Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers offense finished first in the NFL this season in the points category, scoring 31.2 points per game. They will face their toughest test of the season in the Super Bowl, squaring off against the Denver Broncos dominant defensive unit.
The Broncos finished first in the NFL in regular season yardage allowed per game, with an average of 281.3. Denver's defense ranked fourth in the points category, allowing 18.5 points per contest, first in pass defense and third in rush defense. They also led the league in total sacks with 52, and tallied 25 forced fumbles with 14 interceptions. By almost any metric, the Broncos had the best defense in the 2015 NFL regular season.
Denver's defensive depth chart features an embarrassment of riches and excellent depth. Starting on the defensive line, a pair of disruptive defensive ends in Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, line up on each side of former first round nose tackle Sly Williams. The front three is supported by rotational linemen in Antonio Smith and Vance Walker.
At outside linebacker, All Pro veteran Von Miller leads the group. On the opposite side, perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware supplies plenty of pressure. Backup outside linebackers in Shaq Barrett and first round rookie Shane Ray give the Broncos a unique ability to bring in fresh pass rushers throughout each game. Inside linebackers in Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are both high quality players who have the speed to cover in space.
Starting cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris form possibly the best tandem in the NFL. Former first rounder Bradley Roby serves as Denver's nickel cornerback and comes close to matching the starting pair's shadowing ability. Hard hitting strong safety T.J. Ward lines up next to former Ravens safety Darian Stewart in the defensive backfield. Shiloh Keo has taken over for the injured David Bruton as the dime safety. From top to bottom, the Broncos have assembled a supremely talented defensive group with very few weaknesses.
Spearheading the Broncos defense is defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, son of legendary coach Bum Phillips. Wade has more than 30 years of combined NFL head coach and defensive coordinator experience. He employs a highly aggressive one-gap 3-4 scheme.
In these playoffs, Phillips learned from his regular season loss to the Steelers, in which Ben Roethlisberger carved up his zone defense, to call more man to man defense in the Broncos divisional round victory over Pittsburgh. Then in the AFC Championship game, Phillips blitzed Tom Brady relentlessly, disrupted the Patriots short passing game with tight press man coverage, sacking Brady four times while intercepting him twice in route to a victory and a Super Bowl berth.
The Broncos vaunted defense will face their toughest test of the season in the Super Bowl. The Panthers had the number one ranked rushing offense in the regular season and boast a power running game that may be able to exploit the Broncos on the ground with a strong, mobile QB in Cam Newton. If the Broncos can start fast and establish an early lead, the Broncos defense should be too much for even Super Cam to overcome.
As the adage goes: "Defense Wins Championships." In Super Bowl 50, the world will have an opportunity to see if the Broncos defense can continue the legacy of defensive greatness, including the 1985 Chicago Bears, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and 2013 Seattle Seahawks, in carrying their franchise to a Super Bowl championship.