IPPOLITO: Broncos’ Defense Must Stifle Running Game
Eighteen Super Bowls ago, the Denver Broncos made history by winning their first title after defeating the heavily favored Green Bay Packers. During the trophy presentation, owner Pat Bowlen declared, “This one’s for John!” in reference to John Elway, the hall-of-fame quarterback who put this team together and is now the general manager. In 2014, Bowlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and has not attended a game this season. Bowlen will not be in attendance at the Super Bowl this weekend in Santa Clara, Calif.. Like Bowlen now, and the entire team in 1997, the Broncos are underdogs again. However, there is still reason to hope and believe that Denver can win this one, and win it for Bowlen.
The Broncos will rely on what got them to the Super Bowl in the first place: defense. The Broncos, by most statistical measures, boasted the league’s best defense over the course of the 2015 season and were at their best two weeks ago against quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Denver pressured Brady all afternoon and hit him 23 times. Just as they did two weeks ago, Denver’s major pass rushers, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, must find ways to pressure the Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and force mistakes. By forcing Newton to throw on the run or into tight coverage windows, Denver’s ball-hawking secondary should have opportunities to knock down or intercept passes. If Denver can win the turnover battle, then it can pull off the upset.
Similar to New England, Carolina’s biggest receiving threat is its tight end, Greg Olsen. Olsen is Newton’s favorite receiving target and the Broncos must limit Olsen’s ability to get open downfield. Two weeks ago, Denver’s defense as a whole successfully contained New England tight end Rob Gronkowski for three quarters in the AFC championship game. The Broncos will likely match linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety T.J. Ward against the 6-foot-5 tight end. By providing a safety over the top to help the linebacker, Denver will force Newton to make difficult, high-risk throws. On the outside, Carolina’s receivers do not pose a big challenge for Denver’s corners and Carolina would be ill-advised to try one-on-one matchups down the field as Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are two of the best corners in the league.
Even with all this, Denver must still stop the Carolina running game, which features a combination of Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Michael Tolbert near the goal line. Denver prides itself on stopping the run, and making the Panthers a one-dimensional offense will be a major goal for the Broncos’ defense. To say Denver’s offense has been underwhelming this postseason is probably a compliment. Denver has been abysmal on third down plays and in the red zone basically all season, and that simply will not be enough against a talented Carolina defense.
Denver needs to get its play-making receivers involved early and spread the Carolina defense out enough to set up the run game. A downplayed weapon could be tight end Owen Daniels, who caught two touchdown passes against New England. If Denver can run the ball, it can control the clock and just maybe put up enough points to win its third Super Bowl.
Michael Ippolito is a junior in the College.
AUERBACH: Carolina’s Postseason Dominance Poses Threat
The last time the Carolina Panthers played in the Super Bowl, it was 2004. They lost the championship game to the New England Patriots, an American Football Conference team led by a young Tom Brady capturing his second Super Bowl ring. This Sunday, the Panthers will again face off against a superior quarterback in the big game, but this time, in the form of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. However, based on the Panthers’ outstanding defense, multi-faceted running game and versatile quarterback, this year’s Super Bowl will likely tell a very different story than it did 12 years ago.
The Broncos’ defense kept them at an elite level this season — especially while undergoing the turmoil of having to sit Manning and start inexperienced Brock Osweiler — and led the league in overall and passing defense. However, it would be a mistake to consider the Panthers’ defense inferior by comparison. The Panthers ranked sixth in the league in overall defense, behind the Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals — and the Panthers have already beaten two of those teams. They also boast some of the best individual defensive players in the game: Luke Kuechly, Josh Norman and Jared Allen, to name a few.
Even though Super Bowl 50 will likely be a defensive battle, it’s important to note that Carolina’s offense has been effective this postseason. The Panthers have made winning two playoff games look pretty easy — they knocked off the defending National Football Conference Champion Seattle in a 31-24 finish, which saw Carolina rack up 31 easy points in the first half. The lack of offense in the second half was concerning, but the Panthers put any fears of inefficacy on offense to rest when they cruised past the Arizona Cardinals in a 49-15 victory in the NFC championship.
Meanwhile, Denver’s path to the Super Bowl has been the complete opposite. The Broncos slipped past a Pittsburgh Steelers team led by an injured quarterback whose main offensive weapon, wide receiver Antonio Brown, was out with a concussion. The Broncos then barely edged the Patriots in a game where just a rare missed extra point by the Patriots ultimately accounted for the 20-18 final score.
Is it true that Manning boasts Super Bowl experience that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton does not? Yes. But remember where that experience led him last time on football’s biggest stage: a 43-8 loss at the hand of the Seahawks — then led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson — in Super Bowl XLVIII. If experience couldn’t get Manning a win against a tough defense after he had played for the entire season, what can he do after sitting on the bench for half of the season? Very little.
With Carolina playing as well as it is, experience at the quarterback position is essentially irrelevant. Newton is enjoying the season of his life, totaling 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in the 2015-16 season. Not only does he effectively distribute the ball to the likes of tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., he also poses a triple threat alongside running back Jonathan Stewart and fullback Michael Tolbert.
As exciting as it would be for all football fans to see Manning rise from the ashes and capture a championship in what will likely be his last chance as a professional football player, it is not too difficult to project the Panthers as the winners of Super Bowl 50. If Carolina can build off its momentum and continue its postseason dominance through the final game, the Lombardi Trophy is not far away.
Madeline Auerbach is a junior in the College.
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