Key Matchups the Denver Broncos Must Exploit to Win Super Bowl 50
Super Bowl 50 is Sunday as the 2015 NFL season comes to a conclusion. The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers have each had excellent seasons to lead them to this point. Winning the Super Bowl will require excellent game planning and execution from the stars to the special teamers.
The Panthers sit as 3.5-point favorites to win, according to Odds Shark. For the Broncos to upset the 17-1 Panthers, they must bring their best effort and exploit specific matchups. While some of the matchups they must win may not look like an advantage right now, one battle can help win the war.
There are five matchups the Broncos must win to earn a victory in the Super Bowl. Carolina has a unique team and presents a rare challenge on both sides of the ball. But winning these five matchups will significantly help achieve Denver's goal.
Will the Broncos win each matchup? Let me know in the comments section below.
OLB DeMarcus Ware vs. LT Michael Oher
The most dramatic talent advantage the Broncos have is their pass-rushers against the Panthers offensive tackles. The play of left tackle Michael Oher and right tackle Mike Remmers has been unexpectedly good, but they’ll face the best pair of pass-rushers in the NFL in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
In Carolina’s lone loss this season, the Atlanta Falcons created 16 hurries on quarterback Cam Newton, according to Pro Football Focus. In Carolina’s 15 regular-season victories, it allowed an average of just eight hurries. It’s safe to say that creating pressure on Newton must be the top priority for Denver.
The Ware and Oher matchup must heavily favor the Broncos. Ware has been a wrecking ball opposite of Miller this postseason. He’s registered two sacks, six quarterback hits and seven hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. That domination needs to continue in the Super Bowl.
Carolina knows this and also that Oher is an average pass-blocker. The Panthers will use tight ends and receivers to chip the edge-rushers and help their tackles buy time for Newton to operate.
Whenever Ware can get a clean rep against Oher, he needs to be vicious. Oher struggles with speed-to-power pass-rushers, and that is Ware’s specialty.
If Miller and Ware can come anywhere near their production of their first two playoff games, then the Panthers offense will struggle to reach the mid-20s on the scoreboard. That will give the Broncos a good chance of winning.
CB Bradley Roby vs. WR Ted Ginn Jr.
Denver’s deeply talented defense has several advantages over Carolina’s offensive playmakers. There is no question that the matchups favor Denver on paper. The cornerback trio of Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby and Aqib Talib is the best in the NFL.
Those corners will be tasked with smothering the pedestrian Panthers receivers. Although Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown combined for 75 receptions, 1,186 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, they shouldn’t provide much of a unique challenge to the Broncos secondary. Denver must ensure that is what actually happens.
While tight end Greg Olsen is a major weapon for Carolina, the Broncos must not allow anyone else to do significant damage outside of him. The cornerbacks must win their assignments.
Former Ohio State Buckeyes Roby and Ginn will likely see each other quite often. Roby often moves around the field between the slot and boundary cornerback positions. Denver should favor his matchup with Ginn; each player is fast, but Roby can keep up with Ginn.
Denver’s pass rush will play a role in this as well. Newton took the fifth-longest average time to throw the ball in 2015, per Pro Football Focus. If he has that same amount of time against the Broncos, then Denver’s vaunted pass rush has failed miserably. The Broncos must force Newton to rush his process and prey on any poor passes he attempts.
WR Demaryius Thomas vs. CB Cortland Finnegan
For the Denver Broncos to score against a good Panthers defense, their playmakers must do some heavy lifting. Barring a throwback Peyton Manning performance where he takes over the game, the pressure is on the receivers to create for themselves. Manning just hasn’t shown that type of game-changing ability in the last 18 months.
Denver will rely on receiver Demaryius Thomas in the Super Bowl. His ability to play outside or in the slot is something the Broncos must take advantage of to get the matchups they want. Thomas logged 594 snaps in the slot this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
The benefit of moving Thomas to the slot is his massive size advantage. At 6’3” and 229 pounds, he will have five inches and about 40 pounds on slot cornerback Cortland Finnegan. This matchup could be disastrous for Carolina if it leaves Finnegan in coverage on Thomas.
Denver would also benefit from keeping away from star cornerback Josh Norman. Avoiding Norman should be the Broncos’ top priority in the passing game. It’s not only because Norman is so good but also because of the advantages Denver has elsewhere.
WR Emmanuel Sanders vs. CB Robert McClain
The other matchup Denver can force with its receivers centers on Emmanuel Sanders. He has been terrific for Denver the last two seasons, posting 177 receptions, 2,539 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s as difficult to guard as any No. 2 receiver in the NFL.
While Panthers cornerback Josh Norman will switch between left and right cornerback, he doesn’t normally shadow specific receivers. That could change in the Super Bowl, but that would be a fairly new wrinkle for Carolina’s defense.
If the Broncos can manufacture a matchup between Sanders and Robert McClain, Manning must immediately attack it. McClain has admirably stepped in since being signed off the street before Week 17, but this is a whole new challenge. Sanders can take advantage of McClain’s limited athleticism with his terrific burst and route running.
Manning will surely want to target McClain more than Norman, so the Broncos need to use motion or a variety of formations to get the matchup they want. Carolina is versatile with its coverage schemes and must work to trick Manning in order to avoid major mismatches.
LG Evan Mathis vs. DT Kawann Short
Due to injuries, the Denver Broncos offensive line has been average at best this season. The losses of tackles Ryan Clady and Ty Sambrailo have been impossible to mitigate. That puts great pressure on the remaining starters.
Left guard Evan Mathis was signed prior to the season and has been the best player on the unit by far. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed just three sacks, three quarterback hits and 16 hurries this season. The 34-year-old continues to be a force as a run-blocker as well. He finished first in run-blocking grade from PFF.
In Denver’s zone-blocking scheme, it is likely the team asks Mathis to down-block on defensive tackle Kawann Short. He has been fantastic for the Panthers as a run and pass defender. His quickness off the snap and ability to shoot gaps will endanger the Broncos’ zone blocking.
If Short beats Mathis to the zone gap consistently, then it’ll be a long day for the Broncos offense. Mathis must win a majority of snaps for this offense to have a chance at producing points.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.