How the Broncos can win Super Bowl 50
PFF analyst Ben Stockwell explains how Denver's pass rush will be critical in slowing down Carolina's offense.
How the Broncos can win Super Bowl 50
If the Broncos are to win Super Bowl 50, it will be on the strength of their defense limiting the offensive output of the Carolina Panthers, as well as allowing their own offense to do just enough to deliver the franchise’s third championship. The Broncos have only scored 30 points twice all season (one of those required overtime to get there), while the Panthers have hit 30 points twice in the playoffs alone, and eight times more during the regular season. If the scores start to pile up in this game, the Panthers become heavy favorites to take home the Lombardi Trophy, so the onus will be on the Broncos’ offense to keep the play count low and their vaunted defense to make this game a race to 20 points.
In order to limit an offense, you want to make them one-dimensional. That’s certainly easier said than done, with the Panthers presenting a multi-dimensional running attack before you even consider how effective Cam Newton has been as a passer this season. Taking away the passing game will be the first step for the Broncos, and they certainly have the players to make Newton uncomfortable inside and outside the pocket. Newton’s passer rating is a meager 71.1 (six TDs, six INTs) under pressure this season, and when he is forced to scramble, the former Auburn star has not been a dynamic threat this season. Newton was forced to scramble 58 times this year, converting 29 of those into runs for 222 yards; but as a passer when scrambling, he has completed only nine passes for 126 with no touchdowns, one interception, and only two passes of 20 yards or more.
Simply put, Newton has developed into a deadly threat from inside the pocket, but he has not been the threat that you might expect him to be from outside the pocket on designed pass plays, so this should give the Broncos the green light to get after him.
The Broncos certainly have the weapons to get after Newton to both put him under pressure and force him outside the pocket. Off the edge, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware might be the league’s best edge-rushing tandem, with Ware coming off one of the best games of his career against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Ware racked up 11 pressures (one sack, six hits, four hurries) with Miller adding eight of his own (three sacks, one hit, four hurries) from the opposite side. As good as the Panthers’ duo of Michael Oher (85.9 pass protection grade) and Mike Remmers (71.6) have played in pass protection this season, they have only faced a pass rushing tandem of this caliber twice this season—against the Seahawks—and in that first encounter, Remmers allowed a season-high five pressures, while the second encounter saw the Panthers deploy a run-heavy attack.
Add to the Broncos’ platoon off the edge (with Shaquil Barrett ready to keep Miller and Ware fresh) their interior trio of Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, and Antonio Smith, and the Broncos pose the sort of all-round threat as a pass rush unit that even a line as good as the Panthers’ will surely struggle to cope with. This pressure up front will then place the game in the hands of the Broncos’ excellent secondary, and even with the wild card of Greg Olsen to cover in a variety of alignments, you would be hard-pressed to say that the Broncos don’t have a clear advantage in this area.
Limiting Cam Newton is far from an easy task, and going aggressively after Newton to disrupt him and force him outside the pocket comes with its own risks, but the Carolina QB has proven this season that he has developed beyond being a player that you can simply contain in the pocket and expect him not to come up with the big plays to dissect your secondary.
The Broncos have the players on the front end and the back end to disrupt Cam Newton and plaster his receivers, however; if Denver can do this, they will give themselves an excellent chance to keep Carolina within scoring range of their own offense, and take home the win in what could be Peyton Manning’s final game.
Not convinced? Be sure to check out Sam Monson’s article on how the Panthers will topple the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.