How Von Miller and Wade Phillips Teamed Up to End Cam Newton's Magic Run

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterFebruary 8, 2016

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos reacts after a play against the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — This was supposed to be a story about the passing of the torch. Peyton Manning giving way to Cam Newton. The old MVP to the new MVP. But that didn't happen.

Instead, Manning and the Denver offense limped to a Super Bowl-record-low 194 yards while the defense bottled up and rattled Newton all night. And that became the real story: how Wade Phillips' defense stopped the unstoppable league MVP.    

And how did he do it? By unleashing Von Miller and letting him be an athlete, that's how.

"Coach Wade did a great job putting us in position to win. It was an all-around great effort. We had no doubt. We knew what we had in this group and we knew what we could do."

Malik Jackson's words after the game conveyed the classic postgame swagger that you expect from the winning podium. But they also speak into life the game plan that Phillips put together.

Be yourselves. Play fast. Play loose. Don't let Cam get out of your sight.

The key to this game plan Sunday was Miller. The linebacker and pass-rushing specialist played a number of roles in the Broncos' scheme. He rushed the quarterback off the left edge of the defense, but he also took turns spying on Newton from the middle of the field and covering running backs and tight ends down the field in pass coverage.

By doing this, Phillips and head coach Gary Kubiak made it super athlete vs. super athlete, Miller vs. Newton, and bet on their guy to get the job done.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Miller did just that, with the help of his teammates, by taking away the inside running lanes that Cam prefers as a runner. The Broncos overplayed Cam's ability to run between the tackles while trusting their speed to track down any runs that went outside the tackle box.

It's the blueprint for success against Newton and the Panthers that the Seattle Seahawks didn't have when they watched Newton evade an outside pass rush with his ability to step up in the pocket and either throw the ball or tuck it and run.

Granted, you have to have the right horses to pull off Phillips' game plan here. The Broncos already had that when he landed back in town this season, and his vision for how to unleash them is what has made this such an elite group.

"He came in and figured out how to utilize the guys, utilize the talents," said DeMarcus Ware, who played under Phillips in Dallas and came to Denver a year ahead of him. "With Von, you can see how well he played. [Jackson] and [Derek] Wolfe and those guys are more than just run-stoppers. He changed everything up to where we could be more aggressive and get to the passer, but also create a lot of havoc."

Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


That's what Phillips drew up to perfection. Havoc by exploiting a number of factors that weighed in the Broncos' favor:

• The Panthers wide receivers scared no one, and the Broncos could match up one-on-one on the edges and win the battle. Chris Harris eliminated his man all game, and while Ted Ginn Jr. showed he could beat Aqib Talib off the line of scrimmage on a quick slant, the Panthers' passing game was shut down to the tune of an 18-of-41 night from the MVP Newton.

• With Harris and Talib locked up on the outside of the defense, the Broncos' front seven and safeties could take Newton and tight end Greg Olsen out of the game. And they did that. Olsen had just four catches for 41 yards on nine targets. And the Broncos tied the 1985 Chicago Bears for the most sacks in a Super Bowl, with seven (making Newton the most-sacked QB in a Super Bowl, since the Bears divided theirs between Steve Grogan and Tony Eason).

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

• The athleticism of T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart at safety could take away those yards over the middle that Newton loves to hit. And with Newton throwing seven interceptions this year while targeting Ginn, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the Broncos knew they had to be aggressive playing the ball when it went his way. That film study and awareness led to a Ward interception off a dropped ball thrown Ginn's way that ended a threatening Carolina drive.

But, of course, the biggest factor that Phillips' game plan exploited was Miller vs. Newton.

Said Wolfe when asked how to stop Newton, "Just put Von on him."

Miller had six tackles, 2.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles in his MVP performance. It was one of the most impressive displays ever for a defender in the Super Bowl, and even the numbers fail to express the type of impact Miller had shutting down the power running game that Newton and Jonathan Stewart live by in Carolina.

Miller's rare skills as an athlete have been on display since he entered the NFL from Texas A&M as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft—one pick after the Panthers picked Newton to be their new quarterback. He's developed from a young, cocky and oftentimes undisciplined player to a slightly older, cocky, disciplined player you can build a defense around.

That's what Phillips did: built a defense that played fast and loose and tipped the scales in its favor.

And on a night when Peyton Manning went 13-of-23 for 141 yards and no touchdowns to go with one interception, that's how the Broncos won the Super Bowl.


Matt Miller covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.