So there it is. Another regular season complete, another 13-3 record and another #1 seed in the AFC. The offense, at times, made it look so easy that many of us took for granted the sheer greatness of what was being accomplished before our eyes. I could recount all of the offensive records that this team set, but I won't, since this blog focuses on the defense. So let's focus on the defense in the last two games of the regular season. From a scoring standpoint, they were the two best games of the year from the defense.
Prior to the last two games, the fewest points our D had allowed on the season was 17 to the Chiefs. Say what you want about how poor the Houston and Jokeland offenses are, but our D did give up big points to some very mediocre offenses in the previous 14 games (27 to toothless Ravens, 23 to hobbled Giants, 19 to the impotent Jags, etc.). So only allowing 20 total points (with our starters playing) during the last two games is improvement. We'll see two weeks from now if it is enough improvement.
The Texans were able to convert 6 of 16 3rd downs on us, but we forced them into 10 "and long" situations. They only converted on two of those. Here are the lot:
|3rd and 10 at HOU 20||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass short left to K.Martin to HST 23 for 3 yards (C.Bailey).|
|3rd and 18 at HOU 43||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass short middle to A.Johnson to HST 48 for 5 yards (D.Trevathan).|
|3rd and 11 at DEN 18||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass incomplete short right to A.Johnson [R.Ayers].|
|3rd and 10 at HOU 20||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass incomplete deep left to A.Johnson (M.Adams).|
|3rd and 9 at DEN 26||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass short right to K.Martin pushed ob at DEN 16 for 10 yards (C.Harris).|
|3rd and 9 at DEN 15||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass short right to K.Martin for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN.|
|3rd and 10 at HOU 35||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass incomplete deep middle to A.Johnson (C.Harris).|
|3rd and 12 at DEN 34||(Shotgun) M.Schaub sacked at DEN 43 for -9 yards (D.Trevathan).|
|3rd and 14 at HOU 29||(Shotgun) M.Schaub pass incomplete deep left to A.Johnson.|
|3rd and 21 at HOU 9||(Shotgun) J.Grimes up the middle to HST 16 for 7 yards (M.Jackson).|
Their two "and long" conversions came on back-to-back 3rd down plays on their only TD drive of the day. The second resulted in the actual TD. When we didn't get the Texans in long 3rd down situations, they converted 4 of 6 with three of those four conversions coming on 3rd and short. So we only faced 4 3rd and shorts of the 16 3rd downs we forced. This is better than what our D was able to do for the year - as you'll see later - forcing 3rd and long 63% of the time for this game.
Getting the Texans in 3rd and long was a direct result of doing pretty well against first down runs. They ran the ball 16 times on first down for 60 yards (3.8 ypc). They had 3 long runs (14, 9 and 9 yards). The other 13 first carries resulted in 5 or fewer yards with 5 going for only one yard and two going to negative yards. Our front 7 won the line of scrimmage against the Texans. Keeping their offense, which is predicated on gaining 4-6 yards on first down runs, off schedule forced them to throw the ball on many second and longs, setting up the 10 3rd and longs.
Outside of one drive, the D played quite well against the Texans, forcing 5 3-and-outs and allowing a season low 13 points. We held the Texans to a season-low (for us defensively) 240 yards of total offense. This game, however, was not won until our 4th quarter 21 point blitz, but the D had me confident that we were going to pull it out, even if the offense continued to sputter.
vs the Faiders
Against the hated team from Jokeland, the defense played quite well until garbage time. The Faiders did not score until there were only 4+ minutes left in the game. At that point, I think we had one of the waterboys playing linebacker to rest the starters.
