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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Let’s Talk Sports: 2016 Super Bowl Defenses

Photo illustration by Nicole Swift
Photo illustration by Nicole Swift

Yesterday’s post took a look at the high powered, fast offense of the Carolina Panthers and the methodical, controlling offense of the Denver Broncos. Those offenses are pretty stark contrasts, the defenses aren’t as different. They might not be different, but they sure are good.

Carolina – Regular Season

Yards Allowed per Game 322.9 (6th)
Pass Yards Allowed per Game 234.5 (11th)
Rush Yards Allowed per Game 88.4 (4th)
Total Points Allowed per Game 19.2 (6th)

Denver – Regular Season

Yards Allowed per Game 283.1 (1st)
Pass Yards Allowed per Game 199.6 (1st)
Rush Yards Allowed per Game 83.6 (3rd)
Total Points Allowed per Game 18.5 (4th)

This is where the Broncos stay in the game. Back in the 2014 Super Bowl, the Seahawks dismantled the Broncos and its defense. Changes were made and DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib (among others) were brought in based on what Denver learned from the Seahawks. Defenses win championships, and that thinking might catapult them to the team’s first Super Bowl win since 1998. Ware, Ward and Talib are stars but the Broncos’ best comes in the form of Von Miller — who was picked directly following Cam Newton in 2011 — and his ability to terrorize quarterbacks. Miller accounted for 11 of the Broncos’ league leading 52 sacks this season and his job will be to keep Newton off balance. That’s simply what the Broncos do, they keep offenses off balanced — just ask Tom Brady after playing them in the AFC Title Game. They’re deep too: I haven’t even talked about Danny Trevathan or Brandon Marshall (both surpassed 100 tackles on the season), along with Chris Harris (the lockdown corner opposite of Talib) and even more pass rushers in Shane Ray and Derek Wolfe. This isn’t the Broncos that took on the Seahawks, this is a replica of that Seahawks defense and it’s arguably better.

Evan Elliott, "Let's Talk Sports" reporter. // Photo by Christina Becker
Evan Elliott, “Let’s Talk Sports” reporter. // Photo by Christina Becker

I’ve raved about the Bronco defense, for good reason, but the Panther defense is no slouch. The Panthers are also littered with recognizable names that make plays on the defensive side of the ball — such as Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Kurt Coleman, Josh Norman and Kawann Short. Kuechly and Davis (worthy of note: Davis is battling a surgically repaired broken arm from the NFC Championship game and his ability to play effectively with that will be unknown until Sunday) run the linebacking core and are excellent in pass coverage, as well as taking on the role of run stuffers. Coleman and Norman lead a depleted secondary (the Panthers are without Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman) and they have a knack for forcing turnovers. That’s what the Panthers do best, as they lead the league in team interceptions and tie for the lead in forced fumbles. That could be a problem for a Bronco team that wants to protect the football, and won’t be able to attack an uncertain secondary, with their aging quarterback. The Panthers got off to a quick start against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship by making those big plays on defense, including forcing turnovers and getting pressure on Russell Wilson. Manning will be easier to put pressure on — Denver has a bit of a patchwork offensive line — much to the delight of Short who had 11 sacks this regular season.

It’s pretty close, but I give the advantage to Denver. The numbers speak for themselves and if you saw that unit firing on all cylinders against New England then you know that defense is playing its best ball right now.

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