I'm sure that there are a lot of people out there who didn't enjoy watching that Super Bowl. I am definitely not one of them.
You can rail about how bad both offenses were and get all pissy about it being a low-scoring game. That's fine.
Really, it's fine!
For me, however, what I saw was two defenses straight up getting after it and putting their imprint on the game. The Broncos defense in particular put on one of the all-time great performances in Super Bowl history as far as I'm concerned.
Because Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller deservedly took home MVP honors, you might consider him a shoo-in for Hoss of the Week this week. Normally, you'd be right. This time around, I feel like I have to give props to the guy who unleashed Miller and the rest of his compadres on the Panthers, Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
It isn't just that Phillips' game plan looked a lot like the one I said that Denver should employ. It's also that he had the guts to actually implement such a plan that was both unconventional and fraught with huge potential downsides if it didn't work. Had Cam Newton run for a bunch of yards on scrambles with the edge rushers getting upfield, there would have been no shortage of people second guessing Phillips after the fact and wondering why he didn't just do what everybody else does against mobile quarterbacks. You know, the bull rushing and shit. I could hear that imaginary peanut gallery right now grilling him on the wisdom of also playing so much man-to-man with his pass rush going at Newton full throttle.
Sorry, had a coughing fit from laughing my ass off at the thought.
Fortunately for Denver, Phillips decided to believe in his players' immense talents without worrying about who wouldn't approve or agree. He knew what most people who actually watched film of that defense also knew: with the right game plan those guys were made to stop an offense like Carolina's, even with a quarterback as physically gifted as Newton.
Now let's be honest here, the Panthers still had plenty of opportunities, but most of the guys around Newton simply choked on the biggest stage of their lives. All the drops (seven), false starts (four) and fumbles (four with three lost and one returned for a touchdown) were just ridiculous.
Those things, too, showed the genius of Phillips' plan. By loading up against the run with 3-4 alignments most of the game and having the interior guys like Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson wrecking shop against the running game, that forced Carolina into a lot of unfavorable down and distances on second and third downs. And that's when Phillips would unleash hell.
Second-and-10, CAR 39 (4:16, second quarter) (Shotgun) -- Fozzy Whittaker right tackle to CAR 39 for no gain (S.Williams; D.Wolfe).
For an offense so built around the run, not being able to do so effectively and consistently forced the Panthers to rely on guys like Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery to make plays in the passing game if they wanted to move the ball down the field. Both guys were decent during the regular season -- hell, Ginn even developed into Newton's No. 1 target at wide receiver after Kelvin Benjamin went down -- but there's a reason why most analysts, myself included, thought Carolina was in trouble without Benjamin in the first place. Those guys picked a bad time to revert to the mean, I can tell you that much.
If Ginn and Cotchery only had to make a few plays, like they do when the running game is going and Newton is making plays, maybe their failures wouldn't have been so blatant. Because of Phillips forcing those guys to be the heroes or goats, their performances ended up having an outsized influence on the game.
That's how you get Cotchery dropping a pass while being covered downfield by Miller, a pass that would have set up the Panthers with a first-and-goal inside the Broncos' 5-yard line on the first drive of the second half. They ended up with a missed field goal and trailing 13-7 with just over 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
That's also how you get Ginn dropping a pass at the 15-yard line on a deep dig route that ends up being intercepted by T.J. Ward (or as Phil Simms says, the 13-yard pass was too haaard ... SMDH) while his team is trailing 16-7 with less than six minutes left in the third quarter.
And that's definitely how you get Ginn Jr. dropping another pass with 10:31 to go in the fourth quarter that would have set his team up with a first-and-goal at the Broncos' 10-yard line.
Those guys just weren't ready for prime time.
If Ginn or Cotchery make just one out of those three plays, the end of that game might've taken on a whole different look. But that's not who they are and really never who they have been. Phillips just forced them into that position with his game plan.
Normally, the guy Newton looks for the most in the passing game is tight end Greg Olsen, but Phillips didn't let him breathe all game by giving him different looks from play to play.
