Carolina Panthers

5 things from Super Bowl 50 that foreshadowed Panthers' problems

Denver linebacker Von Miller (left) and the Broncos’ defensive made life miserable for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in Super Bowl 50. Denver won 24-10.
Denver linebacker Von Miller (left) and the Broncos’ defensive made life miserable for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in Super Bowl 50. Denver won 24-10. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

This week must feel a bit like returning to the scene of a crime for the Carolina Panthers.

They’re staying in a Santa Clara hotel about a mile from Levi’s Stadium, where the Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos.

They’re practicing at San Jose State, the team’s practice site in February before the 24-10 loss to the Broncos.

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula joined a couple of other coaches and staffers for a run Saturday, the day before a 35-32 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

When the route took the group by Levi’s Stadium, Shula said it “kind of got me mad.”

Not much has gone right for the Panthers (4-7) in the nearly 10 months since the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance.

Quarterback Cam Newton’s sulk-fest during his postgame news conference might be one of the lasting images from Super Bowl 50, but there were several developments during the game that foreshadowed the Panthers’ struggles in 2016.

While the Panthers prepare for Sunday’s matchup with Seattle, the Observer looks at five aspects of Super Bowl 50 that were harbingers of gloom:

Broncos’ six sacks on Newton

The Panthers did a great job protecting Newton during the regular season in 2015. But the Broncos overwhelmed Carolina’s blockers with the use of “green dog blitzes” on their way to a Super Bowl-record seven sacks, including one on receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on a trick play.

Newton took a pounding, with the league MVP getting hit 13 times.

That punishment has continued this season -- starting with a Week 1 loss at Denver in which Newton took four helmet-to-helmet shots in the second half alone.

Newton’s been sacked 27 times in 10 games -- compared to 33 sacks in 2015 -- while playing behind an injury-depleted offensive line. The Vikings sacked Newton eight times in a Week 3 game in Charlotte, while the Rams dropped him five times in the Panthers’ win in Los Angeles.

Newton only had two games in 2015 when he was sacked more than three times.

The pressure has affected Newton, who’s often held the ball too long in the pocket and has resorted to throwing off his back foot. Newton has looked nothing like the 2015 version and is on pace for career lows in completion percentage and passer rating.

Play of the offensive tackles

The struggles of right tackle Mike Remmers’ versus Broncos edge rusher Von Miller have been well documented. Remmers allowed seven hurries and three sacks in Super Bowl 50, including two strip-sacks by Miller that resulted (directly or indirectly) in 15 points.

But left tackle Michael Oher also had a tough night, giving up a sack and two hurries.

The Panthers viewed Remmers’ body of work in deciding to re-sign him on a restricted free-agent tender. But the front office failed to bring in any tackles that could realistically compete with Remmers for the spot opposite Oher, who was given a three-year, $21.6 million extension.

Besides pushing Remmers for the job, a veteran tackle also could have served as a proven backup -- something the Panthers lacked when Oher played only three games before going in the concussion protocol the rest of the season.

Performance of Panthers’ cornerbacks

Because of an injury to Charles Tillman, cornerback Robert McClain started Super Bowl 50 along with Josh Norman. They were part of a defense that limited Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to 141 passing yards and a 56.6 passer rating in his final NFL game.

But when Manning was successful, it was when he went after McClain. According to Pro Football Focus, McClain allowed four catches to Emmanuel Sanders for 70 yards in the five times Manning targeted him.

Meanwhile, Norman shut down his half of the field. While covering Demaryius Thomas, he allowed no catches on three targets, with two pass breakups, according to PFF.

That one-sided production for the corners should have reinforced what the Panthers already knew: Norman is an elite cover guy who deserved to be paid among the top corners in the league.

Instead, the Panthers rescinded Norman’s franchise tag in April, allowing him to sign with Washington and prompting general manager Dave Gettleman to draft three cornerbacks a week later. Those were draft picks Gettleman could have used on an offensive tackle or an edge rusher.

Kawann Short’s quiet night

The Panthers’ defensive tackle had a monster regular season. Short lived in opposing backfields and his 11 sacks were the most ever for a Carolina defensive tackle.

But Short was a non-factor in Super Bowl 50, finishing with one tackle and no hurries or sacks against the Broncos.

Short hasn’t been heard from much this season, either. He has three sacks in 11 games - one fewer than defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who entered the league with Short in 2013.

The Panthers value Lotulelei and Short, who went in the first two rounds in Gettleman’s first Panthers draft. Even with Short’s drop-off in production, it still seems likely the Panthers will use the franchise tag on him if they can’t reach a long-term deal.

Losing the turnover battle

Miller’s two strip-sacks on Newton were among four Broncos’ takeaways in Santa Clara. Newton also threw an interception and fullback Mike Tolbert had two fumbles, including one he lost.

Defensive end Kony Ealy was responsible for both of the Panthers’ takeaways, with an interception and sack-fumble vs. Manning.

It was unusual for Carolina to be on the wrong side of the turnover battle after leading the league in 2015 in takeaways, interceptions and turnover margin (plus-20).

That disparity from Super Bowl 50 has carried into this season. The Panthers are tied for 23rd in turnover margin at minus-5.

While the defense has played well after a slow start this season, coordinator Sean McDermott’s crew has not had as many momentum-swinging plays as it did during the Super Bowl season.

The Panthers had five defensive touchdowns in 2015, but only three this season.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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