Denver Broncos Must Attack Young Carolina Panthers Secondary

The Broncos' best shot on Thursday will be to exploit the inexperience on Carolina's defense.

One of the major story lines ahead of the Broncos-Panthers season opener has been about inexperience. Namely, the inexperience of the starting quarterback of the Denver BroncosTrevor Siemian. We've all heard the story by this point; Siemian is a seventh-rounder with just one kneel-down of experience to speak of, as far as his regular season experience goes.

There's even less experience on the other side of the field, however. When Siemian drops back and surveys the Carolina secondary, he'll see two rookie cornerbacks, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, staring back at him.

This situation is of course a remnant of the fallout from the Panthers rescinding the franchise tag they had placed on Josh Norman. Their depth past him wasn't very comforting after Norman's departure and the retirement of Charles Tillman, which led to the drafting of Bradberry (2nd round), Worley (3rd round), and the opportunistic Zack Sanchez (5th round), who was just placed on their practice squad. Panthers boast one of the best front-sevens in football, but this is still a huge gamble, even for Riverboat Ron. Entering a season in which you are more or less expected to (at least) return to the Super Bowl is hardly the time to be starting a pair of first-timers at perhaps the most difficult positions on the field. Even worse, their first assignment will be keeping tabs on Denver's prolific duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Bradberry and Worley are both plenty athletic and certainly look the part, but there's still no substitute for good ol' fashioned live reps. In training camp, they've seen Kelvin Benjamin, who is built like Thomas but runs routes like they were drawn up on a seismograph, and Ted Ginn Jr., who has the speed of Sanders but drops every other pass thrown his way.

Worley even struggled against a fellow rookie, Tajae Sharpe of the Tennessee Titans, giving up 5 catches for 62 yards in Week 2 of the preseason. To put it simply, they haven't seen the precision and craftiness the Broncos wide receivers bring to the table and no one knows yet if they can handle it. 

That makes the task pretty straightforward for the Broncos offense; they have to go after the rookies early and often. Anything the Broncos gain on the ground will have to be hard-earned, and same goes for the tight ends who will have to try to separate from Carolina's athletic linebacker corps.

The path of least resistance becomes the passing lanes outside the hashes. They shouldn't even mess around with the inside screens that Thomas is sure to drop anyway, just isolate him and Sanders on either of the corners and gun it their way.

The odds are the Panthers will dial up mostly zone to protect their corners, so the Broncos pass-catchers might be using all of the branches on their route tree to find a soft spot. of the great offensive minds (Belichick, Popovich, me when I'm playing Madden) realize that you always attack the defense's weakest link. And, keep in mind, this Panthers defense is strong everywhere, except outside. 

An area where this potential mismatch becomes even more emphasized in the red zone. Thomas lost a little bit of his juice inside the 20-yard line last year, but it's time to fix that. One of the better options on goal-to-go would be setting up Thomas on one of the young guys and just throwing a classic one-read, one-step fade routes that he can go up and snag over anyone.

Essentially, the Broncos just need to live on the outside. They might as well run it outside too and test out their ability to shed some blocks. The lion's share of the passing production in the Super Bowl came on the outside to Emmanuel Sanders where he could work on the corners behind Norman, who was too busy patting himself on the back for how well he was covering Thomas.

Of course, this plan isn't foolproof. Bradberry and Worley could end up being the next coming of Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes. I strongly doubt it, however. Yards will be hard to come by, and you have to use every potential advantage to keep moving those chains and racking up points.

Like the Broncos with Siemian, the Panthers have their own unknowns. It just comes down to who can figure the other one out first.

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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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