Two interesting statistics from this season regarding both Cam Newton and the Broncos defense shed light on the obvious: The Broncos pass-rush will determine whether the team has a shot against the best scoring team in the NFL, and although they won’t be able to shake up Newton like they did with Tom Brady for most of the AFC Championship game, throwing him off his usual routine just about enough could give Peyton Manning enough of a cushion.
The Panthers have been able to keep the pressure off of Newton most of the time, but not all the time. He has a 71.1 passer rating when his put under pressure this season, throwing six touchdown passes and six interceptions. He’s been forced to scramble 58 times this season, which he often turns into runs: 29 Rushes for 222 yards. But when he tries to throw the ball when scrambling things aren’t as good, completing only nine passes for 126 yards and one touchdown, with just two passes of 20 yards or more.
Another interesting aspect is how much time Newton will have to throw. He’s averaging a release time of 2.83 seconds per throw while the Broncos, on average, often without blitzing but simply applying standard pressure, allow just 2.51 second on average before getting to the quarterback. Brady has the quickest release in the NFL, but it didn’t help him in the AFC title game loss, especially finding it difficult to escape DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
Ware had 11 pressures (one sack, six hits, four hurries) and Miller had eight (three sacks, one hit, four hurries) coming from the other side. This means Michael Oher and Mike Remmers, who had their problems against the Seattle Seahawks in both meetings this season, are going to need to get help. The Broncos have Shaquil Barrett coming off the edge as well when Ware or Miller are resting while their interior and secondary might be the best in the NFL. Their plan will be similar to the one they had against the Patriots, with some tweaks to account for Newton trying to break out for big runs.
The Panthers have a good defense themselves, one of the best in the NFL, and turnovers, on both sides, will completely change this game, although both teams have enjoyed that factor in the postseason. But the Panthers probably know the thing that can hurt them the most isn’t Peyton Manning, who is a shadow of his former self at the moment, playing mostly to avoid mistakes and not make big plays. The one thing that can hurt them is the Broncos pass rush, which is probably what most of their practices are about.