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Monday, February 8, 2016

Give Denver's Offense a Little Credit

The dominant narrative following the Denver Broncos' upset win over the heavily favored Carolina Panthers is that the Broncos' defense carried a somewhat anemic offense led by an aged and banged-up Peyton Manning, thus once again "proving" the oft-repeated mantra that great defenses win Super Bowls. I don't think anyone would question how well the Broncos defense played. They shut down one of the best offenses in the NFL. But a great defensive performance is also a function of how the opposing offense plays (and vice versa). When the 49ers beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV 55-10, clearly the 49ers' defense played better than the Broncos' defense. But was it because it was a superior defense, or was it because the 49ers offense was so damn good? Hard to know.

There's another problem with the dominant narrative. Namely, that the Carolina defense also played great. It held the Broncos offense to fewer total yards than the Carolina offense. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. As FiveThirtyEight noted last week ("Inside One Of The Best Defensive Matchups In Super Bowl History"), the Broncos and Panthers ranked 1-2 in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) ratings. Of course, the Broncos' offense wasn't as good as Carolina's and that certainly accounts for some of the disparity in yards allowed by the two respective defenses.

Still, I think Denver's offense deserves a little credit. Anyone who watched the NFC Championship game a couple of weeks ago will remember what Carolina's defense did to the Arizona Cardinals' offense. Carson Palmer was under constant pressure, something he didn't handle too well (actually, most quarterbacks don't handle it too well - "Tom Brady Couldn't Take the Pressure". That did not happen in this game. Why? I suspect because of great preparation (kudos to the Denver coaching staff), great offensive line play, and, well, Peyton Manning didn't panic like Carson Palmer did. Manning's (probable) final game will not go down as one of his best, but let's not dismiss it altogether.

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