KUSA - I went back and looked at my 9 Keys to the Broncos defeating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Few of them turned out to be keys as the game became about Broncos left outside linebacker Von Miller destroying Carolina right tackle Mike Remmers.
Still, the original 9 keys all pretty much apply to this game, although some names have been changed. Namely, the Broncos’ quarterback, Cam Newton’s spy and the Panthers’ cornerback covering Demaryius Thomas.
1. No turnovers
The Panthers’ defense led the NFL with 24 interceptions, 15 recovered fumbles and 39 takeaways during the regular season last year. The Broncos committed two turnovers against Carolina in the Super Bowl and still won convincingly so this wasn’t nearly the key I thought it was going to be. Probably because the Denver defense forced three turnovers against the Panthers.
2. Spy Cam
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton averaged 8.5 carries a game last year. The entire Panthers’ offense, which ranked No. 1 in scoring last year, ignited off Newton’s ability to keep. He had 6 carries for 45 yards in the Super Bowl last year with Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan doing most of the spying. Trevathan’s stay-at-home maneuvers, though, may have helped the Broncos sack Newton six times. Trevathan is gone so the Broncos may isolate either linebacker Brandon Marshall or safety T.J. Ward on Newton.
3. Put together two offensive touchdown drives
Again, it was hardly a key in the Super Bowl as all the offense did was essentially generate two field goal drives in the Super Bowl. Miller set up two other touchdowns with his strip sacks. But finishing off at least two offensive possessions is key for new Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian tonight. Unless it isn’t.
4. Force Graham Gano field goals
The Panthers were first in red zone efficiency last season, converting an incredible 70 percent of their possessions inside the opponents’ 20 into touchdowns. The Denver D’s one flaw last season was it wasn’t great in red zone defense, ranking 16th with touchdowns allowed 56.8 percent of the time.
Carolina was 1 of 2 in red zone efficiency in the Super Bowl. With Carolina averaging 31.3 points last season, and then scoring 80 points combined in their two NFC playoff games, the key turned out to be how infrequently the Denver D kept allowed the Panthers into the red zone.
5. Play-action freeze Kuechly and Davis
The heart, soul and best players within the Carolina defense are middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and weakside linebacker Thomas Davis. They led all NFL linebackers last season with four interceptions each. Kuechly had two more picks in the postseason. Davis played the Super Bowl with a broken arm.
With the Panthers expected to start rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley at the corners, Kuechly and Davis will be dropping back into their Tampa 2 coverage.
6. Pick on the rooks
The most shocking events of the NFL offseason was quarterback Brock Osweiler not signing back with the Broncos and the Panthers essentially releasing star cornerback Josh Norman. The most significant possible mismatch on paper in this game will be Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders against Bradberry and Worley. Have we mentioned Bradberry and Worley are rookies?
7. Run, C.J. run
The Panthers have a physical defense. The Broncos’ C.J. Anderson is a physical running back. Anderson was an offensive key in Super Bowl 50 as he rushed for 90 yards and a game-clinching touchdown.
8. Riley Dixon vs. Ted Ginn
Carolina’s Ted Ginn Jr. ranked fifth in the league last season with a 10.3-yard average on punt returns. Broncos punter Britton Colquitt helped hold him to 2 yards on 3 returns in the Super Bowl.
It won’t be easy for Broncos rookie punter Riley Dixon to be that good in his NFL debut tonight, but he can’t drill a low, 52-yarder down the middle, or mishit a punt while trying to kick way from Ginn.
9. Wear ‘em down
Where’s the game? Oh yeah, 5,280 feet above sea level. Even if the Panthers build an early lead, their starters barely played in the preseason and they may not be in physical condition to handle the thin air in the second half.
Bonus key: Block Kony Ealy
It can be argued that while Miller was the MVP of Super Bowl 50, Carolina’s Ealy had the better game. From his right defensive end position, Ealy had three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. It will be up to the likes of Broncos’ left tackle Russell Okung and tight end Virgil Green to neutralize Ealy in this game.
Bonus key II:Feed off home crowd energy
There is such a thing as Mile High Magic. We've all witnessed it. The crowd will be frenetic during the Broncos' pregame Super Bowl 50 celebration. And if it's a close game late, the crowd will be a factor again.
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