It’s hard to believe it was just two short years ago when Peyton Manning was crushing – and I mean crushing – the offensive record books en route to the most prolific passing and scoring onslaught the NFL had ever seen.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
In 2015 Manning threw just one less interception than the league leader, Blake Bortles (Manning 17, Bortles 18).
However, with Manning missing quite a few weeks of action due to injury it’s safe to say he was the true INT Champion of the 2015 campaign – particularly since Bortles tossed 35 TDs to go with his high number of picks whereas Manning tallied just 9 scoring throws all season long, only two more than Johnny Manziel mustered in Cleveland.
But I’m not here to pick on #18. Not at all. I’m here to talk about what the Broncos need to do to get Peyton the ring he truly deserved in Super Bowl XLVIII (not that he played very well in that one, but you get my point).
Force Newton to Throw from the Pocket
Cam Newton is the complete package under center. As the only dual-threat quarterback in the NFL who runs over linebackers instead of sliding down in front of them, he’s an absolute nightmare to defend.
Which leaves defensive coordinators little choice but to try and choose which of his threats they will work to neutralize – a more difficult task now that Cam has matured in the passing game.
Newtown’s 3,837 yards with 35 touchdowns are formidable numbers for any QB, let alone one who ran 10 more scores in on the ground (that’s just 1 less than the top-scoring running backs in the league: Adrian Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Devonta Freeman and DeAngelo Williams all tied for first with 11 rushing TDs).
But recent passing success aside, the best bet at slowing the Panthers’ attack rests in forcing Newton to act like a traditional quarterback.
While Cam Newton isn’t as consistency accurate from the pocket as some all-time greats, he might be the most dynamic football player ever.
— Will Reeve (@WillReeveJr) January 25, 2016
If there’s any weakness in Newton’s game, it’s a lack of pinpoint accuracy. Cam’s size and speed buy him extra time to find an open man – but in solid coverage Newton struggles to place balls into extremely tight windows.
Achieving the goal of forcing Newton to throw from the pocket is two-fold:
1. Employ plenty of man-to-man cover schemes.
2. Shadow Cam with a spy to prevent or minimize his ability to run.
Man-to-man coverage only succeeds if your secondary can play tight and disallow receivers to release. Against the Patriots the Broncos defensive backs were up to the task and the lack of open receivers led to a plethora of QB hits, rushed throws and sacks.
The Broncos also boast the NFL’s top secondary unit in terms of total yards allowed.
Win the Battle of the Clock and Protect the Football
Denver is unbeaten in games when they rush a minimum of 30 attempts for at least 130 total yards.
A strong commitment to the run will be more important than usual in a game where the Broncos’ game plan must include implementing a ball control offense to keep the #1-scoring Panthers off the field.
CJ Anderson hopes to have a big game in front of a ‘home’ crowd. He grew up in the Bay Area and played his college ball at Cal Berkeley.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 25, 2016
Peyton Manning must come to grips with the fact that his arm isn’t what it used to be. Believe it or not, he needs to play the role of game manager and avoid throwing INTs at all costs.
Manning has tossed a pick 6 in each of his Super Bowl losses and Luke Kuechly has returned an interception for a touchdown in each of this year’s postseason wins.
Winning the turnover battle is not only important for the Broncos. It’s imperative.
Peyton must understand the value in playing the field position game and trusting his defense.
Teams that are +1 or better in turnovers are (36-4) in the big game.
The Broncos defense got to Brady 17 times in the AFC Championship. While a more mobile Newton will surely able to avoid a similar fate in terms of QB hits, pressure from the edge affects even the greatest quarterbacks.
Slow the Run
I say “slow” instead of “stop” here because that’s the best you’re gonna get against this stout Carolina rush attack. As a team, the Panthers have run for 100+ yards in an NFL record 31 straight games.
Denver was ranked #3 against the run at just 83.6 YPG. Performing anywhere near that average will give the Broncos a good chance of winning this ball game.
Control the clock, stop the run, play tight man-to-man coverage and get to the quarterback.
This describes the Broncos in a nutshell all season long – but unlike the early part of the season when the Denver D outplayed Manning’s INTs, #18 has got to be smarter with the ball if he hopes to be fitted for a second ring.
Peyton Manning’s AFC Championship victory tied him with Brett Favre for the most wins all-time (regular and postseason) – triumph in Super Bowl 50 would give Manning his 200th win, which would make him the only quarterback ever to reach this plateau.
I can’t wait until Super Bowl Sunday. I can’t wait to see if one of the sport’s all-time best can dig down and be great for four more quarters.
— SkySportsNFL (@SkySportsNFL) January 27, 2016