Owen Daniels vs Carolina’s Linebackers
Whichever wide receiver is lined up against Carolina’s Josh Norman is going to essentially be taken out of the play. Norman has been one of the most dominant cornerbacks in the league this year and is a threat to intercept any throw, especially against a weakened arm like Peyton Manning’s. With one receiver down on any given play, that leaves more responsibility on Owen Daniels to get separation from Carolina’s talented linebackers. That will be quite a task.
Carolina’s linebackers are the most athletic group in the league, as well as arguably the best coverage group in the league. In man coverage, all of Carolina’s linebackers will be able to keep up with Daniels, who is not much of an athlete at this point. Daniels will have to mask his routes as well as he can in order to gain some sort of separation against Carolina’s linebackers in man coverage. In zone, which is more common from Carolina, the linebackers are a brilliant group that has learned to pattern-match with the best of them. Pattern-matching is essentially a marriage between zone coverage and man coverage. It starts off as zone, but turns to man if a certain route concept requires it. Carolina’s linebackers have become well-versed in picking up patterns and matching them quickly to close up windows. If Daniels wants to win here at all, he is going to have to take advantage of any miscommunication or error that he can. Manning is likely going to try to lean on him a bit because that is what he is comfortable with, so Daniels has to win some of these match ups.
Carolina’s Interior Offensive Line vs Denver’s Interior Defensive Line
Carolina’s offensive line has gotten a bad rep for some time, but the interior of their offensive line has grown into one of the best in the league. Andrew Norwell, Ryan Kalil and Trai Turner (primarily the latter two) have established themselves as aggressive run blockers and stable pass protectors. The trio has been able to establish rushing lanes for Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton, while also giving Newton a sense of comfort in the pocket. That said, they face a menacing task on Sunday.
Derek Wolfe, Sly Williams and Malik Jackson make for a dominant interior group that can be moved around to attack offensive lines in a number of ways. As run defenders, the two ends possess the ability to stand their ground and toss a lineman aside while Williams acts as more of a disruptor. Thankfully for Denver, all three can rush the passer effectively and may possibly make Newton’s day a nightmare. In base sets, the two ends will be face up against tackles a fair amount, but teams run primarily nickel packages now because of how pass-happy the league is.
Neither side has an overwhelming advantage over the other as both sides have Pro Bowlers. Both sides are going to have critical wins over the other, and also have to bounce back from awful losses. Each snap will be an absolute battle and may very well determine the outcome of the game.
Phil Simms vs Himself
Hearing Phil Simms call a game is an experience… in the worst way. His voice does not have a distinct command to it, he is constantly speaking in half sentences and there are points in most of his broadcasts where it is tough to say whether or not he is actually paying attention to the game. On top of that, no quarterback can do anything wrong in his eyes. Every mistake is passed off as some sort of ‘trial and error’ learning experience, even if the passer is a 10 year veteran. There is nothing redeemable about listening to Simms call a game, yet he has the most comfortable media job in the country. He is going to find a way to make him sound like a fool during the most watched broadcast of the year and get paid six-plus figures to do it. The question is, how will he do it this time?