Well, the election is over with and half of you are jumping for joy while the other half is crying over what might’ve been. The same could be said of the latter half if you’re Carolina Panthers fans. At 2-6 now, they have virtually no shot at any “runoff” from a wild card position, but they can fight to stay relevant. That fight begins this Sunday, when the Broncos roll into town.
Denver at Carolina – The Broncos are firing on all cylinders now that the offense has had the time and repetitions to adjust to Peyton Manning’s coach-on-the-field antics and it’s paying off. After having been down by 24 points to the San Diego Chargers 2 weeks ago, they stormed back with 35 unanswered points. The key to stopping this would seem to play into what SHOULD be Carolina’s strength – the running game. However, as we’ve seen, the Panthers’ running game has been inconsistent this season at best. They need to run the ball and keep it away from Peyton as much as possible and that’s no secret, either. Teams have wanted to do that since he entered the league in 1998, and Denver was soft in the middle against the run last season.
Statistic that matter: Since the Broncos often play with a lead and teams are forced to throw to play catch-up OR teams try to run early to keep the game close or try to keep Manning off the field, raw rushing defense doesn’t matter. What DOES matter is yards per attempt given up. There, the Broncos are tied for 5th in the NFL (with San Diego of all teams) at a miserly 3.7 yards/attempt. That does not bode well for the Panthers’ offense – 10th in the NFL with 4.4 yards/attempt.
Carolina will HAVE to have an effective passing game in order to win this one. Let’s have a look at how they stack up against Denver’s pass defense.
Since the Broncos are 4th in passing – which should be of no surprise – we know they’ll get their yards there. But what about Carolina?
The Panthers are 18th overall in passing, which is a decline from 13th overall last season, but it’s not all that much different. This year they’re not having explosive scoring pass plays…ask Armanti Edwards about that one. They’ve actually improved from last year statistically from 7.9 yards/attempt to 8.2, equaling Denver’s mark there exactly.
In 2012, Denver is 10th overall in pass defense, allowing 221 ypg. Look out, though…they’re 6th in the NFL allowing only 6.5 yards/attempt (just behind Chicago with 6.3). Carolina is right in the middle allowing 7.1 per attempt.
Well, what about sacks? Denver has the deadly Dumervil/Miller combo off the edges while Carolina has been getting good pressure the last few weeks with only their defensive line. Von Miller is an OLB in Denver’s 3-4.
Denver and Carolina are tied for 7th best in the NFL – along with the Minnesota Vikings – with 24 sacks. Denver’s dynamic duo may get the press, and Jared Allen in Minnesota, but Carolina’s sacks come from a number of different people.
The problem is that Manning only has been sacked 10 times in 8 games with 22 hits. Carolina? 17 sacks with 39 hits, but some of those are due to Cam’s running ability. He’s also a much bigger, stronger, and younger man than Manning and can take some punishment. It still doesn’t bode well for the Carolina pass rush killing a drive on a sack.
The statistics suggest Manning will be pressured at times, but that the Panthers’ defense will find it challenging to bring him down before he gets rid of the ball while Newton will see pressure off the edges. The only possible advantage might be that the Panthers’ pass rush comes from different players.
Charles Johnson leads the team with 7.5 sacks, followed closely by Greg Hardy with 6.5. Both are ends, which one would expect sacks from. Also coming on strong is rookie Frank Alexander with 2.5 sacks as a reserve. Dwan Edwards is the wild card here with 5 sacks and on pace for having double digits by year’s end.
Look for him to be the key performer in the contest. If he can help collapse the pocket or be in Manning’s face – whether or not he actually sacks him – that has the advantage of allowing Manning to SEE the pressure coming and force him to throw it early or otherwise get rid of the ball quicker than he had wanted. That’s the type of thing that forces interceptions – something Peyton isn’t unheard of having. I recall one game recently where he had interceptions on consecutive throws.
That’s what should make the difference in the game. Denver’s team is overall more balanced all around and probably has better coaching, which is of particular pain since John Fox was fired from Carolina after the 2010 season.
Denver 27, Carolina 19