Everyone raves about the Denver defence but the Panthers' could decide the Super Bowl

We take a closer look at what the Carolina defence will bring to San Francisco.

Luke Kuechly is one of the league's best linebackers.
Luke Kuechly is one of the league's best linebackers.
Image: Bob Leverone/AP/Press Association Images

OVER THE COURSE of this week, we’ll be taking a closer look at both the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos and their strengths and weaknesses across offence, defence and special teams in the run up to Super Bowl 50.

Today, we deal with the Carolina Panthers defence. 

You can read the rest of the series here.

What they do well

Use their linebackers in zone coverage

It almost goes without saying that Luke Kuechly is the best coverage linebacker in the NFL and the Panthers use him in a way to suits his skill-set perfectly.

Over the course of 2015, the former Boston College man has 137 combined tackles (9.1) per game, eight runs stuffed behind the line of scrimmage and a league-leading (for his position) 13 passes deflected and six interceptions (including three for touchdowns).

For this interception against the Cowboys — and he followed it up with another pick on the very next Dallas play –  Kuechly (59) showed not just his athletic ability but his knowledge of the game.

Source: NFL

With the Panthers lined-up in their much-loved Tampa 2 — you can read more about that here — his role as linebacker’s is to follow tight end Jason Witten up the seam. However, as he watches the play develop he understand what Dallas are trying to do against the zone and passes Witten off to safety Roman Harper before jumping the dig-route taken by Terrance Williams for the interception.

Source: NFL

A few blocks later and he’s into the endzone for the pick six. He has two such plays in his last two games too, what money on him making it three in a row?

What they could do better

Avoid the long run

We’re nit-picking here but, when you’re dealing with the two best teams in football, you have to look for tiny flaws rather than glaring weaknesses.

The Panthers ranked fourth against the run in the NFL during the regular season as one of four teams giving up less than 90 yards per game on the ground. However, while the rest of the top five averaged only five runs of 20-yards or more over the course of the 16 games, the Panthers gave up 10.

The score above was the only long touchdown run — one of more than 20 yards — Carolina gave up all season but they are susceptible to rushing touchdowns as you have to drop all the way to the 11th ranked Bucs defence to find a team giving up more than the 11 scores the Panthers did on the ground.

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This particular score came about as a result of the Panthers rushing five, expecting the pass, and Ryan Mathews hitting the hole perfectly but with CJ Anderson a similar sort of runner to the Eagles players, Carolina need to be careful.

What they need to avoid

Letting the Broncos pick on Robert McClain 

While it’s all well and good having one of the league’s best corners in Josh Norman, losing the likes of Charles Tillman and Bené Benwikere in the secondary has really exposed an area of the Panthers’ defence that never worried head coach Ron Rivera before.

While I, and many others, expected Cortland Finnegan to be the problem, it is actually Robert McClain who is the most picked on cornerback in the playoffs so far, giving up 143 yards and two touchdowns according to Pro Football Focus.

Source: NFL

Against Carolina in the NFC Championship Game, look how far off Darren Fells McClain (27) plays, allowing Carson Palmer complete a relatively easy 21-yard touchdown pass.

So while Norman is undoubtedly among the league’s elite, he can only cover one player at a time and the Panthers will hope that, whoever ends up covered by McClain — be it Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas – doesn’t decide the game.

Why special teams might just be the Carolina Panthers’ Achilles heel

Could the Broncos’ special teams be a potential Super Bowl weakness?

About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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