The Denver Broncos will enter Super Bowl 50 with plenty of areas of concern. Cam Newton and Company have talent for days. They boast the No. 1 scoring offense, a defense containing excellent linebackers, arguably the top cornerback and they are playing great football in all phases. How do you slow down a team on a roll? The Broncos will have to do what they have done all season; they need to stay balanced and run the ball, even if it seems futile at times. That task will be as difficult as ever, but more important than ever on Sunday.
“It’s going to be tough for us. We’ve got our hands full, but if we can establish the run game and keep Peyton [Manning] clean, I think we’ll have a good day on offense,” veteran All-Pro Louis Vasquez said Monday night.
The players in their way are a talented bunch to say the least, especially up the middle. The key to the Broncos’ balance will start with center Matt Paradis, and guards Vasquez, Evan Mathis and Max Garcia. They will be attempting to contain and block defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, two players who have had breakout seasons and helped the Panthers to the regular season’s sixth-ranked defense, fourth against the run. Paradis gave them their due respect Monday night but noted that the Broncos had played talented fronts throughout the season.
“They’ve got some great D-tackles, but like you said we’ve gone against a lot of great D-tackles this year. We played the Bengals, the Patriots, the Chiefs and all those guys. We’ve played a lot of D-tackles and these guys are right up there too. It’ll be a good challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” Paradis said.
Short made his first Pro Bowl this season after tallying 11 sacks in the regular season, tied for tops on the NFL among defensive tackles. He also compiled 51 regular season tackles while Lotulelei added 25 tackles and one sack. Short has already added two postseason sacks and they combined for eight tackles in the last two contests.
Short is the fourth-ranked defensive tackle in the NFL with an incredible 49.9 overall grade, per Pro Football Focus, playing great against both the run and pass. Lotulelei has been stout against the run as well but has not influenced the opposition’s pass attack consistently.
“KK [Short], he’s been playing lights out this year. He’s really taken a lot of pressure off of the rest of the defensive line with his play. He opens up a lot of things for everyone else, not just me but our ends as well,” Lotulelei said Tuesday.
The Panthers will certainly try to stop the running game of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman first, forcing Peyton Manning, whom they have been nothing but complimentary of, to win the game with his 39-year-old arm. It’s a strategy that the Broncos line will try and combat from the first play.
“We’ve had our moments running the ball. We’ve had our moments throwing the ball. We’ve just got to make sure we try everything or we attack every part to make the defense cover everything. That’s the biggest thing. If we run the ball decent, they’ve got to honor that and get somebody else up in there. Then, that gives you a chance to throw the ball, play action and do the things we like to do,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison professed Monday.
Protecting Manning up the middle and running the ball inside will open up things for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the outside. The Broncos have been extremely balanced in the playoffs, running the ball 63 times and passing 69 in their two contests combined. Short certainly knows that and knows that taking away the run first will feed into their team’s strengths from the get-go.
“You don’t want a team to be two-dimensional. You want them to be one-dimensional. As far as the run, we strive to take away the run and get those guys to drop back and pass. We eat, we like to get to the quarterback and you have to take away the run to get that,” he stated Monday.
The Broncos guards have substituted in and out nearly the entire season and both Short and Lotulelei admitted early this week that it makes preparations a bit more difficult. They will match up with two All-Pros and Garcia and whichever team wins the battle will heavily influence the outcome.
“It is going to be very tough. You may have a guy you are studying all week and the next thing you know it’s a whole new rotation in. It makes guys more fresh. We respect that and we still have to go out with the mentality that no guy can beat us,” Short said. “It’s about studying who I’m going against, instead of studying the scheme and that’s what it is all about. Knowing the guy you are going against and make sure you apply what you do great and what he does not so good.”
The Broncos are hoping they can play to their strengths and what they do best while the Panthers tackles will try to impose their will. The matchup of guards and defensive tackles in the middle of the field surely will not be the prettiest or most exciting aspect of Sunday’s title game, but that does not mean it will not be the most important.