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The Denver Defense Takes Over The Super Bowl

(photo courtesy Joe Amon/The Denver Post)

(photo courtesy Joe Amon/The Denver Post)

The Super Bowl was a matchup of the old guard and the new school of quarterbacks in the NFL. We had Cam Newton and the high-scoring Carolina Panthers in one corner and veteran Peyton Manning and the gritty Denver Broncos in the other corner. Both teams had fought through different things to make it to the big game. The Panthers lost their top wide receiver and many did not expect much of them to start the year. And for the Broncos, they had their share of quarterback issues and offensive issues as a whole. But there these two stood, battling for the Lombardi Trophy. In the end, the Broncos were able to prevail over the favored Panthers 24-10. And with that, Peyton Manning now has his second Lombardi Trophy to add to his illustrious career. The Panthers fought hard, but they just did not have enough to make it happen. And for the Broncos, their defense definitely won this game.

The Broncos defense had a tall task: stopping the MVP, Cam Newton. He has been terrorizing defenses all year with his feet and his arm. But in this game, the terror was what he faced in the Denver defense. The Panthers offensive line was not very successful in protecting Newton and that led to him being sacked seven times in this game. The main guy who was after Newton all game was pass-rusher supreme Von Miller. The free-agent-to-be and MVP of the game was all over the field and on Cam’s heels all night long. He had a total of 2.5 sacks Sunday night. The pressure on Cam was the most he had seen all season long. And the hits that he took just kept coming all night long. That led to him not having much time to hit any of his wide receivers down field and having to throw away more passes than he had all season long. Because of the disrupting of the passing game by the Denver pressure packages, the Panthers looked disjointed in the passing game and Cam never seemed to get comfortable in the pocket. And when he scrambled, Cam had a few runs of note, but he had the clamps put on him for most of the night.

Coming into this game, the Panthers were the team that was known for forcing turnovers. They had the best turnover ratio in the NFL coming into this game. But in the Super Bowl, the Broncos defense turned the tide. The Broncos forced three turnovers in this game. And the Panthers, they were only able to force three turnovers. Usually the turnovers the Panthers force end up in points. But in this game, they were not able to take those turnovers and convert them at all, as the Denver defense was stingy all night long. The Denver defense, however, forced two big turnovers that led to their two touchdowns. The first big turnover they forced came when the Von Miller sacked Cam Newton. Miller was able to strip Newton on the play and then the Broncos recovered the ball in the endzone for a touchdown. And the other huge turnover was when they were up 16-10 and Carolina had the ball, needing a touchdown and extra point to take the lead. Von Miller again striped Cam Newton of the ball while rushing the passer. That turnover led to the game-clinching touchdown that would seal the game. Those 14 points the Broncos defense helped either score or setup were the difference in the game tonight and helped them hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Another huge key in this game was the running game. Coming in, the Carolina Panthers were the team that was used to having a consistent running game. With Cam Newton being able to run and Jonathan Stewart running the ball very solid coming into the game, it was thought the Broncos could be the team to have the issue running the football. But the Panthers were never really able to get their running game going. Newton ended up with 45 yards on six carries, but Jonathan Stewart was missing in action all night long. The veteran running back out of Oregon had one big run of 12 yards in this game. But other than that, he had only eleven carries for 17 yards and a touchdown. With the running game never getting started, the Panthers had to depend on the passing game. And if anyone has watched the Panthers play this year, they are not a team that typically depends on the passing game to get them going. Besides their veteran tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers had a pedestrian receiving corps. In this game, their dropped passes finally caught up to them. And add to that some errant passes from Cam and the passing game was stuck in neutral as well.

Peyton Manning may be retiring after this game and riding off into the sunset as a two-time title and arguably the greatest of all-time. But the Denver Broncos did not win this championship because of his stellar play. They won this game on the strength of their defense. And from the beginning of the season to now, their defense carried the offense on their collective backs. It’s only fitting that the final game of the season was a defensive masterpiece.

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Carolina Dominates The Cardinals On The Way To The Super Bowl

(photo courtesy of Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

(photo courtesy of Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

And then there were two in the NFC. The two best teams all year in the conference, the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers, passed their first test in the Divisional Rounds, beating the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks respectively. And on Sunday night, both teams were trying to get back to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals last went back in the 2008 season, when they lost to Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23 in Tampa, Florida. The Panthers drought has been a little longer, last visiting the Super Bowl in the 2003 season, when they lost to the New England Patriots 32-29. Both teams came out with much to prove in this game. The Cardinals wanted to prove that last week was just an aberration. And for the Panthers, they wanted to prove that they were worthy of being the NFC champions. From the jump, the Panthers let the Cardinals know they meant business. Carolina jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead, jumping all over the Cardinals. And in the second half, they would continue to jump all over the Cardinals, punching their Super Bowl ticket with a dominating 49-15 win. With that, the Panthers are on to match up against the Denver Broncos.

