The Denver Broncos have the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, but no one is better than the Carolina Panthers when it comes to taking the ball away.
The Panthers led the NFL with an astounding 39 takeaways — 24 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries. To put that in perspective, that’s six more than the next-closest team (Arizona) and more than three times as many takeaways as the Dallas Cowboys (11).
Over their neighboring locker stalls, the Carolina defensive backs have a professionally made sign that reads, “Thieves Avenue.” Safety Kurt Coleman, who had two picks in the NFC championship game against the Cardinals, explained the moniker:
“Thieves Avenue is just where the thieves live,” he said. “That’s where we reside. . . . The thieves are the people amongst ourselves in the [defensive backs] unit, and it all started at the beginning of the year when we said we wanted to lead the league in takeaways. That has kind of been our thing.”
A lot of people believe a two-week buildup to the Super Bowl is excessive. Peyton Manning is not one of those people.
Manning, known for his meticulous preparation, said Tuesday that the extra time to get ready for Carolina is especially helpful because the Broncos don’t play the Panthers often. The teams have met four times in their history, most recently in 2012 when Denver won at Carolina, 36-14, and sacked Cam Newton seven times.
But Manning conceded it’s also important not to over-prepare for an opponent.
“I think there’s probably something to that, not for me, but probably for anybody,” he said. “You certainly have more time to prepare than you normally would; usually you have one week and even if you have a bye week in the middle of the season you’re not spending that bye week working on the next opponent, you’re using it to physically rest and get away, if you will.
Manning said the extra time also helps because of all the distractions the Super Bowl presents, including distributing game tickets among friends and family.
“I’ve got some high school buddies, some college buddies coming to the game that have been to every other Super Bowl that I’ve played in,” he said. “These are guys that I’ve known since I was a little kid and have special friendships and relationships with so it’s fun when you call them and say, ‘Hey, got a couple seats for you, do you want to go?’ So I think it’s good to have extra days to be able to take care of that and then get into your preparation.”
Words of wisdom
Newton was asked Tuesday what words of advice he might have for a high school student, and he dispensed them from his interview table.
“Don’t be afraid to dream,” he said. “I was in their position. At times, I find myself thinking like a high school student, 16, 17 years old. Whatever you decide to do, whether you’re a firefighter, I’ll tell you what my father told me — just be good at something.
“He said if you’re good at something, if you’re great at something, you can always get compensated for it whether you’re the best firefighter, you’re the best police officer, you’re the best artist, the best rapper, the best preacher, football player, basketball player . . . your talent, your skill alone will get you compensated for what you want in this life. I’m happy that I had the influence of people like my father in my life and it’s carried me through to this part that I’m in right now.”
Odds men out
Carolina is currently a six-point favorite to win Sunday. Typically, the coach of the underdog team likes to pounce on that and use it to motivate his players. At least publicly, Denver’s Gary Kubiak said he doesn’t plan to hammer away at that message.
“I think as a coach at this game, if I have to go mention to my team about every article and everything that’s written each and every day, I don’t think I have to go there,” he said. “They’re smart players. They’ve been at it for a long time. I would just say this — we’ve been in this situation before throughout the course of the season.
“We have great respect for their football team and what they’re capable of doing and how they got here, but we also have a lot of confidence in our football team, too. We’ll stay focused on ourselves, stay in the moment and continue to get ready to play. We’re looking forward to it.”
Newton stand in
No one will confuse Brock Osweiler for Newton.
Osweiler, who backs up Manning, has been simulating the Panthers’ dual-threat quarterback in practices, Kubiak said.
“Well, he’s not quite as fast, I can tell you that,” Kubiak said of the 6-foot-7, 240-pound Osweiler.
Osweiler said that the multitalented Newton was “one of those guys I don’t think you can simulate.”
“But at the same time,” he added, “I am very prideful in giving our defense a great look on scout team.”
Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib supplements practice with his own preparation for Newton.
“Tape, man,” he said. “You’ve got to stay on that iPad. You’ve got to stay on that iPad and study. That’s about all I can say.”
Panthers rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson benefited from playing several positions in college at Washington.
“But it also gave me a headache,” he said. “Because at practice I didn’t know where I was going to be that week. If I was gonna go to running back or if I was gonna go to linebacker. So it was kind of like play it by ear.”
Thompson, 21, is part of a linebacker corps that includes Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly.
Playing cornerback, linebacker and running back at Washington “really did help me out” Thompson said.
“Just understand the game a lot more from both sides of the ball,” he said.
Murphy is sent home
Ryan Murphy, a safety on the Broncos practice squad, was sent home after he was questioned by law enforcement officers during a prostitution sting in San Jose that involved his brother, according to reports.
Murphy’s brother was cited for solicitation, but Murphy was not cited, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Murphy, 23, is from Oakland and played at Oregon State.
“Although practice squad safety Ryan Murphy was not cited by police, we decided it was best for the team if we continued our preparations for Super Bowl 50 without him,” Kubiak said in a statement the Broncos posted on Twitter. Kubiak also said Murphy’s status as a practice squad safety had not changed.
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