Super Bowl 50: Pass rush still most valuable NFL asset

A heavily-favored team with a near-perfect record and a quarterback named Most Valuable Player was physically overwhelmed by an opponent with a ferocious pass rush in a low-scoring matchup.

Sounds a lot like the plot of Super Bowl XLII, when the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots, doesn’t it? The Patriots were a perfect 18-0 at that point whereas the Carolina Panthers were 17-1 heading into Sunday’s game. But other than the record, there were massive shades of similarity.

The Denver Broncos defeated the Panthers, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50 almost exclusively on the backs of their defense. The normally versatile Cam Newton was overwhelmed by a Broncos pass rush that got to him from all directions. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller recorded 2.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. Veteran pass rush specialist DeMarcus Ware added 2 sacks. And cornerback Chris Harris, safety Darian Stewart, and defensive end Derek Wolfe combined for another 2.5 sacks.

The fact that Newton was brought down by defenders from every level of the defense and from both sides of the field proved just how overwhelmed Newton and the Panthers’ offensive line really were.

I didn’t think it was possible for the Broncos to surpass their defensive effort in the AFC Championship two weeks ago when they knocked around Tom Brady, but they did just that, and they did it on a much bigger stage.

If there is one lesson we can learn from the Super Bowl 50 champion Broncos, it’s that a franchise quarterback is not the most important NFL asset in today’s era of football. Instead, it’s that defense indeed wins championships, but to narrow it down even further, it’s the pass rush that takes the cake.

The 2007-08 New England Patriots were one of the greatest teams of all time. But they lost because Brady was under duress the entire game, he was uncomfortable in the pocket, and he didn’t have the time or the room to step up and make throws like he normally would.

That game alone should have demonstrated the importance of a pass rush. That was the epitome of the theory that a pass rush defeats a great quarterback most of the time. But Sunday’s game was just another in a long line of examples to back that theory up.

Yes, a great quarterback — which is a rarity in the NFL given the low supply and heavy demand — is still one of the most important positions in not just football but in all of sports. But it falls just behind having a suffocating pass rush.

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