After winning his second Super Bowl, there is speculation that Peyton Manning will retire before the 2016 begins. Whether this becomes true or not, I wanted to take an in-depth look at his (likely) final performance versus the Panthers’ 2nd ranked defense. In this game, Manning completed just 13 of 23 pass attempts for 141 yards, while throwing for an interception. He also fumbled the ball twice (one lost) and was sacked five times.
Before I begin, here are the links to my other two breakdowns from Super Bowl 50:
- C.J. Anderson’s Outside Zone Run for 34 Yards in Super Bowl 50
- How Von Miller’s Speed Rush Helped Broncos Win Super Bowl 50
Recognizing Pressure Early
To start the game, the Panthers threw back-to-back blitzes at Manning. The first play, the Panthers rushed six leaving Kawann Short in a one-on-one match-up with C.J. Anderson. Typically a terrible idea, but Manning trusts #81 Owen Daniels to get open over the middle of the field on his hot-route. Versus safety Roman Harper, Daniels cut free to gain 18 yards on the play.
The Panthers are in Cover 1 Man which is why the lone safety is playing so deep in the middle of the field. Good recognition by Manning on the pressure.
In the second play, the Panthers are in Cover 2 and bring a cornerback blitz with Josh Norman from the edge. Manning recognizes it quickly and understands he has a 2-on-1 match-up to the sideline on double out-routes.
Sanders stumbles out of his break, but still gets open quickly before the safety forces him out-of-bounds. Another great recognition by Manning to get rid of the ball quickly and exploit the lack of coverage on the sideline.
The two early blitzes didn’t work, so the Panthers switched to a more traditional defensive approach using Cover 2 on the fourth play in this series. Manning motions Emmanuel Sanders across the formation. This shows Peyton that the Panthers are in zone coverage since none of the Panthers’ defenders follow Sanders.
The Broncos line up in shotgun slot right with Andre Caldwell near the sideline and Jordan Norwood in the slot. Norwood runs a post-route which holds the deep right safety allowing Caldwell to get open near the sideline. Knowing that Caldwell is running up the seam Norman purposely holds Caldwell from releasing into the secondary. Since Caldwell is still able to catch the football for a 22 yard gain on 3rd down, they decline the penalty.
Panthers’ Stout Defense
In back-to-back plays in the second quarter, Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman made incredible plays to disrupt the Broncos’ passing game. They were big reasons why the Broncos’ offense could only muster 141 yards through the air.
Before the snap, Manning sees two deep safeties and the rest of the defenders on the line of scrimmage. Norman backpedals suddenly giving away his responsibility in the Panthers’ Cover 3 zone defense. The deep left safety (offense’s perspective) rushes towards the underneath zone at the bottom of your screen. This forces Jordan Norwood to widen his post-route.
Manning sees the safety rush towards the line of scimmage and knows he has an opportunity in between the two deep zones if he can split Norman and the other deep safety playing on the opposite hash marks. Norman, covering the outside deep zone, watches Manning throw the ball to Norwood. He attacks the route and is able to break up the pass on 2nd and long. Great play.
Manning actually does a terrible job of telegraphing his throw as Norman read it the whole way. Manning might have been able to complete this pass if he threw it earlier and if he threw it further to the middle of the field. If the pass gets completed, it could have resulted in a touchdown based on the position of the other deep defenders.
On the very next play, the Broncos attempt a drag-screen to Demaryius Thomas over the middle of the field.
C.J. Anderson loops around the offensive line to block Luke Kuechly, but he is too late as Kuechly recognizes the play. Attacking Thomas as soon as he touches the ball he dislodges it for a pass breakup. Kuechly’s instincts are the reason why this play is an incomplete pass.
The design and setup of this play are actually really well created against this Cover 3 defense. The Broncos got the perfect coverage to execute the play. However, since the All-Pro linebacker recognized it before Anderson could get to him the play failed.
The final play we will look at is Manning’s interception near the end of the 2nd quarter. The Panthers drop into a Cover 4 defense with four underneath zones. Manning forces the ball to Sanders, which allows Kony Ealy to intercept it. Watch Manning as he throws the football from the endzone view. His momentum is clearly moving to his left. This forces Manning to overcompensate and throw it too far inside causing the interception.
Blaming most of the Broncos’ offensive struggles on Peyton Manning’s dwindling strength and accuracy is not a fair statement. This Panthers’ defense, albeit not as the #1 defense is extremely well coached and disciplined under Sean McDermott and they deserve equal credit. Kony Ealy played a fantastic game as well recording multiple sacks and the aforementioned interception.
Even when they allowed a big play like C.J. Anderson’s big 34 yard run, two plays later they were able to stop the Broncos with an interception.
The 2015 NFL Season is officialy over for me and next week I will start looking at 2016 NFL Draft prospects. Later in the summer, I will revisit the 2015 quarterbacks like last year and show some of my favorite touchdowns and interceptions during the off-season.
Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.