Defensive mid-season review

This will be my usual 3rd and long - so it will cover the game against the Washington Team with an offensive-to-some name, but I will also be looking at how the defense has fared in general so far this season. As an added bonus, I will also be comparing our defensive performance to the defensive performance of that team that plays in our division. You know, that team whose defense is supposedly the second coming of the 2000 Ravens? So buckle up folks this is going to be a long and hopefully enjoyable ride...


Since we are at the half-way point in the season, I will reiterate why I track 3rd and long performance:

1. Good defenses force the opposing offense into 3rd and long more than 50% of the time.

2. Great defenses stop their opponents 4 out of 5 times from converting on 3rd and long.

I track these numbers to see how the Broncos D is doing and to get a feel for how our D is comparing to last year's D (which was great on 3rd and long) and of course to compare to other Ds in the league (which is difficult since no stat site that I know tracks this for the entire league).

3rd and Long performance

Last Sunday our defense allowed the ColoredSkins to convert on 6 of 14 (43%) 3rd downs overall - of those, 3 were on 3rd and long:

3rd and 7 at WSH 39 (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete deep right to J.Reed.
3rd and 9 at WSH 25 (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass short right to S.Moss to WAS 35 for 10 yards (C.Harris) [R.Ayers]. Denver challenged the first down ruling, and the play was Upheld. (Timeout #1.)
3rd and 8 at WSH 42 (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete deep right to A.Robinson. PENALTY on DEN-K.Webster, Illegal Contact, 5 yards, enforced at WAS 42 - No Play.
3rd and 9 at DEN 31 (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass short middle to R.Helu to DEN 17 for 14 yards (D.Ihenacho) [V.Miller].
3rd and 7 at DEN 48 (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short right to S.Moss [M.Jackson].
3rd and 10 at WSH 20 (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete deep middle to A.Robinson [M.Jackson].
3rd and 19 at WSH 11 (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass short right to P.Garcon to WAS 20 for 9 yards (R.Ayers).

So we allowed conversion on 3 of 7 3rd and longs last Sunday. They actually converted three in a row (one by penalty) but none of them were in the second half (the final one came on the second quarter TD drive). The three "and long" conversions matched the season high set against Baltimore (but that was on 15 tries not 7). The other three converted 3rd downs all came on 3rd and 1 (two runs and one pass). For the season the Broncos are allowing 25.8% conversion on 3rd and long (16/62). Overall on 3rd down the Broncos are allowing teams to convert 37.5% of the time - 17th in the league, KC is 1st with 25.2% allowed. The Broncos have forced teams into 112 3rd downs this season, 62 of those have been 3rd and long (55.4%). Last season the Broncos led the league in 3rd conversion % against (31.5%). For the 2012 season, the Broncos allowed 26.3% of 3rd and long to be converted, so we are effectively comparable to last year on 3rd and long.



Comparing our D to KC - on 3rd and long

Ok, so how have our biggest rivals down so far this year defensively on 3rd and long? As mentioned above, the Chiefs lead the league in 3rd down conversion % allowed at 25.2% (#2 is not even close - DET at 29.0%). Worst in the league is MIN allowing a whopping 51.0% conversion. KC has forced opponents into 3rd and long 63% of the time (60 of 95 3rd downs). So almost two out of three 3rd downs for KC's opponents are 3rd and 7 or more. In those situations they have only allowed 12 conversions - 20% or exactly 1 in 5 (12/60). 12 third and long conversions over 8 games is pretty impressive even if you have faced 2nd and 3rd string QBs in half your games (Gabbert, Fitzpatrick, Keenum and Campbell). In two games the Chiefs did not allow a 3rd and long conversion - interestingly, both were against "Pro-Bowl" QBs (Eli and Romo). There were four games last year in which denver did not allow any conversions on 3rd and long. By forcing their opponents into third and long most of the time and consistently stopping them in those situations, the Chiefs have a defense that is only allowing 12.3 pts/game. The 2000 Ravens - one of the best defenses of all time - allowed 10.3 pts/game. The 2005 Bears, who got to the Super Bowl almost solely on their defense, allowed 12.6 pts/game. I sincerely doubt that KC can maintain their defensive pace since the QBs they will face in the second half are much better than the QBs that they faced in the first half of the season, but I'm sure that some Chiefs fans will try, in vain, to dispute that though.

ok - back to the Broncos now...


1st down Run Defense

We generally are able to get teams in third and long because our team has been very effective so far this year against 1st down runs. This was actually NOT the case on Sunday. The team from DC ran the ball 14 times on 1st down for 73 yards (5.2 ypc) for the game - 27 of those yards coming on one run (first play of their only real TD drive). Interestingly, most of those first down runs occurred in the first half when they got 69 yards on 10 carries (6.9 ypc). I'm not sure of the cause, but the Broncos were much better at stopping it when it did occur in the second half. The 4 first down carries in the second half netted 4 yards. Each of their first two drives in the second half started with a first down run by Morris (for 4 and 3 yards respectively). A friend who is a fan of yesterday's opponent wondered aloud to me why his team stopped running on first down during the second half. Of the 13 first down situations that they had in the second half, they chose to run on 4 of them. Admittedly, the last 6 of those where when they were trailing by increasingly large margins.


