SANTA CLARA, Calif. (The Sports Xchange) – Two great defenses and star quarterbacks are the talk of the town. But it is reasonable to hypothesize that the Denver Broncos’ offensive line could determine the outcome of Super Bowl 50.
Two great defenses and star quarterbacks are the talk of the town. But it is reasonable to hypothesize that the Denver Broncos’ offensive line could determine the outcome of Super Bowl 50.
With the same mindset three years ago in Newark, N.J., the opening snap of Super Bowl XLVIII sailed past quarterback Peyton Manning for a safety and the floodgates never closed in a 43-8 rout at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’m not going to lie, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth,” Broncos right guard Louis Vasquez said. “We just use it as motivation and roll it over to Sunday. Hopefully it turns out better for us.”
The Panthers lead the league in takeaways and are plus-29 in turnover margin.
The heart of their defense, tackles Star Lotulelei and Pro Bowl tackle Kawann Short and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, became a virtual Bermuda triangle for running backs. Denver’s most successful runs this season were to the left side, behind guard Evan Mathis and a rotating crew at left tackle, where Ryan Clady and his replacement, rookie Ty Sambrailo, had been starters before landing on injured reserve.
Ryan Harris will start at left tackle Sunday next to Mathis. Denver will mix formations but offensive coordinator Rick Dennison wants to run downhill — attack and not be attacked — rather than going to the edges, where the Panthers’ fleet of speedy linebackers stands out.
“We’ve just got to make sure we try everything or we attack every part to make the defense cover everything,” Dennison said. “That’s the biggest thing. If we run the ball decent, they’ve got to honor that and get somebody else up in there. Then, that gives you a chance to throw the ball, play action and do the things we like to do. Ours is to keep the down and distance manageable and keep moving the chains.”
Tight end Owen Daniels, coming off of a two-touchdown game, and Manning certainly took meticulous notes of teams attacking the center of the field against the Panthers.
Manning has played Panthers strong safety Roman Harper in the Super Bowl before — Harper was with the victorious Saints at the time — and to offset some of the playmaking in the middle of the field from Carolina, Daniels hinted that Vernon Davis — who has one catch since being acquired from the 49ers in October — and Virgil Green could all join him on the field in two- and three-tight end packages.
“We’ve got to try and counteract these guys,” said Harper, whose game is playing a sledgehammer role, as teams have often tried to isolate him in coverage to exploit his weakness. “We’ve got to make them uncomfortable and make them react to us and not dictate to what we’re trying to do.”
The use of jumbo packages would underscore the importance the Broncos are putting on winning at the line of scrimmage.
It’s also a blatant extension of president and general manager John Elway’s charge to be more physical, and finish. Elway is the last Denver quarterback to win the Super Bowl, and did it with then All-Pro running back Terrell Davis playing the starring role.
“Why wouldn’t you want it to be?” running back C.J. Anderson said of the plan to be more physical and run the ball effectively. “But at the end of the day we still know who plays quarterback. It won’t shock me not one bit (if) Peyton goes out there and plays the best game of his life and be the Peyton Manning that we’ve all seen so that wouldn’t shock me either.”
One of the key battles in the trenches looks like a mismatch using the historical tale of the tape measures — Broncos second-year center Matt Paradis, a sixth-round pick in 2014, at 6-2, 295 pounds, against a pair of double-team wrecking defensive tackles for the Panthers. Lotulelei was a first-round pick in 2013 and Short was a second-rounder in the same draft.
Short is 315 and has been described as a “rolling ball of butcher knives,” because of his quick and powerful hands plus lateral agility.
Lotulelei is listed at 320 and while he has the game and surprising quickness of Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the program weight of 320 was likely a few porterhouses ago.
Paradis has spent extra time with Manning — as is custom with the team prepares in Englewood. Colorado, for any game — to be prepared for anything that might come. But as is the Idahoans’ personality, Paradis doesn’t intend to wait for the Panthers to set the tempo.
“I like to play with a nasty edge,” Paradis said. “You’ve got to be smart with it at the same time. It’s great to be known by being able to do that.”
He did not have his best games when facing the NFL’s elite interior linemen, and Short is in that group based on his play this season. But with lessons learned throughout the season, Paradis said execution — as a collective line and individually — is finally where it needs to be.
“They’ve got some great D-tackles, but like (we) said we’ve gone against a lot of great D-tackles this year,” Paradis said. “We played the Bengals, the Patriots, the Chiefs and all those guys. We’ve played a lot of D-tackles and these guys are right up there too. It’ll be a good challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Panthers are prepared to see anything from the Manning, the master of gesturing with signals and verbalized checks and audible play calls – some real, some designed to test the Panthers’ reaction.
“I think he is probably one of the best guys at the line of scrimmage who has been around it a long time,” Kuechly said. “He can switch stuff and get them into plays that allow them to be successful. He sees defenses and knows where he is going to run the ball and where he is going to throw it. We have to be on top of our game because we know he is going to be on top of his. We will have a good plan.”
Teams were successful preying on the Panthers’ aggressiveness. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott — a discipline of late Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson, known for his blitz packages and a native of Omaha, one of Manning’s favorite presnap bellows — would rather land a knockout punch than throw jabs all game. Manning, the Broncos know, is one of the game’s best at throwing counter punches.
“They’re fast. They’re big. They’re physical. They gang-tackle. It’s going to be tough for us. We’ve got our hands full, but if we can establish the run game and keep Peyton clean, I think we’ll have a good day on offense,” Vasquez said.