- Jan 29:
- Renck: Oddsmakers choose Panthers over Broncos in Super Bowl 50
- Jan 21:
- Renck: Winning ugly can be beautiful problem for Broncos in playoffs
- Jan 15:
- Renck: Michael Schofield won't be
- wrong move at tackle if Broncos run well
- Jan 8:
- Renck: All-pro snubs motivate Broncos' defense
- Jan 1:
- Renck: Broncos need a super regular-season finale
- Dec 26:
- Renck: Peyton Manning's 'Book of Manning' awaits final chapter
- Dec 18:
- Renck: Harder the quarterback choice, the better it is for the Broncos' postseason
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Peyton Manning makes football global. The 5,500 media members who descended on Super Bowl 50 aren't here for Coldplay, the khaki slacks of halftime performers.
Even when he's not playing in our country's biggest game, Manning attracts eyeballs. Manning redefined the NFL's most glamorous position. He owns a legacy of preparation. The idea that no looks surprise him, that there's no blitz he hasn't seen, will help the Broncos on Sunday. They won't "anxiety" themselves out of the game or look unprepared, hallmarks of the Super Bowl seasick mess two years ago.
Everything about that Super Bowl game was wrong. Not practicing in the cold, not preparing for crowd noise, not bringing the injured players until late in the week, not tackling Percy Harvin on the second-half kickoff.
Seattle's 43-8 rout of Denver reflected an ear-boxing that conjured images of the ghosts of Broncos' Super Bowls past.
What makes the Broncos different now? What gives them a chance against 17-1 Carolina? A marginalized Manning, a promising run game and Wade's World party time, excellent defense. Eleven teams have entered the Super Bowl with the NFL's top defense. They are 9-2 in those games. The Broncos won't stop Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, the league's most dynamic player. He is LeBron James in shoulder pads. James reached the NBA Finals and fell short to the Golden State Warriors. Gladys had the Pips. LeBron had the Knicks (J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert). Newton's supporting cast is strong, if not spectacular. But not on offense.
This game will come down to the line of scrimmage. It's fitting, of course. When I first talked with Broncos coach Gary Kubiak at length last winter, he stressed the importance of the Broncos becoming more physical, of imposing their will.
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It has been a gradual, painful process offensively. Yet after 18 games, the offensive linemen have settled in. They aren't the Pro Bowl grunts of the 1997 and 1998 championship teams. Terrell Davis isn't putting his foot in the ground and putting linebackers out of their misery. But C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have been steady. Over the last nine games, Denver is averaging 127 yards on the ground. That's top 10-type work. And it holds the key to victory: The Broncos must rush to score, they must rush to keep Newton off the field, and they must rush to win.
The magic number is 140. Reach that number on the ground, and Denver will be partying like it's January 1999. Problem is Carolina is stout up front, featuring the NFL's fourth-best rush defense. Only three opponents eclipsed 140 yards this season against the Panthers — the Bucs, Eagles and Giants. Carolina won each time, but none of those teams had Denver's defense. The last time Carolina almost lost was Dec. 20 against the Giants. New York piled up 161 yards on the ground. The Panthers are vulnerable — and oh, yeah, Eli Manning has shared information about that game with his brother.
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Which brings us to the final piece. Peyton Manning's goose-bump ending requires multiple completions downfield. He can't place the football into tight spots the way he once did. He can't throw over linebackers and in front of safeties. But he can complete short hitches, and he can still lead receivers. Tight end Owen Daniels, or possibly Vernon Davis, will be open multiple times. Manning must hit Daniels at least twice. Also, Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas has to win on a critical 50-50 ball on the outside.
Make three significant throws. Gorge on the run. And believe, as the Broncos have all season, that their defense will be the best unit on the field Sunday.
It's for these reasons the Broncos can turn Levi's Field of Jeans into their Field of Dreams.
Troy E. Renck: trenck@ denverpost.com or @troyrenck