On the season we have allowed allowed 344 yards on 98 first down carries (3.5 ypc). We have 16 TFL and 10 stops for no gain on first down runs this year. Overall we have allowed 652 yards (6th in the league) on 192 carries (3.4 ypc - 2nd in the league). Some times the rushing defensive stats can be skewed if your offense is good/great (which ours is), this is sort of the case for the Broncos run D during the first half of the season. We are 26th in the league with only 24.0 rushing attempts per game against us. Interestingly, the teams with fewer carries against per game all have winning records (DET, NO, GB, KC, SD and CAR). I'm not sure whether teams are not trying to run against us because it has been failing (getting stuffed) or because their offense is behind and throwing to get back into the game. It is probably a combination of the two, but the fact is teams are choosing to throw instead of run against us. I find it surprising that teams have run so little against KC and SD (only 22 attempts per game for both) since both are giving up significantly more per carry than we allow (3.8 and 4.7 ypc respectively).


So far this season the Broncos opponents have been an interesting split of teams that can't run the ball at all (Jags, Ravens and Giants are the three worst teams in the league in terms of yards per carry - the Cowboys are tied with us at 24th in yards per carry at 3.7) and teams that rely heavily on the run (PHI, WAS, OAK and IND). In terms of yards per carry those teams rank 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 8th in the league respectively.

Yards per Play (allowed)

This is probably my second favorite stat since it gets right down to the basic unit of defensive performance (outside of points allowed). Last season the Broncos led the league is yard allowed per play at 4.6. Currently the Broncos are allowing 5.6 yards per play (24th in the league). The Seahawks and Browns are tied for the league lead with 4.6 yards per play allowed. KC is 12th at 5.0 ypp. I expect our ypp allowed to drop significantly during the second half of the season. Having Woody and Von on the field will make a big difference - allowing our D to play much more like the 2012 version. Finishing the season with a number is in the 5.1 range is not unrealistic. Currently the league average is 5.3. The Chargers are currently the worst in the league allowing 6.3 yards per play.


Big Plays Allowed

This is an area where we have really fallen off relative to last season. In 2012 our defense only allowed 39 catches of 20+ and 9 catches of 40+ for the entire season. So far this season we have already allowed 39 catches of 20+ (worst in the league), matching what we gave up all of last season. We have only allowed 4 catches of 40+, so we are on pace to tie that stat from last season. The huge number of 20+ yard catches against us could largely be attributed to the lack of pressure from front 4. For comparison the Seahawks, through 8 games, have only allowed 14 catches of 20+ yards.

In the run game last year we allowed only 5 runs of 20+ all season. We have already allowed 5 this season. In 2012 we gave up ZERO runs of 40+ and we have yet to give one up this year. More than half the league has not allowed a run of 40+ though and there have only been 25 runs of 40+ in the NFL this season. The best team in the league in this stat, is the Raiders, who have allowed zero runs of 20+ this season (through 7 games). The worst team in the league (in most things), the Jags, has allowed 12.


Passing Defense overall

The TV announcers that we have gotten so far this season, seemingly point out that our passing defense is "dead last" every few minutes when the other team has the ball. This is not correct. While our passing D so far this season has been a shadow of what it was in 2012, it is not dead last in any stat other than 20+ yard catches allowed. In net yards per attempts, our D is 23rd. In total passing yards allowed we are 30th. In passing TDs allowed, we're 27th. In QB rating against we're 12th best in the league (82.3). That is not a typo. 645-aatse

In completion % allowed we are 9th best in the league (58.8%). Again, that is not a type. Our D leads the league (tied with SEA) in interceptions with 13. Some might say that this is polishing a turd, but I tend to think about it as an indication that our defense as a whole is not too far off from the excellence that they were able to achieve last season. Health (Woody's and Harris' mainly) and Von's absence have played huges roles in our defensive regression.


A final random note of the D before the obligatory poll: Our D has forced 9 fumbles in 8 games and has recovered 3. The 6 fumbles NOT recovered by our D makes them one of the unluckiest defenses in the league. On a percentage basis the Jets (forced 13, recovered 2), the Chargers and the Steelers (forced 7, recovered 1) have had worse luck. On the flip side the luckiest team guessed it...the Chiefs who have forced 14 and recovered 10 of them. Arguably the Cowboys could be considered luckier since they have recovered 8 of 10 that they have forced, but I guess that comes down to which you think is luckier (forcing more AND recovering more or simply recovering a greater % of fumbles by the opposing offense). Historically fumble recovery is a 50/50 proposition, so anything significantly far from the 50% is truly a product of luck.

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

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