By Rich Kurtzman
The Broncos went into Carolina with a classic trap game awaiting them.
The Panthers were a poor 2-7, but they weren’t as bad as their record indicated and their three-headed rushing attack was something new for the Broncos’ defense to go against. Denver once again demonstrated they understood the importance of beating teams they should—ones with worse records—even if that means doing so on the road. When adversity hit the Broncos in the face, they punched back and fought through to win in dominant fashion Sunday afternoon to take a three-game lead over the AFC West.
Offense overall: B-
Like earlier in the season, the offense started very slowly, going three-and-out on their first two drives.
The unit got it going soon thereafter though, as Peyton Manning hit Demaryius Thomas down the seam for 32 yards and then connected with Brandon Stokley for a touchdown a few plays later. It was Manning’s only touchdown of the day, but he still went over 300 yards passing. His fumble hurts the offense’s grade a bit.
Rookie Ronnie Hillman ran a late touchdown in as well, and the offense didn’t have to put major points on the board because the defense and special teams did so well.
Defense overall: A
Denver’s defense started slowly and poorly as well on Sunday. Sure, Von Miller sacked Cam Newton to force the Panthers to go three-and-out on their first drive, but when Carolina got the ball back, he picked the secondary apart. The Broncos were in zone coverage and Newton went wild, hitting his big tight end Greg Olson over and over again, including the game’s first touchdown.
Then they turned it on, forcing four straight three-and-outs and punts.
That went to five straight to start the second half as Kevin Vickerson sacked Newton to force a fifth punt of the game. Von Miller recorded his third sack of the game on the next drive, resulting in yet another Carolina punt. In fact, it seemed the same happened every time the Panthers got the ball, until Mike Adams sacked Newton in the end zone for a safety in the fourth quarter. Then Tony Carter picked Cam off in the fourth and took it to the house to cement the blowout win.
In all, Denver’s defense forced four turnovers and sacked Newton seven times in an absolute dominant performance.
Special Teams: A
Trindon Holliday was again electric Sunday. For the second straight week, the incredibly speedy return man took a kick to the house, this time, 76 yards on a punt. It was at another key time as well, giving Denver the 14-7 lead in the first quarter. All day, Denver enjoyed wonderful field position—with 15 yards per punt return—and it was the best special teams played all season by the Broncos. Matt Prater went 2-3 on field goals, missing his first of the season, which is why the unit doesn’t receive an A+.
John Fox, Jack Del Rio and Mike McCoy were all on top of their respective games as coaches; Del Rio especially for dialing up blitzes at opportune times to bring pressure on the quarterback. McCoy’s offense adjusted well after their slow start and ended up having a decent day in the end.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.