By James Gike

The Alice Cooper song – Welcome to my Nightmare – should be playing in the locker room at half time if the first half of Super Bowl 50 turns out like the first half of Super Bowl 48 for Peyton Manning.

I’m interning in radio and have had the pleasure of listening to all the sounds of the Super Bowl’s golden year. One of which was the first play of Manning’s last appearance in the big game. Pinned down around the goal line, the snap flew high and over Peyton.  The Seahawks recovered and scored the game’s first points on a safety of all things – that was a Vegas prop bet set at 75-1 odds. This time it’s the improbable that has led the game’s Sherrif back to the big game atop a white steed named Ronnie.  It’s the most endearing storyline in the buildup; I put a Facebook post out asking who people thought would win the Super Bowl and I got the perfect response: “Head says Cam, heart says Peyton rides off in the sunset.” On that note, here’s The Waterboy Report’s three keys to the game for Denver.

A Smart Offensive Game Plan

The beautiful mind of Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips has pushed a less than perfect offensive all the way here. They’ve ruffled the feather of some of the best QB’s in the league, including Tom Brady. But we’ll get to that – first let’s talk about the gun slinging Sherriff.

Peyton is being Peyton – something I’ve heard a few times through his two post season appearances this year. Gary Kubiak has taught this old dog a new trick – using the running game. He threw for 222 yards in the game against the Steelers and 176 yards against the Pats; compare that to the 2013 run in which he threw 230 against the Chargers and 400 against the Pats. This season he’s got Demaryus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders – each with 6 TDs.  In 2013 he had Demaryus, Eric Deker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas; each of those receivers where in double digits for TD’s. So I’ll give Manning some credit. There is a lack of offensive weapons this season. What that means is that he’ll need to live up to everything that’s been said about him.  Being the shot-caller, the Sherriff both on and off the field; his throws will need to be not just on target but on time as well.  Panther’s corner Josh Norman will most likely be given the dubious task of covering Emmanuel Sanders. If Manning wants to utilize his top target it’ll be all about the route.  Crossing routes with Demaryus will play a key role in drawing coverage off of Sanders. But that still means he needs to be on – target and aware of guys like Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston.

So now you’re looking at the shorter routes – with Denver averaging 5.8 yards per pass play this post season. Tight End Owen Daniels will play a big role in this game. Daniels is coming off a 33 yard – 2 TD performances against the Pats. He and Virgil Green will need to impose their size on a Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, who isn’t playing at 100%. I would expect that if it is not a run play for first down, the ball will most likely be put in the hands of one of these guys.

Protect Peyton

Just because he is not a system quarterback like Tom Brady doesn’t mean he doesn’t need protection like Tom Brady. The reason that he was able to stay on his feet is that he was given the protection he needed to make those plays.  If he gets rushed then he’ll commit to throwing to a receiver in coverage and risk ruining his impressive 0 INTs this post season. Fortunately for the Broncos he possesses a high football I.Q. that gets him out of trouble by throwing it away. This is where the tight ends will again be important.  Daniels was a favourite target of Manning’s against the Pats and will likely be a favourite again vs. the Panthers.  So you’ll most likely see Virgil Green take up a blocking roll along the left or right seam.  It’s unclear if they’ll use running backs Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson in this role as they may shy away from putting two backs on the field.

Orange Crush Needs To Come Alive

They aptly named defense of the Broncos “Orange Crush” has crushed offences this season. They led the league in fewest yards allowed and fewest pass yards allowed – as well they were third in fewest run yards allowed.  But they will face their biggest test yet in the Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton has produced plenty of sound bites making claims of there being no QB like him – and I believe him. He has the potential to run on any play at any time – whether that was the call or not.  So he will put the challenge to Denver to be cautious in their blitz.  It will be on guys like Danny Trevathen, Brandon Marshal and Von Miller to shut down Cam’s legs and keep him in the pocket.

Putting the game on Cam’s arm would have been a decent plan in years past.  He’d have more catches by opposing corners than receivers. But this season the Panther’s offence has put up 366 yards per game and 31 yards per game – leading in the latter category.  When the Broncos begun to shut down Brady, they did in two ways; the first was putting so much pressure on the quarterback and breaking through the offensive line.  Rattling and rushing Cam Newtown will be a goal for the Broncos defensive line and will rush Newtown into throws that the corners and safeties get a read on. Of course – the most important player to shut down will be Greg Olsen.  Olsen is a beast and his performance in clutch situations has been fantastic.  He’ll be a tough job for the Broncos and it’s unclear on how they will handle him.  But if you take him out of the equation – that’s a big leap towards winning.

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