bowl?

    • crosseyedlemon

      Conventional wisdom says coaches will stick with what got them there. If a coach goes away from what was successful and fails he sets himself up to be crucified.

  • JudoPrince

    I’m still not over that -6 rating for Norman against the Giants. He gave up less than 40 yds and a TD against an elite receiver, that is it. It did not warrent one of the worse rated games of the year by a cb even if ODB had a few drops. PFF got that game wrong

    • Tim Edell

      His grade was so low in that Giants game because of his penalty grade if I remember the grading on that game correctly.

      • anon76returns

        “Norman allowed 5-of-8 targets to be caught for 28 yards and a touchdown. Not bad, but he was beaten badly on a couple of those incompletions, including what would have been a 52-yard touchdown early on. Norman also missed three tackles, and had a couple of bad penalties fighting against Odell Beckham.”

        “Looking solely at Norman, he won’t be happy with his performance, during the play and after it. He missed three tackles, allowed Beckham to beat him deep twice (one was dropped, one throw was off target) and was flagged for two unnecessary roughness penalties of his own. While this did feel like an anomaly to his excellent season and discussion will center on the theatrics of their battle, there’s no denying Norman was given his toughest test in coverage on the year.”

  • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

    Man, you guys really need to get off the Panthers’ d***s. Denver beat a murderer’s row of playoff teams with one-armed tied behind their backs (QB problems) …. that indicates that this is a very good team. Carolina is good, but they did have an easy schedule … and they rely on TOs. If they don’t get any, they will be in trouble.

    • Jay Mitchell

      An injured Big Ben and no Antonio Brown. Then a depleted New England offensive line is hardly murderers row. The NFC has been considered the better conference all season.

      • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

        Hey Jay … how do like 24-10? Like I said, Carolina played no one. Denver played top echelon teams w/o a strong QB and came out ahead. Denver Broncos, NFL Champs.

  • Ben M

    Here’s how Denver wins:
    1. Game too big for Cam. Plays spastic and jittery. Creates turnovers.
    2. Denver’s running game surprisingly effective against Carolina’s defense.
    3. Peyton, zero turnovers, manages well in the short/medium range.
    4. Carolina plays cocky and stupid. Denver plays mad.

    These things could happen.
    I think Denver will play mad, but also Carolina. I really think score could be 6-6 at halftime. A defensive struggle.

    I think over the course of the game a couple things will happen –
    1. Eventually Carolina’s middle pass rush gets to Peyton and he throws a pick and plays desperate or pouty like he did in the Seattle 43-8 game.
    2. Eventually I think Denver’s defense gets tired chasing Cam and the fatigue allows Carolina’s running game more yards in the 2nd half than the first.
    3. Yes, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will sack Cam 2-3 times. It happens every game to the frustration of Carolina fans. But also Cam will rip a 15-20 yard run or two.

    Denver can score points 4 ways:
    1. Peyton throws crisp. Maybe. But has not been his year.
    2. Running game. Maybe again, but Carolina is good here.
    3. Defense scores a TD. 50/50.
    4. A run back of a punt or kick. Good chance.

    I think there’s a good chance Carolina’s offense wears down Denver’s defense over time. Denver will look awesome in the 1st half. But Carolina’s defense has been confining teams to their halves of the field with regularity. Denver’s offense – Running game and Peyton, are less than what Carolina has faced in Seattle and Arizona.

    If Carolina plays well/wins 34-16 Carolina.
    If Denver plays well and wins, 17-13 Denver.

    • bobrulz

      Cam definitely looked jittery, and Denver’s defense didn’t get tired. Denver’s defense DOESN’T get tired. Did you see them against Brady?

      Defense scored a TD as well and they had a big (and super bizarre) punt return, so good call on that.

      Not all of Peyton’s passes were bad, but Kubiak’s playcalling was also terrible in the 2nd half. Didn’t matter because the defense was so good.

  • RC Carlton

    I wish we had the old ratings… or at least access to them.. sooo much more info..