Offensively, the Panthers were clicking and that all started with the play of their offensive line. Going into the season, the Panthers were a team that was looked at as having a line that was not good enough. But as the season as grown, they have gotten better and better. And now they are the backbone of one of the best offenses in the NFL. In today’s game, they allowed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to step up in the pocket and complete passes to the tune of 19/28 for 335 yards and two touchdowns. But the offensive line was not only effective in the passing game. They were able to open holes for Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart. Both averaged over four yards per carry in this one. And the offensive line was able to get Cam in the endzone twice on the ground, with the biggest one being a Newton 12 yard run for a touchdown. That run put the Panthers up 34-7 and gave them an insurmountable lead against Arizona. Even though Cam Newton will more than likely be the MVP of the NFL, his offensive line was the MVP of this game.

The Panthers have been a nasty defense all year long. Much has been made of their pieces in the back seven, particularly defensive back Josh Norman and linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. But the key players in this game had to be the Panthers defensive line. They harassed the Palmer all game long and were relentless. And as a byproduct of their pressure, they forced Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer into four interceptions, with one going back for a touchdown. It seemed that Palmer could never get comfortable in the pocket all game long. Some of that was on Carson because he just was out of sorts. But most of that had to be credited to the Panthers front seven. And along with the pressure they were bringing, they were also steady in the running game. They allowed David Johnson to get 60 yards on 15 carries, but they did not allow him to get in a rhythm for much of the game. And by making some stops on first down, Arizona fell behind the sticks and that put additional pressure on the Cardinals offense. Last week, the Packers were not able to catch Larry Fitzgerald, as he torched them in overtime for the win. But the Panthers were on him all game long, only giving up four receptions for 30 yards. Larry was a non-factor along with his fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd. Their offense was rendered helpless by a defense that was flying all over the field.

The Panthers did what many felt they could not do. At the beginning of the season, many wondered if they would even win five or six games. They had lost their best wide receiver before the season started and many felt Cam did not have enough to win ballgames offensively. But little did we know that the combination of the skill people they had along with Cam’s excellent performance this year would carry them to being one of the best offenses in the NFL. Couple their offense with their stingy defense and the Panthers had a well-oiled machine. And as the season went on, they got better and better despite those that thought they would falter. Fast forward to now and the Panthers are now on their way to the Super Bowl. And with a win, they would have made some unexpected history for their organization. We will see what happens under the bright lights in Santa Clara, California on February 7th.

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The Panthers Struggle To The Winner’s Circle Against The Seahawks

(photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

(photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

The matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers was billed as one of the best of this past weekend. Both teams have physical defenses, run the football well and have dynamic quarterbacks. But only one of them could survive this weekend. Many were split on who would win this game. There were some that felt the Seahawks would get it done because of their experience and the way their offense can explode at any time. And there were others that felt the Panthers would win due to being at home, defense and the great play of quarterback Cam Newton. Well, it was a story of two halves in Charlotte Sunday as both teams showed us what they were made of. Carolina got off to a great start to the game and led 31-0 going into halftime. But the Seahawks came roaring back in the second half, getting as close as 31-24 with just a little over a minute left in the game. But in the end, the Seahawks just ran out of time and could not overcome the big lead Carolina got out to. And with that, the Carolina Panthers are in the conference championship and will be hosting the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday night. But the Panthers almost lost this one. Playing conservatively the second half almost cost them. So in moving forward, they must remember what they did to build the lead against the Seahawks going into next week.

The Panthers have a scary defense. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are the best tandem of linebackers in the NFL. But the key to this defense is definitely their front four. They were everywhere in the first half of the game. And the pressure they created helped the defense collect two interceptions, with Kuechly returning the first interception for a touchdown. Along with putting pressure on the quarterback, the Panthers defensive line also was able to get penetration against Seattle to stop the run in the first half. But in the second half, it seemed like their foot off the gas. With either the coaches getting conservative or the players getting tired, the pressure seemed to ease up on Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. As a result, the Wilson started attacking the Carolina secondary relentlessly. In the second half, Wilson was able to get matchups that favored his wide receivers and mostly avoided Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (the last Seattle touchdown went to Jermaine Kearse as Josh Norman whiffed on knocking the pass down). The Panthers were still able to keep Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch under wraps, but Wilson began to figure the Carolina defense out. If the Carolina Panthers want to win next week in Arizona, they have to keep up the pressure. Of course they will probably mix up their blitzes more next week. But in this game, cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain had some troubles because they relaxed a little as a unit. And if both Finnegan and McClain had some trouble in this game, then they will surely have trouble against the number one offense in the NFL and especially the wide receiver trio of John Brown, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald.

