These five things will be key for Carolina Panthers defense in Super Bowl 50
Chip Von Miller
Broncos linebacker Von Miller was the second overall pick in 2011 behind Cam Newton, and the Panthers’ ability to keep him off Newton is one of the biggest keys in Super Bowl 50.
Right tackle Mike Remmers will be the man primarily responsible for blocking Miller, who had 2.5 sacks and an interception against Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game. Remmers had mixed results during the regular season against speed rushers such as Seattle’s Cliff Avril and Atlanta’s Vic Beasley, who had a strip-sack against Newton on the game-clinching play in the Panthers’ only loss.
But Remmers hasn’t faced anyone as fast and talented as Miller. The Panthers should fullback Mike Tolbert and tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson chip Miller on their way into their routes.
Run QB draws and counters
Newton has become much better at recognizing defensive fronts and coverage disguises. And he can help himself immensely if he can discern before the snap when Broncos outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Miller are rushing rather than dropping in coverage.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula will have some automatic checks for Newton in those situations, which should include a couple of running plays for Newton.
The QB draw could be particularly effective, in essence letting Ware and Miller come up the field and using their speed against them. Newton has rushed 10 times or more in four of his five playoff games. No time to stop now.
Don’t ignore downfield throws
The Broncos’ cornerbacks spearheaded the NFL’s best pass defense during the regular season. But Denver’s starting safeties – Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward – have been dealing with injuries. Both are expected to start but the Panthers should test them early in the game, maybe with a deep seam route to Olsen if they can get the matchup they want.
Ted Ginn Jr. has been effective on deep crossers this season, another part of the field that could be exposed if one or both of the safeties are less than 100 percent. Implied in all this is that Ginn and Philly Brown catch the ball, which was not always a given at various points in the preseason and regular season.
Pound the running game
The Panthers’ line excels at the zone-blocking runs that are a staple of Shula’s offense. Jonathan Stewart broke through for a 59-yard run on the first play against the Cardinals that set the tone for the NFC Championship Game.
But the lanes might not be as wide against the Broncos, who had the league’s third-best run defense during the regular season and have allowed 64.5 rushing yards a game in their two playoff wins.
Even the 2- and 3-yard runs can wear down a defense if Shula stays with them, creating creases later in the game. It also will help set up play-action for Newton.
Do something unconventional
Shula’s offense is one of the most diverse in the league, ranging from old-school conservative (the Panthers have a running play from Don Shula’s Miami playbook) to the creative (wishbone-like sets, a steady dose of zone-read plays).
Shula will stick with what he does best, but he should find a spot on the Broncos’ side of the field for a trick play like Ginn’s reverse against Arizona. Ginn’s ziz-zagging 22-yard touchdown run was great misdirection and was something the Panthers hadn’t shown all season.
Both Ginn and Brown have the speed to make a momentum-changing play should Shula throw the Broncos a curve.