Posted Sat Dec 13th by Ian Henson
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):
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.