Two great NFL quarterbacks (Peyton Manning of the Broncos and Cam Newton, Panthers) will meet up for the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara. The league’s best offense will also face off against the league’s best defense. Carolina is an odds-favorite for a February 7 win – but with both teams being notable rush blockers, this match-up may be determined by passing alone.
To find out more, we examined the passing touchdowns of both the Broncos and the Panthers throughout their regular-season performance. We determined how Newton and Manning stack up to each other and what we can expect at the Super Bowl 50 based on the teams’ previous passing and receiving season performances.
Carolina Panthers – Passing
The Curious Case of “Super Cam”
Cam Newton is known for favoring the rush; it’s a poorly kept secret that Newton prefers to run the ball into the end zone instead of throwing it in. One of the most notable touchdowns during the NFC Championship Game was his dive against the Arizona defensive line. At 6 feet 5 inches and 247 pounds, Newton is a difficult man to stop once he is in motion. However, his 28 pass attempts for 19 completions, 335 yards, and two touchdowns make “Super Cam” an all-purpose weapon.
For his season average, he made 495 attempts for 296 completions, 3,837 yards – including 1,007 yards of in-air action – and 35 touchdowns. The Panthers’ receptions averaged a mind-boggling 13 yards from the point of the catch to the end zone, compared to 21 yards for the Broncos. Only 4 percent of all of the Panthers’ regular season receptions were beyond 24 yards from the end zone, compared to 17 percent for the Broncos.
Newton’s two passing touchdowns in the conference championship matched his two rushing touchdowns, leaving an open question of how Denver can best contain him. Newton ran for 47 yards on 10 carries, with his longest run being 14 yards. He also rushed in the regular season for 636 yards in 132 attempts for 10 touchdowns.
To explore Newton’s passing touchdowns and more, check out our interactive map and build your own touchdown maps.
Denver Broncos – Passing
The Old School Strikes Back
While it hasn’t yet been confirmed, it is thought that this will likely be Peyton Manning’s last season as a Bronco. Manning was able to hold off Super Bowl perennial participant the New England Patriots and Tom Brady on the weight of 32 passing attempts, 17 completions, 176 yards thrown, and two touchdowns.
Compare this to his 198 completions in 331 attempts during the regular season for 2,249 yards, nine touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. This is his lowest annual production since joining the NFL.
Similar to Newton, Manning throws from the pocket between the hashes, buoyed by the strength of his offensive line. The majority of Manning’s passes were thrown in the red zone, which is similar to Newton as well. This translates to 11 yards averaged per throw, with Manning’s longest being 30 yards. However, unlike Newton, Manning only rushed for three carries in the conference championship, 11 total yards, and no scores. Compare this to a regular-season tally of six carries and negative-six rushing yards.
With Manning showing a clear preference toward the pass, the Super Bowl may be determined by Carolina’s ability to effectively counter Denver’s four-man pass rush, which is questionable considering Carolina’s tendency to go for maximum protection on their defensive lines.
Carolina Panthers – Receiving
An Explosive Offense
Leading the Panthers in receptions for the NFC Championship Game was tight end Greg Olsen, who made six completions for 113 yards with the longest being 54 yards. The Panthers’ two touchdown passes came from wide receiver Corey Brown, who had four receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown, and wide receiver Devin Funchess, who had two receptions, 21 yards, and one score.
Also making catches for the Panthers were Ted Ginn, Jr. (two for 52 yards), Jerricho Cotchery (two for 17 yards), Mike Tolbert (one for 14 yards), and Jonathan Stewart (two for 5 yards). Carolina was able to yield more productivity in its passing – 19 for 335 yards – than it was from its rushing; the team went for 37 carries and 152 yards.
Surprisingly, regular-season receiving yards leader Olsen did not make a catch during the championship game. Olsen led the regular season with 77 receptions, 1,104 yards, and seven touchdowns. Of note is the fact that almost all of the Panthers’ touchdown receptions were within the 25-yard line during the regular season. With the top six in the Panthers’ top receivers list for this season having receptions more than 35 yards and with Olsen having 20 receptions or passes thrown 20 yards or more for the regular season, it is likely that Newton will seek long-distance targets in Santa Clara.
Denver Broncos – Receiving
Pushing Against a Wall
During the AFC title game, Denver faced one of the best pass-rush blocking teams in the league: New England. And the receiving stats show this. Leading the Broncos for receptions was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who made five completions for 62 yards. Owen Daniels (two receptions, 33 yards, and two touchdowns), C.J. Anderson (three receptions for 18 yards), Jordan Norwood (two receptions for 16 yards), Andre Caldwell (one reception for 15 yards), Cody Latimer (one reception for 13 yards), Demaryius Thomas (two receptions for 12 yards), and Ronnie Hillman (one reception for seven yards) made catches as well.
Despite this muted performance, the Broncos receiving team has been efficient during the regular season. Out-catching their opponents – 368 receptions in 606 attempts compared with 344 receptions in 573 attempts and covering 4,216 yards to 3,544 opponent yards – the Broncos’ receiving performance actually slightly exceeds the Panthers, 60.73 percent to 59.88 percent. Leading the Broncos receiving team for the regular season is Greg Olsen, with 73 receptions, 1,104 yards, and seven touchdowns.
Manning’s short passing and a wide array of targets will make a successful defense against the Broncos’ pass rush difficult to pull off. While it is unclear if Manning can keep pace with Newton, who has been called this generation’s John Elway, Manning is likely to find a way around the Carolina’s defense, making the Super Bowl a probable high-scoring affair.
Super Bowl 50 will be a battle of two different types of quarterbacks. Manning, a student of the aerial game, is a pass-friendly classic quarterback who uses his arms more than his legs to make plays and get the ball downfield. Newton, a disciple of the ground game, is more at home running plays himself, but is not afraid to launch deep bombs.
However, with both teams having extremely effective blockers and tacklers, the question may not be how the quarterbacks will move the ball, but how will they avoid the sack.
So who will win the Super Bowl? Only time will tell. Until then, Fanatics has all you’ll need to not only watch the game but support your favorite team in style.