Super Bowl 50 is quickly approaching and a lot of attention has been paid to the two quarterbacks, Cam Newton and Peyton Manning for obvious reasons. Both quarterbacks will have their hands full as the two defenses are two of the top in the league. This game could very easily come down to one mistake by one of these defenses against the two top-tier quarterbacks.
The Carolina defense will be in a mental chess match with Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning is one of the all-time best at adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage after he gets a look at the defense. A mental chess match will occur against Manning and the Carolina defense. The Panthers were the 6th best defense this season in terms of yards allowed per game at 322.9. They rank 11th against the pass (234.5 YPG) and 4th against the run. Denver ranks 16th in offense (355.5 YPG), 14th in passing (248.1 YPG) and 17th in rushing (107.4 YPG). Carolina led the league in take-aways this season with 39, including 24 interceptions. They forced seven turnovers in the NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals. Manning threw 17 interceptions this season. Carolina sacked the opposing quarterback 44 times this season.
The heart and soul of the Carolina defense is linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is arguably the best linebacker in all of football. In the Panthers’ two postseason victories, Kuechly has returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He has the most tackles in the NFL since he entered in 2012. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis broke his arm during the playoffs, but says he will be playing on Sunday. The cornerback trio of Josh Norman, Robert McClain and Cortland Finnegan will have their work cut out trying to stop Manning’s two top targets in Demaryius Thomas and Emanuel Sanders. Thomas reeled in 105 passes for 1,304 yards and six touchdowns while Sanders caught 76 passes for 1,135 yards and six touchdowns. Norman had four interceptions and finished 7th in passes defended at 18. The defensive line will look to put pressure on Manning and make him as uncomfortable as possible. The starting defensive line will be Kawaan Short who was a second-team All-Pro and had 11 sacks on the season, Star Lotulelei, Charles Johnson and Mario Addison, who led the Carolina defensive ends with 6 sacks.
Manning hasn’t been at his best all season due to a slew of injuries, but seems to have found some sort of stride in the playoffs. Carolina will look to rattle Manning and put heavy pressure on him. If this defense can contain Manning’s chess match, they will be in good position to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the night.
The Denver defense will look to contain and limit Cam Newton
Denver boasted the NFL’s best defense this season as they allowed 283.1 yards per game. They ranked 1st against the pass (199.6 YPG) and 3rd against the run (83.6). While the Panthers rank 24th in passing yards per game, Newton threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns. Carolina ranked second in the league in rushing this year at 142.6 yards per game and are the best running team in the playoffs, increasing their regular season total to 148 yards per game. Denver had 27 take-aways this season, ranking them 7th.
The pass rush will be critical for the Broncos in terms of whether or not they can contain Newton and apply significant pressure. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are two elite pass-rushing linebackers and will look to have a major impact on this game. Miller had a huge impact in the AFC title game by racking up 2.5 sacks. Miller had 11 sacks during the regular season and Ware contributed 7.5 of his own. Defensive ends Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe will be joining Ware and Miller in the pass rush. The duo combined for 10.5 sacks this season. The passing game of Newton might be in some trouble as the Broncos have cornerbacks Aquib Talib and Chris Harris, both of which are top-notch NFL corners. They combined for three interception returns for touchdowns this season and will look to have at least one in the Super Bowl. The safety position isn’t the best at picking off passes, but TJ Ward can lay the lumber.
Newton is the MVP-to-be this season, but hasn’t faced a defense quite like Denver’s. The Broncos have to put the right amount of pressure on Newton or he will make them pay by taking off down the field. If this defense can do a good job on containing Newton and force him to make mistakes, the Broncos will be in prime position.
They say defense wins championships and that could end up happening in this Super Bowl. The NFL is an offense-driven league, but these two team’s defenses are proving why that notion might be thrown out the window on Sunday. The offenses should pack their lunches as this could be a very long night if the defenses have their way.