3rd and long - statistical anomaly or systemic problem?

Despite the Broncos win in week one, there were a big problem for our defense - getting off the field on 3rd and long (3rd and 6 or more). Against Pittsburgh we hoped that it was just a function of Big Ben being Big Ben and doing what he is one of the best in the league at doing - converting on 3rd and long. The problem, however, showed up again against the Falcons. Make the jump and let's look at the numbers...

So here is a recap of what happened against the Steelers. They converted 11-18 3rd downs. Of those 18 third down situations, 9 were 3rd and long. Here are those 9 situations and their outcomes:

3rd and 15 – pass for 14 yards to Wallace
3rd and 9 – pass for 13 yards to Sanders
3rd and 13 – sacked for -9
3rd and 11 – pass for 23 to Brown
3rd and 13 – pass for 17 to Sanders
3rd and 12 – pass for 15 to Sanders
3rd and 10 – penalty on Rahim Moore for 15 yards
3rd and 18 – pass for 23 to Miller
3rd and 7 – pass for 8 to Miller

Almost paradoxically, the Broncos were much better on 3rd and medium or short than on 3rd and long. The Steelers only converted 4 of 9 (44%) on medium or short. So how did the Broncos D fare against the efficient Falcons offense on 3rd and long?

Well the Falcons were held to 5-13 on 3rd down, but of those 5 conversions, 3 were on 3rd and long. Here are the situations and the outcomes again:

3rd and 12 at DEN 19
M.Ryan pass incomplete deep left to J.Jones.
3rd and 9 at ATL 48 PENALTY on DEN-T.Carter, Defensive Pass Interference, 14 yards, enforced at ATL 48 - No Play. Denver challenged the tipped pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass incomplete short left to R.White (M.Adams).
3rd and 7 at ATL 20 (Shotgun) M.Ryan scrambles left guard to ATL 27 for 7 yards. PENALTY on DEN-J.Mays, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at ATL 27.
3rd and 7 at ATL 33 (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass short right to T.Gonzalez ran ob at ATL 42 for 9 yards.
3rd and 8 at ATL 6 (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass short left to R.White to ATL 21 for 15 yards (T.Porter).
3rd and 8 at ATL 34 (Shotgun) M.Ryan scrambles up the middle to ATL 41 for 7 yards (J.Leonhard).
3rd and 7 at ATL 6 (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass incomplete deep left to J.Jones.

So the Broncos again were better against 3rd and short or medium (allowing only 2 of 6 to be converted) than they were against 3rd and long (3 of 7).

Last year the league average for converting on all 3rd down situations was 38%. So far on this season the Broncos have allowed 16 of 31 (52%) conversions on 3rd down. Specifically the Broncos D has allowed 10 of 16 (63%) 3rd and longs to be converted. I don't know what the league average for conversions on 3rd and long was, but I am certain that was less than 30%. If I were to guess I would have to say that it was around 20% last season.

This is alarming, but it should be tempered by two things:

1. The two offenses that the Broncos have faced so far are both pretty good offenses. Both teams made the playoffs last year and both were effective on 3rd downs in 2011 and let's not overlook the fact that the Broncos are PUTTING good offenses in a lot of 3rd and long situations. Our 1st and 2nd down D has been tremendous.

2. The caching staff has got to be aware of this problem and I am confident that steps will be taken to get this problem under control. The numbers admittedly improved from game 1 to game 2.

I am not trying to be "negative nelly" here. I noticed a lot of good things in last night's loss, but these 3rd and long numbers are very poor. If I were able to still include polls I would post a poll asking about your opinion on this matter. How concerned are you with the problem and do you think it will improve in the remaining 14 games? So post your responses in the comments. Thanks for reading and GO BRONCOS!

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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