Key Matchups – Robert Volpe

Super Bowl 50 talk has been centered mostly on the two quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. Both men are the generals of their respective teams, but it’s the grunts in the trenches that often determine which side wins.

Here is a look at team matchups and some of the individual key matchups that could swing the game for or against the Broncos.

Manning vs. LB Luke Kuechly
Peyton is, arguably, the best ever at analyzing a defense. His ability to read the Panther defense will be tested by linebacker Luke Kuechly.

It is Kuechly’s job to figure out of Manning’s audibles are real play changes or a bluff. Kuechly is also a big reason the Panthers had 39 take-aways this season. He has a pick-six in each of the Panther’s post-season games. If he can fool Manning and drop back into pass coverage, he could add to his INT totals.

Von Miller vs. Cam Newton
Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips has great regard for Newton’s ability. He’s a great passer, has great vision down field, and is a dangerous runner when he cuts loose and runs.

Miller used Tom Brady as a tackling dummy in the AFC Championship game. He had 11 sacks this season and 2.5 against Brady in the Championship game. He also has 5 forced fumbles. Miller in concert with Demarcus Ware will be hunting Newton like two cheetahs after a gazelle.

If Miller can disrupt Newton enough it will play into the hands of the Bronco linebackers and safties and could produce turnovers.

Demaryius Thomas vs. Josh Norman

Thomas has had issues catching the ball this year. He has 105 catches this year for 1,304 yards and 6 touchdowns. In the post-season he has 6 catches for 52 yards and no touchdowns.

Norman is the best D back on the Panthers. He’s cocky and confident and has 2 interceptions for touchdowns this season.

Thomas will have to show up and step up or he’ll be neutralized by Norman.

Denver Safeties Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward vs. tightend Greg Olsen

Both Stewart and Ward are nursing ankle injuries. Neither practiced last week before leaving for California, but both are expected to play come game day. Ward and Stewart did a good job keeping New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski in check most of the AFC Championship game before they were injured. The Bronco safeties will have their hands full again with Olsen.

Stewart’s size and Ward’s speed should give Olsen different challenges to deal with, and with some linebackers to add some physicality, the Broncos could give him a tough game. Their health could be a pivotal issue come Sunday.

Greg Olsen has been Cam’s favorite target this post-season. He’s 6’6” and 254 pounds. Olsen caught 77 passes for 1,104 yards and 7 touchdowns in the regular season. In three post-season games he has 14 receptions for 206 yards and 1 touchdown. If he has a big game it will be a long day for the Broncos.

Inside linebacker Brandon Marshall vs. running back Jonathan Stewart
Brandon Marshall is healthy this year and is a strong part of the Denver defense against the run.

He has 102 tackles this year, one and a half sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception. The Denver defense is number one in the NFL against the run, allowing only seven 100 yard games this season.

Stewart had 242 carries for 989 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns in his 13 appearances this past season. He finished fourth in the league in rushing yards per game, seventh in carries, and second in attempts per game. The Panthers have rushed for over 100 yards in 31 consecutive games.

Stewart is questionable at this point, so if he can’t go Marshall will still have to deal with the bowling ball with a head known as Mike Tolbert. Tolbert is the Panthers short yardage back, but he can still hurt you with a long run on occasion.

While individual matchups are important, and can be a game changing factor, it’s a team playing as a unit on offense, special teams, and defense that ultimately win the game and the Denver Broncos have played and won as a team all year.

A Denver victory in Super Bowl 50, as it has been all year, will depend on the tenacity of the defense, solid special team play and an offense that can keep them in the game down to the last tick of the game clock.

The Broncos won their eighth AFC Championship Game by pressuring the hell out of Tom Brady. To win their third Lombardi Trophy, their defensive front will have to bring that same heat once again in Santa Clara.

When you bring pressure on the quarterback from all directions, as the Broncos have this year, it makes the defensive backs job a little easier. Aquib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. along with Bradley Roby have been dubbed “The No-Fly Zone” this year. They are fearless and are number one in the league against the pass.

The Panthers are not primarily a passing team, although Cam Newton is a serious deep aerial threat. Cam Newton is basically a 6’5” 245 pound running back with a great arm. He has accounted for 79% of the Panthers scoring this year, including the playoffs.

Panther coach Ron Rivera uses a lot of heavy offensive line formations, including 3 tight ends and a half back or tail back to block for Newton. This formation is supposed to give Newton a little extra time to either throw a long pass or pick a running lane and take off.

It will be a different challenge for the Bronco pass rush with the Panther blocking scheme than it was against Brady two weeks ago. The Patriots are more of a quick play offense. It takes speed to get to the quarterback in that type of scheme. The Panthers offensive line blocking scheme often block diagonally in either left or right direction. Look for Ware and Miller to take advantage of that zone blocking leaving a tight end or running back one on one with Ware or Miller.

The overall key to the Broncos winning this game is getting Cam Newton. Getting him sacked and pressured; keeping him from making big plays with his feet; and rattling his cage as much as possible. Take away the weapon that is 79% of their scoring threat and you have a damn good chance of victory.

If the Bronco defense can stop the Panthers from making a fast break, scoring early and often, and keep Cam Newton off balance with in your face pressure, the Broncos can win this game.

Keep in mind, the Broncos have only let one team this year score more than 30 points. That is within the scoring range of Peyton Manning and the Denver offense.

The Bronco offense will grind it out on the ground as often as they can and use the pass when necessary. If the Broncos rush for 100 yards or more in this game they will win.

So despite the Vegas odds makers leaning heavily toward a Panthers win, don’t count out the Denver Broncos. They have a chip on their shoulder and are in it to win it.

Remember; defense wins championships and Denver has the edge on defense.

Denver wins Super Bowl 50: Denver 30, Carolina 27