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And so the season is done, and the Denver Broncos are the champions for the year. I know Dan and I really enjoyed the Super Bowl this, but this kind of defensive battle is not to everyone’s taste.

The aftermath has been dominated by discussions surrounding Cam Newton’s post game press conference and follow up comments, but I am reluctant to get too involved in this. He did not have a good game, Dan and I were commenting that he didn’t look right from the start of the game. The Super Bowl is a huge one-off game, and the Broncos played outstanding defence, which I will look at in a bit. The big talk is of Newton’s final fumble where he didn’t dive for the ball. As ever, the cover up is worse than the original incident. It has to be said that I didn’t particularly notice him not going for it at the time, and in the replay I just saw a player hesitate, which is understandable given that an oval ball bounces in random ways and all I saw a wrong footed player. However, a lot has been made about him stating he was worried about his leg getting hurt as it was in an awkward position.

In this age of over the top praise and blame, Cam Newton is almost the perfect quarterback for the media. He was lauded before the game as a new breed despite us having seen running quarterbacks before, although not ones so large with the ability to run the ball with power so regularly. However, he also has his flaws and some of them came to the fore in this game. He is not a rhythm thrower, in fact his footwork bothers me quite a lot. The fact that is not pretty isn’t exactly the issue, but if you’re feet are not good then you can struggle with accuracy and this can certainly affect Newton. He also seems to have one speed of throw, fast. His arm strength can and does make up for his technique, and you will see him make throws from awkward positions that very few quarterbacks can make. However, this does mean that if you need short sharp throws to counter a defence then you are going to struggle. He holds onto the ball longer than most quarterbacks in the league, and when facing a defence like the Broncos that can cause all sorts of trouble, but let’s look at what the Broncos did so well to win the game.

The Broncos defence has been good to great all year, and a large part of that is there is no weakness at any level of this defence. Yes the pass rush is formidable, but part of that is that their secondary covers very well so it is hard to get the ball out quickly. This was particularly the case for the Panthers’ receivers who dropped a couple, and were open a couple of times and didn’t get balls thrown their way, but the plain fact is that they did not get open often enough in this game. However, a lot of the problems that the Panthers had were caused by their inability to get much of anything going on first down. The Broncos spent a lot of the game in their base 3-4 defence, even if the Panthers were running three receiver sets. Clearly Wade Philips did not want them to be able to get their running game going and they were largely successful at this, forcing the Panthers out of their preferred game plan, and too many times this meant long passing plays that allowed the Broncos to rush the passer. The other structural nuance was how the Broncos rushed the passer. The Panthers run a lot of passing plays where they send fewer receivers on routes, keeping extra blockers in. However, this created two problems for them as the Broncos’ secondary could cover the fewer receivers, and the players that were assigned to the running back or tight end who was blocking would cover the player until they realised they were blocking and then rush the passer on a delayed blitz. This could clearly be seen on the last play before the half when running back Fozzy Whittaker couldn’t help left tackle Michael Oher as Broncos Linebacker Danny Trevathan spotted that Whittaker was blocking and so followed Malik Jackson on the inside pass rush, which allowed DeMarcus Ware to go round Oher virtually untouched to get the sack.

This really was a team defensive performance, but the focus has been particularly on the MVP Von Miller who had 2.5 sacks for the game and forced two fumbles, including the one that led to the Broncos touchdown in the first half.

If the Broncos defence was great, the Panthers defence was really not very far behind. They limited the Broncos offence to fewer than two hundred total yards, generated two turnovers of their own from Peyton Manning, and if they had won the game had their own MVP candidate in Kony Ealy who finished the game with three sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. After the first drive they bottled up the Broncos offence, stopping them from sustaining drives even when the Broncos broke the odd run for a decent gain. It was even more remarkable to see Thomas Davis flying round the defence with his broken arm, something that media has certainly been quick to comment on given Newton’s mention of worry about a potential injury. The problem however was that between offensive turnovers putting them in bad positions, and the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, they were given too many short fields to defend. Even then they held the opposition mainly to field goals, only giving up one touchdown, but there were too many mistakes by the team as a whole for their great play to overcome.

The punt return by Jordan Norwood deserves special mention as it so easily could have gone wrong. Norwood clearly doesn’t call for a fair catch, but was surrounded by Panthers and was even bumped by one. Yet somehow he escaped the coverage team and ran for a record breaking sixty-one yards. It was pretty impressive to see defensive end Mario Addison chase Norwood down to prevent any further gain or even a touchdown. The defence held the Broncos to a field goal, but this game was a slow death filled with these little losses that in the end did for the Panthers.

And so at the end of the game Peyton Manning got his second Super Bowl win, pretty much as a passenger, but this was still a feat of leadership. He came to recognise he didn’t have the tools any more, and contrary to earlier in the season where he was throwing interceptions far too frequently, in this playoff run he limited himself, handed the ball off, milked the clock, and used every bit of his experience to get the win. I really hope that this is the last we see of him in pads as impressive as this was, I can’t see him repeating it and there was very little fun in watching this great player performing in such a way other than hoping he can go out on top.

And so the season has come to an end. The offseason started weeks ago, but whilst I will be following all that is going on, I will be taking a break from the blog. I will be writing other things, and I’m sure it won’t be too long before I will be reading and learning more about football. This year I’ll be doing the odd offseason blog around things like the draft, or if particular things crop up during free agency, but for now it is time to take a rest. Roll on next season, just not for a little while.

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