If you have been following this series of posts throughout the season, then you are well aware of two facts:
1. Good teams are able to keep their opponents from converting 3rd downs
2. The Broncos started this season by NOT being able to do this
The games against the Browns and the Chiefs in Denver are a continuation of what we have seen our defense do over the course of the 11 game winning streak - get off the field on 3rd down. The improvement relative to the first 5 games has been astounding
First here are the actual situations and results from the last two games on 3rd and long (7 or more)
|3rd and 9 at DEN 9||(Shotgun) B.Weeden pass incomplete short right to J.Cooper (M.Adams).|
|3rd and 7 at CLE 23||(Shotgun) B.Weeden pass short left to B.Watson pushed ob at CLV 42 for 19 yards (R.Moore).|
|3rd and 7 at CLE 45||(Shotgun) B.Weeden pass incomplete short left to G.Little. Penalty on CLV-J.Cribbs, Offensive Pass Interference, declined.|
|3rd and 9 at DEN 28||(Shotgun) B.Weeden sacked at DEN 35 for -7 yards (sack split by V.Miller and E.Dumervil). Penalty on CLV-M.Schwartz, Offensive Holding, declined.|
|3rd and 19 at CLE 11||(Shotgun) C.McCoy sacked at CLV 8 for -3 yards (D.Wolfe).|
|3rd and 10 at CLE 31||(Shotgun) C.McCoy pass short middle to T.Richardson to CLV 36 for 5 yards (W.Woodyard).|
|3rd and 10 at DEN 47||(Shotgun) C.McCoy pass incomplete short middle to B.Watson (R.Moore).|
|3rd and 13 at CLE 17||(Shotgun) C.McCoy pass incomplete deep right to J.Cooper [M.Adams].|
The Browns were held to 1 of 8 on 3rd and long, with that one coming on their only good drive of the game. Overall they were held to 3 of 12 on 3rd down, so 8 of their 12 3rd downs come in long-to-go situations. That also continued a trend that the Broncos D has had over the winning streak - giving up few yards on 1st (and usually 2nd) downs. More on this later...
|3rd and 8 at KC 22||(Shotgun) B.Quinn pass short right to S.Draughn to KC 20 for -2 yards (C.Bailey) [R.Ayers].|
|3rd and 9 at KC 25||(Shotgun) B.Quinn pass short left to D.McCluster to KC 30 for 5 yards (M.Adams).|
|3rd and 15 at KC 27||(Shotgun) B.Quinn sacked at KC 24 for -3 yards (R.Moore).|
|3rd and 20 at KC 22||(Shotgun) J.Charles left end to KC 33 for 11 yards (C.Harris).|
|3rd and 13 at KC 20||(Shotgun) J.Charles up the middle to KC 21 for 1 yard (W.Woodyard).|
The hapless Chiefs were held without a conversion on their 5 3rd and longs. On the game they were 4 of 14 on 3rd down. Their 4 conversions came on three "and 3's" and one "and 1". They were unable to convert any of their intermediate or long 3rd down situations. They were so afraid of the pass rush in the second half that they ran the both on their last two 3rd and longs.
Regular Season - Final Numbers
Overall on 3rd downs the Broncos D allowed 31.5% conversion - BEST in the league. Raise your hand if you thought the Broncos would end up there after the first two games of the year (anyone?, anyone?, Bueller?). Of the top ten teams in this stat only the Cardinals (tied for 2nd ?!?), Panthers and Lions didn't make the playoffs. In the Broncos 13 wins this year, the D only allowed 25.6% conversion on 3rd down. Contrast that with 52.3% in our 3 losses (more than double the rate). In our 11 game win streak, the D has only allowed 22.4% conversion on 3rd down. To put that another way, roughly 4 out of 5 of our opponents drives ended in a 3 and out. That is beyond outstanding. To further hammer this point home, in 7 of 16 games this year our D allowed 3 or fewer 3rd downs to be converted. We held the Saints to 1 of 12. That same Saints team converted 44% of their 3rd downs on the season (4th best in the league). We held the Panthers to 0 for 12. The Panthers converted 37% on the season (6th best in the league). Of the 63 total 3rd downs conversion we gave up, 22 came against PIT and NE or 35% of ALL 3rd down conversions happened in two games (with Joe Mays at MLB).
Not to be forgotten, the Broncos stopped 11 of 18 4th down conversion tries and of those 7 conversion 5 came in garbage time at the end of games.
For the season the Broncos allowed 26.3% of 3rd and longs to be converted (25/92). However, of those, 15 came in the first five games. So in 11 games the Broncos D only allowed 10 3rd and longs to be converted - less than one per game. Of the third downs that our D faced, 46% of them (92/200) were 7 or more yards needed for first down. During the 11 game winning streak, the D only allowed 13.6% conversion on 3rd and long. So THIS is why we all felt so confident during the winning streak (or at least I felt confident) when our D got the opponent in 3rd and long. If roughly half of our opponents 3rd downs were "and long" and we were only allowing 1 of 7 to be converted, the odds were damn good that PFM and the offense would be getting the ball back.
What does this mean for the playoffs?
This defense is good, damn good. If you need any more proof of that go look at some of the other stats that this D rolled up during the regular season.
Points per game: 18.1 (#4)
Yards allowed per play: 4.6 (#1 tie with PItt)
Yards per game: 290.8 (#2 behind Pitt)
First downs per game: 17.9 (#3 tie with CHI)
Yards allowed per carry: 3.6 (#2 behind TB)
Long runs allowed (20+): 5 (#1 tie with NE)
(40+): 0 (#1 tie with NE)
Rushing TDs allowed: 5 (#1 tie with HOU)
Rushing first downs allowed: 73 (#2 behind SF)
Yards allowed per pass: 6.4 (#5)
Long passes allowed (20+): 39 (#5)
(40+): 9 (#11) tie
QB rating against: 79.4 (#9)
Passing first downs allowed: 183 (#11 tie with CIN)
Sacks: 52 (#1 tie with StL)
Forced Fumbles: 23 (#9 tie with 3 teams)
3rd down conversion allowed: 31.5% (#1)
This is without a doubt the best Broncos defense in the past quarter century. Are there some areas that can be exploited, sure, but every defense has some areas that can be exploited. You could make an argument that this defense is as good as the Orange Crush D - but that is a topic for another post.
The takeaway is this - the MSM will focus on Manning and the offense. That is fine, because this team has one of the best defenses in the league any way you want to slice it. Let them overlook the D - they will notice the D during our playoff run. Winning is scoring more than you allow (duh!) and the SB winners usually do that (the Giants being the exception). In fact if you look back the past 10 SB winners, here are their point differences (it's not a differential if you are subtracting one number from another) and NFL rank in that stat
2011 NY (-6) 19th
2010 GB 148, 2nd
2009 NO 169, 1st
2008 PIT 124, 5th
2007 NY 22, 13th
2006 IND 67, 9th
2005 PIT 131, 5th
2004 NE 177, 1st
2003 NE 110, 6th
2002 TB 150, 2nd
Where do this year's Broncos rank? +192, 2nd in the league behind NE at +226