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Published on 12/13/2008 at Sat Dec 13 11:50.
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DeAngelo Williams leeave Ronde Barber eating turf on Monday Night Football.

DeAngelo Williams leaves Ronde Barber eating turf on Monday Night Football.

Week 15, the Denver Broncos (the third-best team in the AFC), on the cusp of a playoff berth, face the second-best team in the NFC; the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers, who had a narrow win over the San Diego Chargers in Week One a blow out loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a slaying defeat over the Oakland Raiders and a major defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons played a game against the Buccaneers that got ugly as they turned up the notch late in the fourth quarter Monday night.

A lethal DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart/Steve Smith combo turned out to be too much for the Bucs as the Panthers claimed the number two spot in the NFC Playoff Picture.

The thing that I’ve learned about the Carolina Panthers, as I’ve scouted them over the last fifteen-weeks is that they aren’t quite the defense that you’d expect. However, where they suffer worst is at rushing defense- the Broncos aren’t expected to have much of a rushing offense to put up against their 19th ranked defense come Sunday.

There are quite a few interesting match-ups this Sunday including:

  • Julius Peppers vs. Ryan Clady
    Clady has given up .5 sacks to the best of the best this season and just after the Pro Bowl voting is turned in he will face one of the best pass rushers the NFC has to offer. If Clady can hold Peppers to nil, then Clady can fore-go an All-Pro season and simply be content with the fact that he faced the best that the NFL had to offer and shut them all down.
  • Steve Smith vs. Champ Bailey
    It concerns me to see Bailey match against Smith, merely for the fact that I’d like to see Bailey as part of the Broncos plans for the post-season. Bailey has a history of getting injured while shutting down the best-of- the-best as far as NFL receivers go. However, I’d love, love, love to see a Bailey interception before the post-season begins.
  • Jay Cutler vs. the Carolina secondary/Defensive rush
    The Carolina secondary isn’t the greatest in the NFL, but the team as a whole is the second greatest team the NFC currently has to offer. With the playoffs coming up very soon, it’ll be nice to receive a reality check and see how Cutler can stay composed against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL.
  • DeAngelo Williams/Jonathen Stewart vs. D.J. Williams, Nate Webster and Jamie Winborn (or Wesley Woodyard)
    There are few one-two combos better than the Williams/Stewart in the NFL. Who knows, the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to defeat Denver this season… Williams, Webster and Winborn are Denver’s starting linebacking corps going into the playoffs- they won’t face a better duo than they will here at Carolina.
  • Muhsin Muhammad vs. Dre Bly
    Is Bly legit? Is Denver going to go with the one-on-one that I’ve been begging for in their secondary- allowing Bailey and Bly to go man-up on their receivers and following the rest up with the new Tampa-2? Bly holds the key here, he can get in Muhammad’s head early and often.

Here are the keys for Denver (after the jump):

Focused on Football? Carolina Panthers Steve Smith and Will Smith at the premiere of "Seven Pounds" on December 11, 2008. (AP Photo)

Focused on Football? Carolina Panthers Steve Smith and Will Smith at the "Seven Pounds" premiere.

Shut off the right side
Denver must be able to cap-off the right side- the Panthers make their huge runs off their right side and the Broncos give up huge running plays on defense on that same right side. Jarvis Moss has been seen on this side as is the strong side linebacker who most likely will be a combination of Jamie Winborn and (possibly) Wesley Woodyard.

Shut off the edges all together
If Denver can seal off the edges the Panthers will be screwed, they only have huge rushes off the edges. Forced to run inside, they’ll take their chances dealing with that kamikaze Nate Webster who’s looking to fly solo on playing time (with Mario Haggan & Spencer Larsen out with an injuries). Also in the middle is the rookie Josh Barrett, who is scheduled to only improve at safety.

Carolina’s defense is Denver’s with better players
Denver can anticipate the same formations that they saw against themselves in training camp. The bunched linebackers, the Tampa-2, the Panthers won’t play anything different. They’ve got a bruiser in Julius Peppers though and he’s not likely to be impressed with rookie phenom Ryan Clady.

Carolina’s the It team; Denver’s got nothing to lose
When the Panther’s beat the Buccaneers, I felt like calling my friends in Tampa and letting them know, don’t worry, we’ve got the next one. Even amongst their own fans the Broncos don’t get the respect that they deserve- Cutler this season has had a game where he has thrown for more yards (447) than John Elway ever did in his career. He’s also, as I predicted in July, on par to have a better season than Elway ever had.  The Broncos offense is one of the best and most potent offenses that I’ve ever seen fielded in Denver and there’s not a single reason to think that they don’t stand a chance against Carolina.

Kyle said it very well yesterday; when I began drafting this scouting report, I could see this is a game very similar to the game against the New York Jets, a team coming off a big win and not focusing on the task at hand. The Carolina Panthers have never beat the Denver Broncos, but just because the media is over looking the game, that doesn’t mean the Panthers aren’t. Since the Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers in Week 2 and then the New Orleans Saints in Week 3, this game against the Panthers has been the remaining statement game for the Broncos. The cards just weigh more now.