One play maybe it's Von Miller jamming him at the line and undercutting his route. Sometimes Aqib Talib would take him one-on-one. Maybe the next play one of the inside linebackers and a corner or safety would double-team him underneath and over the top. Hell, on one play I'm pretty sure the Broncos had a corner, inside linebacker and a safety all surrounding Olsen. Plus, with the Broncos rushing more than four guys so often, sometimes Olsen had to try to bump one of the edge rushers before going out on a route, and that obviously hindered his ability to get open before Newton was running for his life.
Ultimately, to paraphrase Denny Green, the Panthers wide receivers (aside from Corey Brown who also had a drop but made some plays before getting concussed) were who we thought they were. Phillips' Broncos didn't let them off the hook this time.
I pointed out before the game that the Panthers offensive tackles were fairly mediocre, only serviceable because Newton's ability to take off running scared most teams off from rushing around the edge on those guys. Not only did Phillips' game plan allow them to do just that, it also got both Michael Oher and Mike Remmers so worried about blocking speed rushes, which they rarely had to do all season, that they ended up with three of those four combined false start penalties. You want to talk about a cluster fuck, it's hard enough to move the ball on that defense, but giving up yards because of presnap penalties when the Panthers already couldn't get their running game going almost guaranteed they would end up facing yet another third-and-long every time it happened.
The Broncos sacked or pressured Cam on 18 occasions. There were definitely other times where they hit him but he either completed the pass or took off scrambling and gained yards. This is another one of the reasons why I feel like Phillips deserves the award this week. It wasn't just the front getting the job done.
One of the genius wrinkles Phillips put in for the Super Bowl was having his linebackers blitz the back, which forced the running backs to take them on blitz pickup. Even if those guys were supposed to stay in and chip block the edge rushers, they couldn't do so because they had to go block that blitzing linebacker instead. Yes, that's right, when you talk about that fierce Broncos pass rush in the Super Bowl, you also have to give it up to players like Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall for helping those guys get loose by keeping them clean.
Second-and-10, DEN 45 (:11, second quarter) (Shotgun) -- Cam Newton sacked at CAR 45 for -10 yards (D.Ware).
On another note, not really sure what the hell Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert was doing most of the game when he was supposed to chip block. Several times he just faked at Miller then went out on a route only to see Miller beating Remmers around the corner again and getting Newton.
It was very weird to see on film.
I will say that some folks have come down hard on Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula, and I'm not sure that most of it is fair. I have never been a big Shula fan, but aside from that stupid double pass he tried with Ginn, which Jackson sniffed out, I didn't think he had many other bad calls in that game. Much of what he called look like what he has called all season, you know the stuff that actually got them to a 15-1 record and into the Super Bowl in the first place. If anything, maybe it should make you better appreciate the job Shula has done leading up to this game. Those were mostly the same guys out there who he had somehow schemed into success this year with the help of Cam Newton.
The difference in this game was that not only were the Broncos simply more talented pound for pound on defense than Carolina was on offense, but their defensive coordinator also put his guys in the best positions to maximize that talent. While the Panthers didn't have many players other than Newton who played to a high level at all (yeah, I said it). All things being equal, when a better unit faces a lesser unit and both have good game plans, the better unit is going to usually win. That's pretty much what happened in the Super Bowl.
Sometimes you eat the bear; most of the time the bear eats you.
Phillips, to his eternal credit, didn't go the traditional route when it comes to facing mobile quarterbacks and it paid off for him and his team big time. The truth is that pretty much every starter and even some backups all made plays to help the team get the win, and they couldn't have done it without all the parts in place. So, for devising a winning game plan and going through with it on the biggest stage in the NFL, knowing how it could definitely have backfired, I'm awarding Wade Phillips my Hoss of the Week for the Super Bowl after that ass kicking they put on the Panthers!!! (Sorry again, Von Miller.)
*By the way, did you guys know Phillips was unemployed last year? Just thought I'd bring it up since nobody else has.