But the issues the Panthers had in the second half did not only stem from their defense. The Panthers came out aggressive offensively in the first half. The tone was set for Carolina when running back Jonathan Stewart ran for 59 yards on the opening play. The Panthers were running right at the Seahawks and there was nothing Seattle could do about it at all. And along with the running game working, Cam and the passing game were making plays as well. Cam’s passing was particularly solid in the first half of the game on third downs, going 3/4 on third-down throws. But in the second half, it seemed like all that aggression the Panthers had offensively had gone away. The Seahawks began to recognize the Panthers were playing conservatively and would not really take any chances on their defense. Cam completed two more third down conversions through the air for the game, but it seemed like the offense was struggling to the finish line. If they are to play like that against Arizona, then there will be some issues. Getting a lead on the Cardinals will not be enough because they are more explosive than the Seattle offense and have more weapons than them too. If Carolina is to win next week and advance to the Super Bowl, they have to keep their offensive aggression. That second half performance will not get it done.

Cam Newton and many of his teammates are in the conference championship game for the first time. And if they can take anything away from their game against the Seahawks, it’s that they must smell blood in the water. When you have a team down, you have to finish them off right then and there. If not, situations like Sunday can occur. The ante has now been upped and the competition is tougher. Can the Panthers respond to the challenge or was the regular season where their championship resided?

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After Signing A New Megadeal With The Carolina Panthers, The Pressure Is On Cam Newton

Cam Newton is all smiles after striking a huge deal with the Carolina Panthers (Photo Credit: www.sportsmasher.com)

Cam Newton is all smiles after striking a huge deal with the Carolina Panthers (Photo Credit: http://www.sportsmasher.com)

The Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton had been quiet on the contract front for a while now. Everyone knew he was getting dangerously close to free agency and a potential franchise tag from the team. But no one knew what the Panthers had planned for Newton until now. There were some that thought a new deal was a formality, but there were no facts to go behind it. Well, the Panthers had apparently been working quietly with Newton on getting a new contract that would pay him like he was one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. And on Tuesday, the Panthers and Newton agreed to a deal that paid him like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The deal is for five years and $103.8 million with $60 million in guaranteed money. Now the drama and suspense can be taken out of who will be under center for the Panthers and now cements Newton as their long-term cornerstone at the quarterback position. With the team coming off two straight playoff appearances, the momentum of the team is still at a good level and this keeps the excitement around them. But there have to be some concerns in regards to this signing.

Cam Newton has been a much scrutinized player through his career. The biggest thing that many detest about him is his body language. When things aren’t going good with the team or he is not playing well, Cam can be seen on the sidelines with a somber or disappointed look on his face. From some observers’ perspective, they see Cam as someone that cannot dig through the tough things when they happen. For a team that is seeing him as a leader, they have to be able to count on him to lead them when the times get tough. If they cannot depend on him to lead him through those times, then they are signing up the wrong guy to lead them where they want to go. Of course we all don’t know what is going through his head in these instances. After all, he may be just frustrated at that moment in time and the camera just could have caught him at that particular moment. Whether he was upset or not, the fact remains that sometimes he does not realize that his leadership is not only what he says and does, but how he reacts to adversity and literally his face in that time. Being the face of the franchise and handsomely-paid as well, the attention will be even more on him as the Panthers surge forward with him at the helm.

Another thing to think about when it comes to Newton is his progression as a quarterback. Newton is a great athlete and with his size and speed, he is a real threat when he runs the football. But to take it to another level, he has to be able to make it happen in the passing game more. A big part of that issue is the weapons he has had over his career. For example, he has had two overpaid and underproductive running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for most of his career and if you look at the wide receivers he has had over his time as a Panther, he has never had two good receivers along with a good tight end all at one time. And what hurts this team even more is the team seems to not want to surround Newton with offensive linemen that can protect him at all times. If the team could get these issues resolved, then maybe they would be more dangerous offensively. But until then, they have paid Newton to work like makeup does for women and cover their offensive blemishes. In order for Newton to cover up those blotches on their offense, Newton has to get his completion percentage over 60%. That task will be tough with limited weapons offensively, but the Panthers are paying Newton to be that difference-maker offensively and take the team on his back. And along with the accuracy, Newton has to have a better touchdown-to-interception ratio. His had 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last season. That is not the stats of a star quarterback that is supposed to lead a team to a new level. In order for them to go to the next level, he at least has to have two times as many touchdowns as he does interceptions.

The signing of the Newton was something that the Panthers had to do. They could not lose him and start over at the quarterback position again. The last steady quarterback they had for a while before Newton was Jake Delhomme and his last good season in Carolina was in 2005. Now what the Panthers do around Newton is the next thing to see. As the team stands, they do not have enough to make it to the ultimate goal: a Super Bowl title. But the good thing is the cap is expected to rise to $160 million and that will give the Panthers room to add more players and keep their good players intact. The Panthers need to use the draft and free agency next to build around Newton and enhance the offense as well. If they Panthers are able to do that within the next few years and keep their defense playing at the level they are, this signing could be the beginning of some big things. There is some pressure on the team to make some moves, but ultimately the success of the team begins and ends with Cam Newton. It should be interesting to see how he does moving forward.

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