The Denver Broncos head into Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers as underdogs in every category imaginable. Carried by their defense nearly all season long the Broncos now face their biggest test against an incredibly explosive Panthers team.
All the talk of how Denver can topple Carolina is based on Wade Phillips and his phenomenal defense which gave Tom Brady fits in the AFC Title game hitting the quarterback 23 times, but the offense will also have to carry some of the load and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will need to shake off what has been a subpar post season and come up big this Sunday.
Thomas has combined for just six receptions and 52 yards so far this post season and has found himself on the wrong end of drops and some bad throws from Peyton Manning. However with Josh Norman awaiting number 88 and the confident Carolina cornerback using his media opportunities to try and play some mind games with the Denver pass catchers Thomas will need to be at his very best.
During the 43-8 Super Bowl XLVIII thrashing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks Thomas put together an impressive stat line of 13-118-1TD on 18 targets, although a lot of the yards came in garbage time. The game may have been a blowout but it’s the kind of stat line Thomas will have to produce if the Broncos offense is to keep pace with a Carolina team which has put some of the best defenses to the sword.
A lot has changed since Denver’s record breaking 2013 offense but Gary Kubiak along with offensive co-ordinator Rick Dennison will have to find a way to work their number one receiver into the game. Thomas’ whole season has been rather a disappointment putting together just four 100+ yard games during the regular season and even those were against suspect secondary’s. That compared to 10 100+ yard games he had during 2014.
Thomas had a tough time against New England Patriot’s corner Malcolm Butler in the AFC Championship game with Butler jamming two passes loose from Thomas during critical drives. The Carolina corners will look to rough up the wide out early and make him nervous for the rest of the game – much like Seattle did in Super Bowl XLVIII with a huge Kam Chancellor hit.
Thomas will have help with Emmanuel Sanders on the other side and hope that the running game will keep the Panthers defense honest but not many teams have won a Super Bowl with their number one pass catcher dropping catchable targets or being soft when going up for contested catches.
What may help Denver get the 28-year-old into the game and find a nice rhythm with Manning is to run past plays from bunch formations to ensure the Carolina secondary cannot play press man as well as getting quick passing patterns going. It will also be a point of interest that Norman does not travel – Kubiak has the option to move his number one receiver around and let Norman deal with the smooth route running and quick double moves of Sanders. If Thomas is lined up against the Panthers other defensive back – Robert McClain then Denver and number 88 may have some joy not only for Thomas but for Owen Daniels, C.J. Anderson and the other pass catchers who will be more under the radar in Andre Caldwell and Jordan Norwood.
Thomas has had a miserable post season so far but his sheer size and ability means he has to be accounted for. His size and speed combination means that Carolina may put a safety over the top to help the corner which should see other receivers get open and if Manning is as steady as he was against New England then he should be able to find the gaps in the defense.
The Lombardi trophy is the ultimate symbol of football being a team game and whoever is the winner this Sunday will have been the best team over the course of a season but all teams need their biggest cogs to turn in order for the machine to fully function and Thomas is a huge part of that Denver team. He’ll need his biggest game to help ensure this visit to the Super Bowl does not end like his last trip to one.