In a quiet and dismal Carolina Panthers’ locker room after Super Bowl 50, tight end Ed Dickson said what everyone was thinking: The Panthers had “left the tackles out to dry” by putting them in too many 1-on-1 situations against Denver’s dangerous edge rushers.
With the Panthers preparing to face the Broncos on Thursday in a Super Bowl rematch six months later, Dickson didn’t change his tune. But he and his teammates say they’ll be better prepared for the Broncos’ so-called “green-dog blitzes” and other tactics Denver used to overwhelm the Panthers in the 24-10 victory in Santa Clara.
“Everybody knew. They didn’t disagree with me on that,” Dickson said this week. “So we were very critical of ourselves watching tape and what we have to do better. We did a lot of great things. But there were a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of us.”
The Broncos tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks – six against Cam Newton and another on Ted Ginn Jr. when the Panthers receiver tried to throw on a trick play.
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Denver hit Newton 13 times and outside linebacker Von Miller had a pair of strip-sacks against him that resulted in 15 points and were the difference in the game.
Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips used an aggressive scheme to throw a wet blanket on the league’s highest-scoring offense, which had averaged 31.3 points during the regular season.
The Panthers like to use a tight end or fullback to help their offensive line in pass protection. But Phillips countered with the use of green-dog blitzers, the defenders assigned to cover the tight end or fullback.
When the Broncos’ blitzers determined Dickson, tight end Greg Olsen or one of the Carolina backs was staying in to block, they’d make a bee line at Newton. The tight ends or backs had to pick them up, leaving tackles Mike Remmers and Michael Oher alone against Broncos outside linebackers Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
Miller and Ware combined for 4.5 of the six sacks against Newton, which were a season-worst for the league MVP.
“On third down, they would bring (extra) guys – just more guys than we had blockers,” Dickson said. “So knowing that this time around, we either gotta run shorter routes or get the ball out quicker, something like that.”
The green-dog blitzes weren’t the only thing that gave the Panthers’ problems.
Denver occasionally used linebacker Danny Trevathan as a spy against Newton. Trevathan, who is now with Chicago, would watch Newton after the snap to determine if he was running. If Newton stayed in the pocket, Trevathan would blitz.
The Panthers didn’t help themselves offensively.
Remmers and Oher struggled with the speed rushes of Miller and Ware. Slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery dropped three passes. Fullback Mike Tolbert fumbled twice, losing one.
Running back Jonathan Stewart was ineffective (12 carries for 29 yards) after injuring his left foot in the first quarter and the Panthers found themselves in too many third-and-longs.
Carolina converted just 3-of-15 third downs, and 12 of them were third-and-8 or longer.
“First downs are very pivotal to a high-intensity offense,” Stewart said Monday. “You catch yourself in third-and-8 or third-and-11, it’s tough on an offensive coordinator, it’s tough on the quarterback, it’s tough on the offensive line to grasp the situation. You just want to limit that.”
Miller, the Super Bowl MVP, was lined up most of the game against Remmers, the Panthers’ right tackle. But Miller said he didn’t pay much attention to the Panthers’ blocking scheme.
“What type of pass-rusher would I be if I’m worried about ... are they going to put three guys over, two guys, four guys?” Miller said during a conference call. “I just try to go into every play, give max effort and try to be reliable for my teammates.”
Remmers discussed his tough night against Miller immediately after the game and at least once during the offseason. But he didn’t talk about it Monday.
Remmers and the rest of the offensive line responded to every question by plugging center Ryan Kalil’s new book, “The Rookie Handbook.”
But Dickson said Remmers doesn’t deserve all the blame.
“Mike’s been taking criticism like that his whole career. It’s football. You’ve got to take the scrutiny,” Dickson said. “He’s not in it alone. I stand up and say I could’ve done a better job. I bet if you talk to 90 percent of the team, they’d say they could do a better job. We didn’t win the game.”
Solving the problems
The Panthers might look to combat the Broncos’ blitzes with more chip-blocking by the backs and tight ends, and – as Dickson suggested – using more quick-hitting passes.
To avoid third-and-longs, offensive coordinator Mike Shula also could get Newton more involved in the running game. Newton rushed six times for 45 yards in the Super Bowl.
“When you look at what they did and how they did it, it’s all things that we’re anticipating for this game,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “If that’s what they did and what they’re intending to do, to me that’s strategy. So I’m not going to address that.”
Receiver Philly Brown praised the Broncos’ Super Bowl scheme, but said the Panthers aren’t going to make the same mistakes twice.
“They’ve got great pass rushers. ... They had a great game plan and we weren’t at our best that day. And we know that,” Brown said. “We’ve watched the film over and over again and we realize the little mistakes that we made that game that need to be fixed to get the victory.
“And we’re gonna do it.”