If you haven’t already, check out last week’s podcast (featuring myself and BCMB’s AsianOrange) below and check back Monday for the new Broncos Nation Podcast. We may even be able to squeeze in a special guest this week, who knows.

  • East

    Ian you are such a wise man, reading your scouting report is like seeing the right answers after you’ve taken the test and you say to yourself “Oh yeah that makes sense now!”

    I agree totally that we need to shut off the sides to force Dash and Smash up the middle. That needs to be one of the sole keys of the game.

  • Ian Henson


    Thanks man, Denver’s defense has done well against better this season, but there’s really no reason the Broncos shouldn’t be treating this game like the Super Bowl.

    In the playoffs Denver will only face better teams, but this game will serve as a great gauge for where that bar is. I’m really excited.

  • Ian Henson

    I neglected to mention this in the above scouting report:

    Carolina’s defense is ranked 14th against the pass/Denver’s offense is 3rd in the league in passing. The Panthers have given up 619-yards and five touchdowns through the air. In the last two-games Cutler has thrown for 643-yards and four touchdowns.

    The Broncos defense can give up as many yards on the ground as they want, as long as the team holds Carolina to field goals. The offense will be able to keep ahead.

  • dbroncos

    Peppers vs. Clady: I am really looking forward to that matchup. I think that if Clady can handle Peppers than he will have to have proven to the players/coaches he is worthy of a Pro Bowl spot.

  • dee

    I am expecting Josh Bell to have a MONSTER GAME at the nickle ….

  • DaveMoore

    A major key to winning this game is to get the game in Delhomme’s hands, I’m not sure of the exact stats but in games the Panthers win he only throws an average of around 20 passes a game, when they lose it’s closer to 40. If we can get ahead early and force them to move away from the run then I think we can count on Delhomme to make a mistake or two. If they get ahead early, it could be a long day for us, especially as we tend to give up big runs fairly frequently.

    Go Broncos!!

  • Mike

    I am sick to death of hearing everyone pick Carolina. Even former Broncos like Mark (bite the hand that fed you) Schlereth.
    I really, really want to see the Broncs’ take it to the mudcats, er..Cougars.
    I think Denver will win this. I doubt it will make much of an impact on the ol’ respectometer, though.

  • Ian Henson

    dbroncos- He did incredible against Joey Porter and John Abrahm tomorrow he’s going for the triple crown. My focus, hopefully, will be elsewhere and this is why I think Clady’s been passed over nationally this entire season.

    It would be great to see both him and Ryan Harris recognized (Harris is doing just as well) in a couple weeks. Heck, all of the offensive deserves at least a little something.

  • adam

    Great article, but do you really think our starting linebackers are Williams – Webster and Winborn? I don’t know how they could possibly justify taking Woodyard off the field…seems like he may be a Beason-type leader chalked full of intangibles (look at our defense since he got on the field). Certainly don’t think DJ will lose his spot, but Shanny was pretty blunt about finding a way to keep Woodyard on the field.

  • T-Money

    Time of possesion. That’s how we win. Keep our offense on the field. Keep their running backs off the field.

    4, 13 play 8:00 minute drives = 32:00

    That’s one a quarter.

  • Dan Myers

    Ian, you are right, this is a playoff meter game. How does Denver stack up against a playoff team?
    Dee, Josh Bell will start and Jack Williams will play nickle. Reason, Champ and Karl are doutful.
    My fear is the change at LB. Webster did not look good against KC. Again over run gap responsibility. But I am not sure I want DJ at MIKE either. Jim Ryan play your best players.
    Against TB in the 4th qtr, open gaps and arm tackles allowed Panthers to blow the game open.

  • Ian Henson

    dbroncos- He did incredible against Joey Porter and John Abrahm tomorrow he’s going for the triple crown. My focus, hopefully, will be elsewhere and this is why I think Clady’s been passed over nationally this entire season.

    It would be great to see both him and Ryan Harris recognized (Harris is doing just as well) in a couple weeks. Heck, all of the offensive deserves at least a little something.

    adam- Thank you truly for the compliment. Shanahan plays chess through the media and you can usually tell what he’s going to do by seeing what he’s not telling you. When he says that he’ll figure out a way to keep Woodyard into the defense- I read that as if Woodyard can play free safety, we’d love to have him. I may be wrong though and (in this case) I love being wrong.

    T-Money- time of possession AND no turnovers. You can own T.o.P. and still lose the game on turnovers.

    Dan Myers- I can’t wait, I haven’t looked more forward to a game all season. Win/Lose it’s fuel and we need as much of it as we can get going into the playoffs.

  • Iain Moore

    so how does Winborn fit in to the LB corp…does he lose any playing time this week or is he still the fulltime SLB…he has looked pretty good in the last 6 weeks

  • Ian Henson

    Iain Moore- I think Winborn will see the bulk of playing time, unless his injury is being played down as not as severe as it really is. If that is the case, Winborn will probably not play at all.