The Denver Broncos face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and they also face a similar challenge to the one they faced last week when they beat the Cincinnati Bengals. As with the game versus the Bengals, this is a game the Broncos should win but sometimes those are the dangerous ones. The Broncos played a professional, if not pretty game, versus the Bengals and will look to duplicate that effort versus the Panthers.
The story of the week that means very little is the fact that Broncos head coach, John Fox is returning to Carolina where he coached for nine seasons. It’s a great story for the media but once the ball is kicked off, it’s a non-factor. Sure Fox would like to beat his old team and the Panthers would like to beat their former coach, but that stuff lasts about a play. The truth is that the players who played for Fox in Carolina, for the most part, loved playing for him and Fox loved coaching there. There’s no real animosity there which makes it a non-story.
It’s the Panthers turn to take their shot at stopping Peyton Manning, and the Broncos offense. Good luck with that! The Broncos offense had an “off” game versus the Bengals and still put up 31 points, counting the Trindon Holliday kickoff return for a score. The game plan for the Broncos won’t change; they are going to throw early and mix in the run. The Panthers struggle defending the pass which is scary when Manning is coming to town. If the Broncos do not turn the ball over and are focused, then they will put up another 30+ points without too much trouble.
The Broncos were not happy with the running game in the win over the Bengals, and will look to improve in that area. The Panthers have a solid front four, so it will be important for the Broncos not to be stubborn. Manning will be able to throw on their secondary almost at will and while establishing a run game is important, it will be the pass that carries the Broncos once again. Call it a feeling but look for rookie running back, Ronnie Hillman to have his best day as a pro.
Defensively, the Broncos will face a challenge in Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Newton is not having a great season but he played well in a win over the Washington Redskins last week, and offers some unique challenges. He can beat you with his arm but it is his legs that scare defensive coordinators.
A play can be defended perfectly and Newton can make a big play with his ability to scramble. It is imperative that the Broncos keep Newton in the pocket and force him to beat them with his arm. They key will be gap control on the pass rush; Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller have to be disciplined with their outside pass rush and the tackles must stay in their lanes.
Newton is a good passer but he is less dangerous when forced to stay in the pocket. Steve Smith is the Panthers best receiver and will be covered by Champ Bailey. Outside of Smith, the Panthers’ receivers are average at best and the Broncos secondary should be fine.
Newton has been prone to mistakes this season, so Chris Harris and Tony Carter should have another good day. The running game for the Panthers is good, not great and the Broncos will try to shut that down and force Newton into obvious passing situations.
The key to a Broncos win is the same thing as it has been all season; jump out to an early lead and force the Panthers to play catch up. When the score is tied or when the Broncos are behind, their defense is good but when they have a lead then the defense for the Broncos is one of the best in the league.
Just like last week versus the Bengals, the Broncos biggest worry could be their focus. It’s a game versus a 2-6 team that they should beat; therefore, guarding against a letdown and playing a professional game is vital. It will be a close game early as the Panthers will be focused and motivated coming off of a win, but the Denver Broncos simply have more talent and pull away in the second half. The Broncos win their fourth straight, 34-20.
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