Sunday, February 7, 2016

Carolina Panthers Super Bowl Preview

Panthers Charles Tillman story by Melissa Mahler

Carolina on offense

Let’s take a look at Carolina’s offense versus Denver’s defense via the run. The strength of this team on offense is their rushing game. They ran the ball more than any other team in the league this season with 526 attempts, finished with the second most yards, racking up almost 143 per game, and they scored 18 touchdowns on the ground, which was tied for second. Jonathon Stewart has shown burst at times this season and has had two nice games inCam Newton 350 the post season. However, Cam Newton‘s size and fearlessness when he decides to run the ball is what makes this offense go; he converted a whopping 56 of his runs for a first down and 10 for touchdowns. Newton’s ability to run is the main reason this team hasn’t been held to under 100 yards in ANY game this season.

So basically, if they just continue to do what they’ve been doing all season, they’ll win the game right? Well it’s not that simple because they’re facing an opponent that was third best against the run this year. Denver gave up less than 84 yards rushing per game. Middle linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are two of the fastest on the second level that Carolina will have seen all season long; they read the run well and flow quickly to the ball to snuff out running attempts. Safety T.J. Ward is loves to mix it up with inside and lay the hat down.

The slight edge here goes to Carolina. Many times when teams struggle running the ball early against Denver, they tend to abandon it, which plays right into their defense’s game plan. But not Carolina, they will keep pounding it. Denver is facing an offense that is similar to the Seattle team that destroyed them in the Super Bowl two years ago, but the main difference is the physicality that Newton brings to the field.

Now let’s look at Carolina’s offense versus Denver’s defense via passing game. The Carolina wide receivers aren’t much to write about (read what I wrote about them before you continue) but make plays when they need to. Cam Newton finished with modest passing yardage with just over 3500 but he threw 35 touchdown passes to only 10 interceptions. The truth is, he didn’t need to throw it that much because of how well the team ran the ball this year.

If you go by the raw numbers, you’ll say that Denver has the clear advantage here because they were the best defense in the league, especially against the pass where they allowed less than 200 yards per game. Starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris were both voted to the Pro Bowl; they both rsz_120714-nfl-von-miller-ln-pivresize1200675high41do an excellent job in coverage. The coverage versus wide receivers allows outside linebackers Demarcus Ware and Von Miller time to terrorize quarterbacks. They both are tremendous pass rushers – both selected for the Pro Bowl – who makes it difficult for quarterbacks to go through their progressions.

Denver having a slight advantage. However what I didn’t mention in the previous paragraph is the tight end play. Tight end Greg Olsen is Cam Newton’s main weapon. If there is a weakness in Denver’s passing defense, it is guarding the tight end. Rob Gronkowski had a field day both times he played against Denver; Olsen is just as good as Gronk is.

Carolina on defense

Carolina finished in the top four of the league against the run. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short clogged things up in the middle to make life easier for theStar-Panthers linebackers. Lotulelei commands a double team every time, if you don’t double him, the entire ground game will be shut down. Everybody knows about the All Pro linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis because of the freedom to roam that the defensive line pressure affords them.

It always starts with the run in a Gary Kubiak offense. Unfortunately for Denver this offensive line never got up to the desired speed necessary to make things click on offense for them. CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman seemed to get on track down the stretch, though. They will really need to force the issue here and continue that momentum to give them the best chance at winning. This offense was only 17th ranked in this department.

The advantage here goes to the Panthers.

Let’s see how the game might look when Denver is throwing it. Peyton Manning has had the worst year of his career. Manning has thrown almost twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and never seemed to look comfortable in this scheme. However, he hasn’t thrown an interception in the post season. Demaryius Thomas has been the main guy for Manning’s run in Denver; he has been quiet in the post season and will need to step up to loosen up the Carolina defense.

The Panthers play fundamentally sound defense. Safety Kurt Coleman’s job is simple because of the sound play by the rest of this group; Coleman led this team with seven interceptions. The aforementioned All Pros at linebacker are also great pass defenders at the intermediate level. Cornerback Josh Norman had a breakout season and he rightfully garnered a lot of attention because of the plays he has made. Norman will likely lock down one of Denver’s receiving options. However, it all starts up front with the defensive linemen, they pressure the QB so well that Carolina rarely blitzes the pass. Kawann Short led them in sacks; a feat not usually accomplished by a defensive tackle.

The advantage here goes to Carolina. This defense isn’t called “Thieves Avenue” for nothing. I won’t rule out either of Denver’s wideouts having a big game. Where they might have success is when they go to three-wide sets and move Emmanuel Sanders to the slot to assure he doesn’t get defended by Norman. Other teams have had a measure of success by targeting the wide receivers that Norman doesn’t cover.

The deciding factor

The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the football game. Carolina led the league with a +20 turnover ratio; they forced 39 turnovers. Carolina led the league in scoring points after turnovers. This category is crucial to their success. Denver’s ratio was -4. Denver has reached this game because of their defense putting this offense in a position to succeed or by scoring it themselves; offenses have a very difficult time moving the ball against them. It’s almost safe to say that if Denver doesn’t turn the ball over they will be holding the Lombardi trophy when it’s all said and done.

Prediction: Carolina 23 – Denver 20

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