It’s strange that stopping a Hall of Famer who has 539 career passing touchdowns and 72,000 passing yards isn’t the key defensive priority for Carolina in Super Bowl 50. Instead, Carolina will force the Broncos to try and win with Manning's arm. .
What? Crazy talk! Carolina’s secondary has been hobbled by injury and bandage with veterans who weren’t even on an NFL roster to begin the season. The same Broncos team who has one of the best receiver tandems in the league in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders?
Manning hasn’t been the ultimate reason for Denver’s success this season, and frankly neither has the offense. Denver’s success has been because of the defense and a running game that improved mightily as the season progressed. Denver wins when they run the ball and let the defense do the heavy lifting.
Denver has struggled when they haven’t been able to run. Denver was 8-0 when they rushed the ball over 30 times, and 6-4 when they toted the ball under 30 times. When they run the ball often, they also run more effectively, averaging 70 yards more a game when they hit 30 carries. They score more points per game when they run the ball also.
So Denver’s recipe is simple: run the ball and let the defense do their thing. Carolina’s defense formula needs to be simple too--stop the run.
Carolina will want to focus on CJ Anderson specifically. Although Denver uses a running back tandem, CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, Anderson has been the hot hand since Week 7. He’s averagin 4.65 yds per carry in the playoffs, more than double than that of Ronnie Hillman (2.0 ypc).
Much like Denver’s success, Carolina’s greatest struggles have come in games where they’ve had trouble stopping the run. Carolina had the 4th best rushing defense this season, allowing only 88 ypg. Although Atlanta only rushed for 71 yards when delivering Carolina their only loss, teams that ran the ball effectively were the ones that really gave the Panthers a run for their money. Indianapolis rushed for 146 and the Giants 171 in games that had Panther fans sweating. Carolina won each of these games by only 3 points.
Carolina has allowed only 69 ypg in the playoffs, and that’s with playing Marshawn Lynch in the divisional round! If Carolina can keep Anderson bottled up, Denver will have to win in the air. Manning arm-strength has declined tremendously over the last three seasons. This year has people wondering if he can make the downfield throws that stretch defense and are needed when trailing. Carolina will likely force Manning to answer the question Sunday by getting ahead earlier and focusing on Denver's running attack.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
Follow him @Cat_Chronicles
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