Despite the opinion of many football fans around the country, this year’s Super Bowl was one of the better all-around games in recent memory. It featured two teams that were so stout and tough on defense that clashed in a contest where the final outcome was ultimately decided on the defensive side of the ball. In today’s game of high-powered offenses, where outrageous amounts of points are scored on a weekly basis, it was refreshing to see a Super Bowl where every play in the game mattered. The saying “defense wins championships” is thrown around quite a bit in football, but in Super Bowl 50, the saying proved to be true.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers had a terrific 2016 campaign, only losing one game in the regular season. Every week, there was a new highlight of Cam Newton “dabbing” in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. The Denver Broncos also had a great season, but mainly from their performance on the other side of the football. Additionally, Denver had all of the momentum after they took down Tom Brady by shutting down the Patriots offense in the AFC Championship game.
Carolina became one-dimensional on offense early in the game, as they stuffed running back Jonathan Stewart on just about every single rushing attempt. Stewart finished the game with 12 rushing attempts for 29 yards, which translates to about 2.5 yards per carry.
Forcing Newton to rely on himself for the entirety of the game was exactly what the Broncos wanted him to do. With a pair of Pro Bowl defensive backs in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., Denver was able to rely on them to play more one-on-one coverage with the Panthers receivers. For most of the game, Talib, who was the bigger and more physical corner of the two, blanketed Newton’s favorite target, Greg Olsen. Olsen finished the game with subpar stats, catching only four passes for 41 yards. With the Broncos elite corners covering up Newton’s main targets, they were able to send many different blitz packages at Newton to frustrate his timing.
Most of the Broncos blitzes included their top two players on defense, and two of the top pass rushers in the game, Von Miller and Demarcus Ware. Newton had trouble finding open receivers, and was often flushed out of the pocket, or hesitated long enough for Ware or Miller to get to him.
Newton was under pressure like never before. He was hit 13 times during the game, which almost doubled his regular season high. On plays where Miller and Ware both rushed the passer, Newton went only 1-for-12 passing, losing a total of 33 yards. Under pressure, Newton only completed 31 percent of his passes in the game.
At the beginning of the contest, the momentum turned to the Broncos end, when Miller strip-sacked Newton, causing him to lose the ball and it was recovered in the end zone by Denver for an early touchdown. Newton didn’t seem to be the same player after that score, and was visibly frustrated throughout the game with the limited time he had to throw the ball. Miller and Ware each ended up with two sacks apiece, while Miller would later force Newton to lose another fumble, which spelled the end of the game at that point. Additionally, Newton had an interception, and Mike Tolbert fumbled, adding up to four turnovers for the Panthers over the course of the game.
This year’s Super Bowl was symbolic of the Broncos entire season, which included dominating games on the defensive side of the ball. Denver did hardly anything when they possessed the ball offensively to make a difference in the game, and relied on their all-star caliber defense to get the job done. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw for a measly 141 yards on 13 completions, with no touchdowns and an interception. By the end of the contest, the Broncos also had the lowest yardage total for any Super Bowl winning team, totaling only 194 yards on offense. Without the lone goal line score by CJ Anderson late in the fourth quarter, the Broncos wouldn’t have even scored a touchdown on offense.
When a team has an elite defense that can defend in man-to-man pass coverage, and at the same time be able to put pressure on the quarterback, they can compete with anyone that’s lined up against them. Any team can build a high-powered offense that scores at will, but if you don’t have a solid defense at the very least, you can’t win the Super Bowl.