The Orange Crush Revived: Denver’s D Devastates Carolina

A great defense nicknamed “The Orange Crush” led the 1977 Denver Broncos to an AFC title.  A defense that was even better led the 2015 Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship.

An MVP quarterback doesn’t do much good if you can’t keep him upright in the pocket and Carolina couldn’t protect Cam Newton from this modern-day version of the Orange Crush. The Broncos destroyed the Panthers’ mediocre offensive tackles all night long and because of it, brought home a Super Bowl trophy with a 24-10 win.

Von Miller was an easy choice for game MVP. He forced the fumble that put Denver in control, as they recovered for a touchdown and grabbed a 10-0 first quarter lead. And he forced the fumble that sealed the game in the fourth quarter. Miller and DeMarcus Ware spent as much time in the Carolina backfield as Cam Newton did.

Nor could this be seen as a huge surprise. Carolina offensive tackle Michael Oher was a great story in The Blind Side, but as an NFL offensive tackle he’s been serviceable at best. Oher was no match for Miller and Ware. The Denver secondary’s coverage skills are similarly renowned, and even with corner Aqib Talib blowing some plays and making some foolish mistakes, the Broncos’ locking up of the Panther receivers could have been foreseen.

I bring this up, because the ease with which everyone was crowning Carolina just never added up. Conversely, that means we also accept that that the Panthers did not “choke.” This wasn’t a fluke. Carolina had the more talented quarterback, but Denver had the better and deeper football team. I wondered if that still mattered, as the NFL continues to tailor its game to quarterbacks, but to my satisfaction, the complete team concept still matters. And it’s why Denver won a Super Bowl.

A few other thoughts on the game and its aftermath…

*Peyton Manning propped up a lot of bad defenses in Indianapolis for a lot of years, and he had to take the heat when those team shortcomings did the Colts in at playoff time. He had to watch Tom Brady (whom I love and consider the best of all time) get the rings and accolades for being a clutch performer, all the while Brady played with a demonstrably superior defense. So if there were ever a quarterback who deserved to get carried to a Super Bowl trophy by his defense, it’s Peyton Manning. Call it balancing the scales of justice.

*It was four years ago that the Indianapolis Colts decided Peyton was washed up and would never come back. So rather than trade the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Indianapolis effectively gave up the entire haul that would come from such a deal (at least three first-round picks), plus two MVP-caliber seasons from Peyton and a Super Bowl ring. That’s a lot for Andrew Luck to live up to.

*The playcalling on both sides was awful. Carolina’s defense was almost as dominant as Denver’s and in the same way—attacking and being in the pocket. Yet there were precious few attempts at bubble screens, draws or traps. It became predictable in the first half that Peyton would get seven or eight yards on first down and then the Broncos would try a couple fruitless runs into the middle. I have no idea why Carolina kept running dive plays into line that had no chance of succeeding.

*Cam Newton is going to have a hard time living down his failure to aggressive go after the fumble Miller forced at the end of the game. If Cam gets on it, Carolina has to punt, but it’s still 16-10 and the way the Panther defense was playing, the MVP probably gets another reasonable shot to win it. But Newton stared at the ball as though this were an October game against Tampa Bay, where self-preservation was more important. It’s quite possible that after a game of getting battered about like never before, the quarterback just didn’t have it in him to get clocked one more time.

Newton’s performance at the postgame press conference was an embarrassment to himself and the league, as he got up and simply walked out. It’s not a good look for a multi-million dollar quarterback under any circumstances, but especially one who played the frontrunner so willingly all season long.

Having said that, I’m left to recall the aftermath of the Wisconsin-Duke NCAA basketball final last April. As a Badger fan, I was embarrassed at head coach Bo Ryan’s petulance in postgame interviews. Ryan was 68-years-old. Newton is 26. The quarterback deserves to take the heat over failing to take the heat, but let’s keep it in perspective.

Ultimately, let’s keep in perspective the biggest lesson we can all take away from tonight. You still win championships with defense. A great quarterback puts an NFL team in contention and can win you a Fantasy League. But the Seahawks won in 2013 because of the Legion of Boom. Tom Brady got a fourth ring in 2014 because the Patriots produced their best defense since the dynasty years of the early ‘00s. And now the Broncos are the next in line.

Even though I’m not a Denver fan per se, I loved watching this team all year. From their Week 1 shutdown of a Baltimore team we all thought was good, to their midseason Sunday Night beatdown of Green Bay to this final playoff run where they locked up Ben Roethlisberger, Brady and Newton in succession. The defense never rested in the Rocky Mountains and they are a deserving Super Bowl champ.