Broncos set to begin "defense" of Super Bowl title

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Count on three things from the Denver Broncos defense during Thursday night’s season-opening Super Bowl 50 rematch with the Carolina Panthers.

They’re going to load the box to stop reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton and Carolina’s diverse rushing attack. They’re going to play man-to-man coverage, daring the Panthers to throw. And they’re going to talk, a lot, mixing it up much as they did throughout that 24-10 title triumph back in February.

“We’re a chippy team. We thrive off that,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “Shoot, that’s the type of game we play. That’s the type of game we want.”

Said safety T.J. Ward to reporters: “(We're) the antagonizers. We don’t worry about what other people come in and do. It’s our house. We run the house.”

Ward laughed after saying that, but look at how things played out in the Super Bowl — a lopsided affair that left Carolina, the NFL’s highest-scoring offense in 2015, flailing and frustrated almost from the start.

Before the first quarter was over, cornerback Aqib Talib had picked up a taunting penalty for getting in the face of Panthers receiver Philly Brown. In the second quarter, Talib practically ripped off Brown’s head with a facemask penalty, which Talib later admitted was on purpose.

“They got new rules to the game, so we’ve got to keep our flash to a minimum,” Talib said, grinning. “But we’re going to play ball, man. That’s football. Football get chippy.”

In March, owners passed a rule on a one-year trial basis that automatically ejects any player who commits two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties such as taunting (but not facemasks or other types of personal fouls). So officials figure to be watching, and listening, closely to make sure things don’t get out of hand on national TV.

Asked if he has talked to players about keeping their emotions in check in the rematch, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said: “Oh hell, I want ‘em emotional. They worked hard to be emotional. They pay the price all week long. I trust them and let them play.

“Our guys are guys that usually, if they’re not talking a little bit, something’s wrong. So I want them to be themselves, to go play and have fun.”

The Broncos were still talking after winning the Super Bowl — most notably Harris, whose detailing to reporters of veteran coordinator Wade Phillips’ game plan (“Force y’all to throw the ball”) memorably contributed to Newton walking off his podium on the other side of the curtain that separated him from Harris amid postgame interviews.

The plan made perfect sense, given the Broncos’ advantages with their pass rushers against the Panthers tackles and their cornerbacks against the Panthers receivers. They just had to get Carolina in third-and-long situations and let pass rusher Von Miller and company wreck the game.

“If a team’s able to run the ball on you, you’re probably going to lose the game, because that’s where it starts,” Ward said. “It just so happens to be with them, it just sort of starts and ends with that, because that’s what they’re best at.”

This time, the Broncos will have a partisan crowd making things even more difficult on Newton, who’s had seven months to stew over having his worst game of last season on the biggest stage and all the scrutiny that came with it.

The Carolina passing game has a chance to be more dynamic in 2016 with big receiver Kelvin Benjamin back from a knee injury.

“We’re definitely expecting something different,” Ward said. “But you can’t go too far away from what you are.”

The Broncos believe their offense will be improved, too. But they’ll start a quarterback in second-year pro Trevor Siemian, who's never thrown a regular-season pass, against a talented Panthers defense led by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

By now, everyone should know what to expect from Denver’s defense, which has a couple of new starters but the same coach, core players and mentality.

“We’re always going to play man-to-man and load the box. That’s just our staple. That’s just who we are,” Harris said. “We expect to come out and leave off of where we left off last year.”

In the Panthers’ backfield, and in their ears.

 


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