After all the buildup and analysis and predictions, Super Bowl 50 is over and behind us. As we say goodbye to the 2015 campaign and quickly move on to next season (two weeks until the scouting combine!) here are some closing notes from the Broncos’ win over the Panthers in the big game.
• I heard esteemed NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell mention this with Midday 180 in Nashville, and I tend to agree with him: Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson was the best player on the field in Santa Clara. Sure, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and the Panthers’ Kony Ealy made splashier plays with their sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions, but on a play-by-play basis, Jackson was simply outstanding, and you could say the same about his play against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Jackson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, emerged as a top situational interior rusher during the 2013 season as he showed well in the Pressure Points statistics we created at The MMQB (he eventually earned the Unsung Interior Rusher award for the entire season). Since that time, Jackson has steadily become a force as an every-down player and has greatly improved against the run. He was basically unblockable against the Patriots and Panthers. Jackson very much deserves the huge pay day that is about to come his way, either from the Broncos or someone else.
• Broncos punter Britton Colquitt deserves a lot more attention for his performance in the Super Bowl (along with Denver’s ace cover players Corey Nelson and Kayvon Webster). The Broncos held Ted Ginn Jr., who had an average return of 14.0 yards in the Panthers’ first two playoff games, to just two total yards. Colquitt had a 45.9 yard average on eight punts and a 45.6 net average. That’s ridiculously good. In what turned out to be a defensive game dictated by field position, the Panthers couldn’t get anything going because Colquitt either pinned Ginn against the sidelines, or punted it inside the 10. Just outstanding.
• One of the biggest plays in the game was the aborted wide receiver option pass involving Ginn early in the second quarter. The Panthers had finally figured out how to move the ball offensively after a nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that cut Denver’s lead to 10–7. After the Broncos went three-and-out, the Panthers had a second-and-eight at the Broncos’ 49-yard-line, and offensive coordinator Mike Shula called for the trick play. In another great play from Jackson, he snuffed out the throwback pass to Newton, and Ginn was “sacked” for a four-yard loss. The Panthers punted one play later, and a chance at capitalizing on the momentum created by their first touchdown was lost. You see it many times in the NFL: offensive coordinators fall in love with their pre-planned deception plays on the plus side of the 50-yard line. More often than not, especially against good teams, they backfire. That was no time for a risk.
• After a great season in which he crafted the league’s highest-scoring offense, Shula really struggled in this game. That there were no tactics to test the boundaries of the Broncos’ defense (jet sweeps, or more designed Newton runs) after it was clear Denver was stuffing the middle was a big mistake. The Panthers should have relied more on Newton’s feet when it was clear he was struggling to see the field passing—he made too many late throws against a quick secondary.
GALLERY: SI’s best photos from Super Bowl 50
• You have to give Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips a lot of credit for this season, and particularly for his work this postseason. Offensive coordinators used to be able to read him like a book, but he flipped his script this year. It sure looks like he used his season off to learn some new tricks. Perhaps Gary Kubiak’s one season with the Ravens was also an asset for the Broncos. Change can be very good.
• Speaking of Phillips, check out this week’s magazine for my take on his key tactic in the win: the green dog or hug blitz. It completely screwed up the Panthers’ protection. Subtle, but very smart. One stat from that story that I’ll share here, which illustrates how key the Broncos’ run defense was against the Panthers: Carolina running backs averaged just 3.5 yards per carry (they finished 10th in the league at 4.3 yards per carry in the regular season) and it had a trickle-down effect on second and third downs. The Panthers faced second-and-eight or longer on 23 of 26 second downs (88.4%), and 17 of those were 10 yards or longer. The Panthers faced third-and-eight or longer 80% of the time (12 of 15 third downs). It’s difficult to win that way.
• After the late Newton fumble and subsequent Broncos touchdown to make it 24–10, the story of the game that was perpetuated was that Denver completely dominated the Panthers. But I didn’t get that feeling. I mean, Carolina had two drives down six points and a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter. That’s a tight defensive struggle, if you ask me.
• It’s still amazing to me that neither the Patriots nor the Panthers could get Peyton Manning to play from behind. Both games could have been very different if that had happened. It’s just another testament to the Broncos’ fantastic defense.
WET BLANKET REPORT
1. Give Cam a chance: Was some of Cam Newton’s postgame behavior—his press conference and his subsequent comments about the game—a good look? No, not at all. He came off as immature and petulant. But before everyone goes off the rails about Newton (although it’s probably way too late for that), let’s remember a couple of things: He’s 26 and, after being coddled at Auburn and in Charlotte (not exactly New York in terms of media scrutiny), he buckled under the brutal, unrelenting heat lamp that is Super Bowl week. It’s understandable. It was his first time going through all of it. What will be far more interesting is what happens from this point on. Does Newton learn from this and realize, as the face of a franchise, that he needs to adjust his approach? Or does he turn to the “I am who I am, and if you don’t like it…” tactic? It looks like he’s going to go with the latter for now, but we need to wait and see. Newton’s been scrutinized in the past and changed his ways to become the true leader of his team. Maybe he’ll do it again to reach the next level.
2. Not yet, T.O.: Receiver Terrell Owens certainly deserves to be seriously considered for the Hall of Fame because of his gaudy career yardage and touchdown statistics. But I don’t understand the outcry about him not being elected this year. We’re talking about a receiver that broke 90 receptions just three times in 15 years. And we’re also talking about a player who was ousted by every team he played for, either by attempted trade (49ers), suspension (Eagles), release (Cowboys) or by simply not re-signing him (Bills, Bengals). Maybe Owens gets in at some point (he probably does), but he’s far from a lock.
3. The turf looked fine: Everyone’s going nuts about the Super Bowl turf thanks to the Vines of Michael Oher sliding all over the place. It appears that a lot of it had to do with the players wearing molded cleats rather than the screw-in variety. The turf didn’t give way on Oher, his cleats just couldn’t dig in. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller didn’t have many issues with the turf—they changed their cleats.
1. Just ride off, Peyton: In the wake of the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 victory, quarterback Peyton Manning has been mentioned as a possible quarterback for the Rams, Texans and Browns, among others. Just say no, Peyton. As someone who said you shouldn’t retire after last season and didn’t bury you early this season, I’m now saying don’t take the cheese: walk away on top. It has become abundantly clear that you’re incapable of making it through an entire season healthy, and that’s no way to end a career. Walk on.
2. Roger Dodger: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was at the top of his Roger Dodger game at his state of the league address at the Super Bowl. When asked a good and coherent question about the pregame spot checks of PSI levels in footballs, Goodell, of course, skipped over the part about what constitutes a violation. It was the crux of the question, and he just avoided it. And then there was the “there’s risks to sitting on the couch,” comment in regards to player safety. It’s just ridiculous. Is it so hard to say, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that football can be dangerous and maybe it’s not for everyone, but we’re working day and night to make it as safe and as rewarding as possible, from the youth ranks to the NFL, for those that do want to play this great game”?
3. Get ready for some time off, Johnny and Shady: Considering the recent allegations against Johnny Manziel and LeSean McCoy, both are prime candidates to either be suspended or put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. Certainly Manziel, after multiple disturbing incidents, is looking at a situation where the NFL will put strict markers in place for him to get back on the field, if that ever happens. McCoy, who is likely facing charges from a bar fight over the weekend, will be facing a suspension when his case is adjudicated (if not sooner, with the NFL’s new approach to post-Ray Rice off-field incidents).