The Denver Broncos‘ offense was already intimidating before the season started, but now that the season has begun, it looks downright unstoppable. Denver’s offense is loaded with receiving talent, especially now that former basketball player Julius Thomas has emerged. Denver’s defense also looked stout, even without star rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
Denver is a great team right now, and it is not only because of their talent. Denver is following a number of trends that have enveloped the NFL, ones that have vastly inflated passing statistics and have permanently changed the game.
So how do these trends affect the Carolina Panthers? Can Carolina follow these trends as well and join the success, or have they already started? Here are the trends that have changed the NFL:
The Middle is Open
The middle of the field once a no-man’s land, a place where receivers perished at the hands of players like Chuck Bednarik, Jack Tatum and Steve Atwater. But with new rules regarding targets, defenders have laid off to a degree, making the middle of the field primary territory for passes.
Compounding the decrease in hitting is the emergence of athletic tight ends and slot receivers. Athletic tight ends are all the rage, especially ones that have played basketball. Basketball players give you all you want at tight end: hands, agility, speed, the ability to find open space and box out.
They are pass-catching machines that are impossible to match up with, and while they might not block well, that’s not why they got signed. Also included in this trend are slot receivers — the little quick guys who wreak havoc on option routes like Wes Welker.
Now the Panthers already have an athletic tight end in Greg Olsen, but who will be the matchup nightmare, the slot man who can be Cam Newton‘s safety net? Ted Ginn Jr. is the best man for the job, a player with speed and quickness who can get yards after the catch. He may not be Wes Welker, but Ginn certainly can get yards with the ball in his hands.
Cover LBs Are a Must
With the middle of the field being the new hotspot for passes, linebackers have to be able to cover like never before. They not only have to be quick enough to cover smaller, faster receivers, they have to be strong enough to not be pushed around by bigger, taller tight ends.
Broncos linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan showcased their coverage abilities last night, locking up Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark and keeping Joe Flacco‘s throws to the outside.
The Panthers may have the best cover linebackers in the league — no offense to San Francisco. Luke Kuechly already showed the Ravens what he could do in their preseason game, but how will Jon Beason and Thomas Davis fare?
Beason has proven himself to be great in coverage when he’s been healthy, garnering nine interceptions in 69 career starts. Davis was originally drafted as a safety before switching to linebacker, so coverage comes natural to him.
No-huddle and other forms of fast-paced offenses have been around since Jim Kelly and the K-Gun, but now that Chip Kelly has arrived, teams are taking it to a new level. Everyone wants to go as fast as possible, throwing out the old doctrines of running the ball and controlling the clock.
Peyton Manning has been a master of the no-huddle offense throughout his career, so he was the best choice to debut this new up-tempo style, and he was marvelous. The Ravens’ defense did make some plays throughout the game, but there were far too many plays run for them to stop everything. Increasing the amount of plays run increases the amount of plays the defense has to make, which makes them have to play harder, effort they will regret come the fourth quarter.
Can Carolina emulate the high-tempo offense? Mike Shula hasn’t shown any signs of implementing one, and that is probably a good idea. An up-tempo offense is only effective if it keeps gaining yards — three quick plays and a punt puts the defense in a bind. Carolina is too run-centric for the up-tempo game, which relies on quick pass plays.