Coin Toss: What’s the key for the Broncos: O or D?

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Cannon Casey at cannon.casey@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @cannon_casey

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Kevin Pankow at kevin.pankow@colorado.edu

What side of the ball will be most important for the Broncos in Super Bowl 50? With Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers going head-to-head with Denver, will it be the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked defense that proves most important, or will Peyton Manning and the offense come to play against the stingy Carolina D in what could be Manning’s last game? CU Independent Copy Editor Cannon Casey and staff writer Kevin Pankow debate.

Cannon Casey: Denver’s defense has come up big in key moments time and time again this year, and I expect them to step up one last time to send Peyton riding off into the sunset on the red-eyed blue horse from DIA, straight into retirement.

I see nine games this year where the defense bailed the Broncos out. Cornerback Aqib Talib’s pick-six in week one’s 19-13 win vs. Baltimore; the scoop-n-score with nine seconds remaining to win 31-24 at Kansas City; the forced fumble on Minnesota’s final drive in a 23-20 win; Chris Harris’ pick-six in a 16-10 win at Oakland; an overtime three-and-out against the Patriots that lead to CJ Anderson’s game-winning touchdown for a 30-24 win; the forced fumble in overtime in a 20-17 win against the Bengals; and finally last week against the Patriots. The game came down to a two-point conversion, and Tom Brady’s pass was picked off, giving the Broncos a 20-18 win. The Broncos have defense to thank for their victories in all of these games and for their place in Super Bowl 50.

Kevin Pankow: Cannon, you are right about the fact that the Broncos’ defense has been responsible for many of their wins this season, but the x-factor for Denver this Sunday will be their offense. The Broncos didn’t have too many quick starts this season, especially with only two games in which they scored more than a touchdown in the first quarter. Denver also won 11 of their games by seven points or fewer this season. On the flip side, Carolina has one of the hottest offenses in the league. They seem to put up points on every offensive drive.

In the divisional round, Carolina took a quick 14-0 lead against Seattle at the end of the first quarter that jumped to 31-0 at halftime. In the NFC Championship game, the Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 start against the Cardinals, which went from bad to worse. Denver’s offense, led by Peyton Manning, is going to need to have some long and consistent scoring drives starting from the first possession to keep up with Cam Newton and the red-hot Panthers.  

CC: Carolina has been jumping out to these large leads that you mentioned above, and fast. So, either the defense needs to step up and slow down the Panthers, or the offense needs to keep pace with them. Which is more likely?

KP: Their success relies on Manning’s ability to move the ball down the field consistently and avoid quick three-and-outs. It won’t be a walk in the park, but if Denver can keep possession for as long as possible and put points up early, they should be able win all four quarters. I have a feeling Newton is going to be able to break down Denver’s defense and score early, which makes it vital for the Broncos’ offense to be ready come game time. If Peyton Manning and his offense don’t get points up early we could see a repeat of Super Bowl XLVIII, in which Denver lost to Seattle 43-8 and only had 27 total rushing yards! 

I know the saying “defense wins games,” but here’s a brutal example of how offenses can lose games. The Panthers are first in the NFL with 39 forced turnovers, which led to 148 points for Carolina. So, keeping Denver’s offense on the field while also keeping Cam Newton off the field, is a must if the Broncos want to win the Lombardi Trophy. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are going to need to protect the ball, too. If Carolina forces more than two turnovers, I can’t see Denver coming away with a victory.

CC: Denver’s offense was ranked 16th in the regular season and eighth out of 12 in the playoffs. The offense isn’t going to get any handouts against the Panthers, who are ranked second in defensive efficiency. The Broncos are going to need the defense to bail out their sputtering offense against Carolina. It’ll be a battle of defenses Sunday, but Carolina has the advantage. Their offense is ranked second in offensive efficiency, while Denver is ranked 23rd. All the more reason why the Denver D has to come up big. They need to keep Peyton Manning in the game, and Cam Newton out of the endzone (and off the dance floor).

KP: The Panthers have had 18 TD drives that took five plays or fewer. Cam Newton has had 43 regular season rushing TDs alone, which is tied for the most by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Time of possession is going to be a crucial for Denver, especially considering how explosive this Carolina offense is. However, Manning still seems to be limited at the moment, which means C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman need to be ready to run the ball. Anderson is more of a one-cut back running through the tackles, whereas Hillman offers a more agile running game bouncing outside of the tackles. Denver hasn’t lost a game this season when running the ball at least 32 times that results in 130 yards or more.

Getting the offense going won’t be easy for Denver, but it will be necessary if they want to become Super Bowl champs. If the Broncos can establish their offense early and keep the ball out of Newton’s hands for as long as possible, they will compete all four quarters. Defense is important, but they will be ready to play. Peyton has had a questionable season, and though he may not have the arm we are used to, he is still the smartest quarterback (or even player) in the game. Denver’s offensive game plan and execution will be the make or break of their season come Sunday.

The Denver Broncos face off against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 this Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. MST.

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