The Golden Game: 3 Storylines That Need More Attention Ahead of Super Bowl 50
During Super Bowl week, there is never a shortage of interesting interviews, soundbites, or storylines. But today’s media is fickle, and tends to place emphasis on whichever stories will garner the most attention, instead of digging deeper to analyze equally important stories that may be just as significant in determining the outcome of the biggest game in sports. But, we at The Deep End are better than that. We don’t care about popularity, looks, or how badly prom night went for you. I mean they did hire me, after all.
1. How Thomas Davis’ Injury Will Affect the Game
While most mainstream media is keen on All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, it’s his fellow All-Pro linebacker teammate that could make or break Carolina’s Super Bowl aspirations. For those who really don’t know much about him: Thomas Davis is a beast, plain and simple. The man can make every play under the sun, and he has likely caused more than a few offensive coordinators to have nightmares in lieu of a matchup with the Carolina Panthers over the course of his 11-year career. Unfortunately, Davis broke his arm during the NFC Championship “game” against the Cardinals. He immediately had surgery to repair his broken limb, and currently has a metal plate and 12 screws keeping the bone together. Davis’ desire to play in the biggest game of his career, and his status as a full participant in practice, indicates that he is going to play in the Super Bowl. But how effective will he be?
Thomas Davis, like most 11-year veterans, is no stranger to playing through injury. He’s seen as one of the toughest guys in the league, and I have no doubt that he’ll put every fiber of his being into trying to defeat the Denver Broncos this Sunday. But even the best players struggle when playing through a major injury. Even J.J. Watt struggled for the few weeks after he broke his hand. If this is also the case with Davis, the Broncos have a significantly higher chance at moving the ball down the field. Davis is a sure tackler, as evidenced by his 105 tackles this year, and has helped make Carolina one of the best defenses at stuffing the run. If Davis can’t rap up opposing runners with the brace that he’ll be wearing, the Broncos could have an easier time running the ball (particularly when breaking into the second level of the defense). Davis is also very adept in pass coverage, and has a penchant for creating turnovers (4 forced fumbles and 4 interceptions in 2015). If Davis is limited in pass coverage, it could be a long night for him, as there is nobody in the history of the NFL better at exploiting weaknesses than Peyton Manning. In my humble, and admittedly biased opinion, I don’t think there is any way that Thomas Davis won’t be at least somewhat limited in what he can do. Don’t get me wrong, the All-Pro remains a threat, but I have a feeling that he won’t be quite as scary as he usually is.
2. Demaryius Thomas’ Drop Problem
While some media outlets have blown it out of proportion, Demaryius Thomas has a drop problem. Thomas tied for the 5th most drops during the regular season with 9, and tacked on at least another in the postseason. While his percentage of passes dropped is actually fairly average at 5.1%, most elite receivers do better. Teammate Emmanuel Sanders, for example, has a significantly better 2.2%. What’s more concerning is the timing of his dropped passes. Thomas has dropped potentially game-changing passes, and has fallen off the map statistically in his 2 postseason games. In these games, Thomas has a mere 6 catches for 52 yards. Meanwhile teammate, and wide receiver 1B, Emmanuel Sanders has 10 catches for 147 yards. When asked about this, Sanders defended Thomas, pointing to his regular season stats as evidence that he hasn’t been struggling. In all fairness, Dropmaryius Thomas did finish first on the team with 105 catches, 1,304 yards, and 6TDs. However, his lack of chemistry with Peyton Manning since the beginning of the playoffs has to be concerning if I’m a member of the Broncos’ offense.
The greatest piece of evidence that I have seen concerning how Thomas’ recent issues have affected the game are certainly up for debate, especially considering the fact that I’m basing my assumption off of one game in particular. During most of the AFC championship game against the Patriots, Demaryius Thomas was lined up across from Kyle Arrington, while Malcolm Butler, one of the best corners in the entire NFL, covered Emmanuel Sanders. Butler tends to cover the opposition’s best receiver, and I think it’s very telling that Bill Belichick would decide to leave Arrington on Thomas. What could have been a favorable matchup for Thomas, resulted in a poor showing of 2 catches for 24 yards. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders had a solid 5 catches for 62 yards, including an incredibly clutch 34 yarder over Malcolm Butler. The two receivers were targeted about the same amount of times, but Sanders has done significantly better with his opportunities, and it’s fair to wonder who will be The Sheriff’s go-to-guy in an all or nothing situation.
3. The Significance of Peyton Manning’s New Role
To be honest, I didn’t have this storyline in mind when I decided to write an article about the Super Bowl. I just knew this would be my last chance to write about one of the greatest players to ever play the sport that I love. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Peyton Manning took on a new role this season. After multiple injuries, and the fact that he seemingly aged 10 years between seasons, we all knew he needed to accept a different level of responsibility. The problem is, Manning himself refused to believe it. He tried changing Gary Kubiak’s system to better mirror his own. He tried to throw the ball around like he was still in his prime. He tried hard to remain “The Sheriff.” Unfortunately father time, and a torn plantar fascia in his foot, made this impossible, even for the great Peyton Manning. By midseason it was clear; the best field general in the history of the league could barely run his own offense, and he seemed doomed to have a 39-going-on-60 year old turnover prone quarterback be the final image fans would see of an otherwise incredible legacy. But, what happened during his time on the bench would get his legacy back on track.
When Manning finally benched himself, after the worst stretch of play in his 18-year career during his game against the Chiefs, everyone and their mother wrote him off. Even I, his biggest fan, had doubts that he would ever step foot on the field again. But, much like he’s done for the entirety of his career, Peyton worked hard to become healthy enough to make one last Super Bowl run. All the while, his backup Brock Osweiler performed reasonably well in running Kubiak’s offense; I also think seeing someone else succeed while he was on the bench changed something in him. When Osweiler was pulled in Week 17, in favor of Manning, it seemed to me that he had actually changed his lifelong philosophy. It appears that The Sheriff had finally stopped playing like he was the record breaking, 5-time MVP earning, Super Bowl winning quarterback that he’d been for almost two decades, and instead became the game manager that he needed to be. He bit the bullet and ran Gary Kubiak’s offense instead of the weird hybrid offense that they ran earlier in the season. The significance that this surefire hall of famer, who has led some of the best offenses in NFL history, actually let someone else take the reins cannot be understated. During the playoffs, for the first time in his career, Peyton would take a sack, punt, and let the defense win the game. For 17 years, he had played like he, and only he, could win his team the game. And now, for the first time in his storied career, it looks like he’s at peace putting the ball in someone else’s hands when the game is on the line. But, if I’m being totally honest, I think he’s got enough left in the tank for one last game winning drive.