Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has watched and re-watched his team’s Super Bowl 50 loss several times in the two-plus weeks since.
He’s seen Denver’s defense – especially Von Miller – beat Carolina’s offense. But he didn’t come away envying Denver’s defense. He came away let down by missed opportunities.
“There’s more to that game,” Rivera, responding to a question about Denver’s defense, said. “People have to go back and break it down. If you do that you’ll get a sense as to where I’m going. We missed some opportunities. They played well. I’m not going to take anything away from them.
“You get down in the red zone and turn the ball over twice, get a drive going and you turn it over, again taking nothing away from them, we’ve got to take care of the football.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
There’s been a strong sentiment since the day after the Super Bowl among many – myself included – that the Panthers would want to strengthen their defense after seeing how the Broncos’ defense clearly won them the title.
Two years ago general manager Dave Gettleman began earnestly building his team to beat the best one it would play – the Seattle Seahawks. In 2015 Carolina beat Seattle twice, making the Panthers the class of the NFC.
But how much strengthening of Carolina’s defense really needs to be done? And can you just go out and find a Von Miller-like player in the draft or free agency?
Colts coach Chuck Pagano put it perfectly Thursday.
“Von Millers ain’t falling out of the sky,” he said.
Yes, Mike Remmers was beaten by Miller on two occasions that resulted in game-changing strip sacks. But Rivera feels that was more missed assignments than anything else.
“We had some missed blocks. We had some missed chips that resulted unfortunately in some plays that they made,” Rivera said flatly. “Sure there might have been a couple of calls that could have been different. But what we did, the plan we had was more than enough to win a football game.”
Broncos stayed true
Even Denver coach Gary Kubiak said this week there wasn’t some world-beating, ingenious gameplan that beat Carolina.
“I just think we stayed true to what we did,” Kubiak said when I asked him how they seemed so well prepared for Carolina’s offense. “We didn’t change a lot. We didn’t go and try to do something different than what we were throughout the course of the season. I think (defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’) scheme is very simple, but he gets guys in the right position and turns them loose to play. I think the effort we played with was the difference.”
Consider what Carolina’s defense did to Peyton Manning. They sacked him five times, intercepted him once, allowed 194 total yards and gave up just one third-down conversion.
Defensive end Jared Allen aged out and retired. Charles Johnson will be back if he takes a significant pay cut. Kony Ealy has emerged as Carolina’s top defensive end, and Mario Addison will rush the quarterback on obvious passing downs.
Wednesday, Gettleman told us not to forget about Arthur Miley and Rakim Cox, who project on the left and right side of the defensive line, respectively.
This year’s draft has some pass rushers, though no clear Miller clone is available at the top of the draft – much less at No. 30 when Carolina selects.
Draft could help Carolina
Still, Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington said he believes there are some scheme versatile players in this draft. That means that even if they played in a 3-4 defense in college, they could adapt to Carolina’s 4-3 defense.
When evaluating a defensive end, the Panthers will look for initial quickness, which is important in their defensive scheme.
They are a one-gap defense, meaning the defensive lineman takes on a gap in the offensive line and goes, rather than a two-gap defense that requires more player discipline and diagnosis.
After quickness, functional strength is key. Going up against one of the strongest players on the field in an offensive tackle requires a player be able to win at the line of scrimmage.
The 2016 draft is deep with offensive and defensive linemen, especially defensive tackles. The Panthers’ scouts have identified those two areas and cornerbacks as three of the deepest of the draft. And the Panthers have needs at all of those positions.
But if there was a notion that Carolina’s defense is lacking, or that the Panthers want to have Denver’s defense, Rivera did his part is squashing it.