Thievery has been the name of the game for the Carolina Panthers defense this season and they’ve made it a point of emphasis throughout.
As the sixth ranked defense in the league, Carolina has made a living off of winning the turnover battle each week they hit the field and it’s been a huge reason for the success they’ve had.
The Panthers’ secondary has taken on a new name since late in the season, dubbing themselves, “Thieves Avenue;” a fitting name for a unit that, with the rest of the defense, led the NFL in turnovers in 2015. And to prove just how important the turnover was to this team’s success, their 39 takeaways were six more than the next closest team and a turnover differential of +20.
Not surprisingly, they also led the league in interceptions with 24. Josh Norman started the year out grabbing four picks in the first four games and Kurt Coleman ended the year tied for second in the league with seven. It wasn’t just the secondary that joined the pick-parade though as both star linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis each had four of their own.
Even missing six games, Manning threw 17 picks and barely avoided the league lead. With his arm strength and accuracy limited now, the Panthers could look to feast on Sunday and will likely be alert for every opportunity to do so.
Another telling stat that bodes well for the thieves in Carolina is that they tied for second in the league in defensive scores (5) and led the league in points off turnovers (148).
One reason for the offensive success that the Panthers have experienced this season is because of these stats. The four scores and great field position that the defense consistently set them up with certainly helped the Carolina offense lead the league in scoring and keep them rolling week in and week out.
The postseason has been no different as the turnovers, and points from them, have kept rolling in.
Against Seattle, the defense forced two interceptions with Kuechly returning one of them for six and the team came away with 10 points from the two turnovers. The next week versus Arizona the numbers grew larger as the Panthers forced seven turnovers scoring 21 points from them including another pick-six from Kuechly.
The Broncos though have limited their giveaways since entering the postseason as Manning hasn’t thrown a pick and has turned the ball over just once on a fumble with the Broncos’ quarterback realizing his limitations and making smarter throws. A trend he’ll need to continue if he plans on avoiding the Panthers’ ball-hawking thieves.
While the main storyline coming from this game is how the Broncos’ defense can deal with the MVP, Cam Newton, what could wind up swaying this matchup is if Carolina’s defense can force Manning into turning the ball over to either set up the offense with great field position or take it into the end zone themselves.
With Manning’s physical abilities not what they used to be Kuechly and Thieves Avenue could be set up for another big turnover day.