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Super Bowl 50 key matchups

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange
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Super Bowl 50 key matchups
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton speaks to the media in San Jose, California on February 2, 2016. The Carolina Panthers will play the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, February 7. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

When the Panthers have the ball:

*Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers vs. weak-side linebacker DeMarcus Ware and left tackle Michael Oher vs. Broncos strong-side linebacker Von Miller.

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--Remmers and especially Oher have done a terrific job keeping defenders off quarterback Cam Newton. Oher allowed only four sacks and was penalized only three times for 25 yards in 18 games. Remmers was a free-agent surprise who played all of Carolina's offensive snaps. However, outside pass rushers Miller and Ware, known to terrorize quarterbacks, provide the sternest test yet for the Panthers' tackles. Miller has 11 sacks this season, after 14 a year ago, and a total of 60 in his five-year career. Ware has 7.5 sacks this season and 134.5 in 11 NFL seasons. The outcome here could be a key to deciding Super Bowl 50.

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*Panthers left guard Andrew Norwell, right guard Trai Turner and center Ryan Kalil vs. Broncos nose tackle Sylvester Williams, left defensive end Derek Wolfe and right defensive end Malik Jackson.

--Like most quarterbacks, not even Newton is at his best throwing under pressure, especially inside the pocket. The middle of his line helped avoid that. Turner is one of the NFL's best guards, Norwell has not allowed a hurry or a sack in 121 playoff snaps and Kalil is a model of consistency.

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But these Broncos brutalized New England quarterback Tom Brady with 20 hits in the AFC title game. Wolfe is peaking with 2.5 sacks in the post-season after having 5.5 in the regular season. Jackson had five sacks and 45 hurries this season.

RELATED SB50: Denver Broncos face tough call at QB in 2016

*Panthers tight end Greg Olsen vs. Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan.

--Covering tight ends has been a challenge for the Broncos in the playoffs. With wide receiver Antonio Brown out for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver focused coverage on inside receivers and particularly tight end Heath Miller. In the AFC Championship, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski starred for the New England Patriots.

RELATED Carolina Panthers CB Josh Norman invites WR Emmanuel Sanders to 'practice more'

Olsen is central to the Panthers' game plan. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians estimated Olsen accounts for 40 percent of Newton's primary reads. Trevathan said Olsen, the Panthers' top receiver with 77 receptions for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns, is "versatile, slippery and a great player" and Newton's security blanket. In the post-season, Olsen caught 12 for 190 yards and a touchdown.

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*Panthers wide recievers Corey "Philly" Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. vs. Broncos cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.

--Brown caught 31 passes for 436 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, but is averaging 22.5 yards on six catches in the post-season, with one touchdown. Ginn is a threat to go the distance whenever he gets the ball as a receiver or punt returner, but he does have issues dropping the ball. Talib, one of the best coverage corners in the league, had three interceptions this season and is also a threat to score whenever he has the ball. He scored eight touchdowns in eight seasons.

*Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula vs. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

--This throwback matchup features the sons of former NFL head coaches Don Shula and Bum Phillips, who once said famously, "Don Shula can take his'n and beat your'n, or he can take your'n and beat his'n."

The younger Shula played a key role in the development of Newton, who should be a lock for NFL MVP.

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Bum's son guides a Broncos defense that allowed the fewest yards in the league this season and hopes to combat Newton's passes and runs -- both scripted and improvised -- with the best set of outside linebackers in the league, Miller and Ware. Bum passed away in 2013 at the age of 90, but Don Shula, 86, will be at Super Bowl 50.

When the Broncos have the ball:

*Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning vs. Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

--This is a chess game between the on-field signal-callers for each team. Kuechly, recognized as the best linebacker in football, admits it is almost impossible to prepare for specific situations to stop Manning because the veteran quarterback has the last word. Literally. Kuechly was asked if he will try to decipher Manning's calls at the line.

"No, he's got all kinds of stuff," he said. "I tried to look at it a little bit, but the more you look at it, the more you get confused. So I dropped that hope a little while ago. He's going to have something for us and we just have to line up and play our defense."

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Translation: Ignore Manning's "Omaha, Omaha" calls at the line.

"You try to find a word and sometimes that word means one thing, then the next week it is a different word," Kuechly said. "You never know what it is and that's why he is so great."

*Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders vs. Panthers cornerbacks Josh Norman and Robert McClain.

--While Norman played at a high level this season, he has had moments where he proved vulnerable. Manning will try to find those instances where he can find an opening for one of his top pass-catchers. In addition, quarterbacks have gone after McClain consistently, and he allowed a touchdown in both playoff wins over Seattle and Arizona. Those two teams went after him 27 times, which was 18 more than Norman was targeted.

Thomas and Sanders are capable of making big plays at any time and being game-changers, which could be the wild card in this game. If the Broncos' offensive line can protect Manning and give him time to get the ball to Thomas or Sanders, while moving the chains, that can provide the opportunity for Denver to control the game and score enough points to combat the Panthers. Thomas will be playing with the emotion of having his mom at the game after she was released from prison several months ago and has now been able to watch her son play for the first time in 15 years.

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*Broncos left guard Evan Mathis, center Matt Paradis and right guard Louis Vasquez -- vs. Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Kuechly.

--Although Manning is the big name on Denver's offense, the Broncos must be able to run to succeed. Few defenses boast Carolina's ability to blow up game plans through interior pressure. Short lived in opposing backfields this season and emerged as a Pro Bowl player with 11 sacks. This week, Mathis raved about Short's rare combination of burst, long arms and instincts that make him dominant against the run and the pass, which was obvious in playoff victories over Seattle and Arizona.

Mathis, 34, signed with the Broncos after he was released by Philadelphia last offseason, is a valuable veteran on a line with a lot of new parts this season. Nagging injuries meant rookie Max Garcia started the final three regular-season games and 26 snaps in the AFC Championship Game. Healthier, Mathis started both playoff games and played in 129 of 142 combined snaps. He said this week the ankle "feels pretty good," and his foot quickness will be tested by Short's initial burst.

*Broncos tight end Owen Daniels vs. Panthers strong safety Roman Harper.

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--Daniels, had 46 catches for 517 yards in the regular season, but is coming off a two-touchdown performance in the AFC Championship Game against New England. Certainly Manning took intensive notes on how teams attacked the center of the field against the Panthers this season. Manning played against Harper in the Super Bowl before. Harper was with the victorious Saints at the time.

The Panthers are sure to mix up the coverage, using their outstanding linebackers to help. But Harper expects the Broncos to mix it up too, adding tight ends Vernon Davis and Virgil Green to some alignments.

"We've got to make them uncomfortable and make them react to us and not dictate to what we're trying to do," Harper said.

*Broncos punter Britton Colquitt vs. Panthers punter returner Ted Ginn.

--Denver special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said if Colquitt gets a chance to punt six times, he cannot allow Ginn to catch each of those punts. Ginn was the source of big plays all season. He had a 32-yard return against the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game. He averaged 10.3 yards per return in the regular season. But he also drops more than his share of passes and punts.

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Colquitt averaged 43.6 yards per boot in the season, but his main job Sunday should be kicking the ball away from Ginn.

Also contributing were Howard Balzer, Derek Harper, Tom LaMarre, Jeff Reynolds and Rick Tracewell of The Sports Xchange.

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