The Faiders were able to convert 5 of 13 3rd downs against the Broncos. However, only one of those was on 3rd and long:
|3rd and 22 at OAK 21||(Shotgun) T.Pryor pass incomplete short middle to R.Streater.|
|3rd and 9 at OAK 21||(Shotgun) T.Pryor scrambles up the middle to OAK 32 for 11 yards (O.Bolden).|
|3rd and 8 at OAK 48||(Shotgun) T.Pryor pass incomplete short right to A.Holmes.|
|3rd and 9 at OAK 39||(Shotgun) T.Pryor pass incomplete short left to M.Rivera.|
|3rd and 11 at DEN 25||(Shotgun) T.Pryor scrambles right end to DEN 23 for 2 yards (M.Huff).|
|3rd and 12 at OAK 44||(Shotgun) T.Pryor pass incomplete short middle to R.Streater.|
|3rd and 8 at DEN 35||(Shotgun) T.Pryor pass incomplete short right to A.Holmes.|
That 3rd and long conversion came on the Pryor scramble for 11 on 3rd and 9 in the second quarter. The Faiders were 1 of 7 on 3rd and long. On short and medium 3rd downs the Faiders were able to convert 4 of 6. Only one of those 4 conversions was on 3rd and short (2 yards to go on that conversion), the other 3 were on 3rd and medium. For the second game in a row, were allowed our opponent to effectively convert 3rd and short or 3rd and medium situations. The Texans and the Faiders were a combined 8 of 12 converting on 3rd and short or medium (less than 7 yards). We'll come back to this in the regular season wrap-up.
The Faiders only ran the ball four times on first down against us this game, gaining 13 yards on those 4 carries (3.3 ypc) and one of those carries was a scramble by Pryor off of a shotgun passing play. The Faiders pretty much abandoned the run once they got down 17, but they weren't running much even at the beginning of the game. The opened the game was a pass from the shotgun on first down. They started their second drive with a fumbled shotgun snap (bad snap) on first down. By the time they chose to run the ball (with 7 offensive lineman) on first down, they were down 14-0. The next time the chose to ran on first down (5 yard gain by McFadden), they were down 17-0.
Regular season summary
3rd and Long
For the season we held teams to 24.8% conversion on 3rd and long (30/121). Last season the Broncos finished the season allowing 26.3% conversion on 3rd and long (25/92) - although most of those conversions occurred in the first 5 games. Overall this season, we held teams to 38.8% conversion on 3rd down (16th). This was a dramatic dropoff from 2012 when we lead the league at 31.5%. Interestingly, 3 of the top 4 defenses in terms of 3rd conversion % in 2013 are NOT in the playoffs (DET, BAL and WAS). The only team whose D was in the top 4 that made the playoffs is Cincy (#2 at 32.9%).
The main difference between the 2012 D and the 2013 D is the difference in the ability to stop 3rd and short or medium. The 2012 D only allowed 41.3% conversion on 3rd and less than 7 (38/92). The 2013 D allowed 54.1% conversion on 3rd and less than 7 (53/98). That's bad. Let's put that into perspective. The Chargers offense led the league in converting on 3rd down - at 49.0%. That meant that every offense we faced, converted better than the best in the league when facing 3rd and less than 7 against our D. This could really come back to bite us in the a$$ in the playoffs. Fortunately only two AFC playoff teams are in the top third of the league in terms of converting on 3rd down:
SD - #1, Cincy - #10, Indy - #15, NE - #16, KC - #27.
Our inability to get 3rd down stops killed us the last time we faced SD - and we had Von for that game.
If you want to break it down further, our D allowed conversions on 28 of 53 3rd and mediums (52.8%) and 29 of 47 3rd and short's (61.7%). I haven't been able to find a site that tracks defensive third down performance by distance for the whole league, so I don't know how these numbers compare to the rest of the league. I was tracking 3rd and long performance for the Chiefs. They held teams to 23.5% conversion on 3rd and long while forcing teams into and long on 52.0% of their 3rd downs. Overall the Chiefs only allowed teams to convert on 34.1% of the time on 3rd down. This was tied for 6th in the league. Interestingly, only 5 of the teams in the top 10 in this stat made the playoffs (CIN - #2, KC - #6T, SF - #6T, NO - #9 and SF - #10).
For the season when we forced teams into 3rd down, 54.8% of the time it was 3rd and long. 23.9% of the time it was medium (4-6 yards) and 21.3% of the time it was short (1-3 yards). We ended the season with 41 sacks on the season after 52 in 2012. Of those 41 sacks, 12 came on 3rd and long - 12 sacks on 121 3rd and long situations (9.9%). Last season we had 14 sacks on 3rd and long - 14 sacks on 108 3rd and longs (13.0%). So we were a little better at bringing down the QB on 3rd and long last season. With out two premier pass rushers playing almost every game last season, I would have expected that number to higher for 2012, but sacks don't tell the whole story, QB pressures paint a much clearer picture of pressure on 3rd and long (unfortunately that picture is behind a pay wall that I don't have access to).
1st down run D
In terms of first down runs against our D, we allowed 931 yards on 214 first down carries (4.35 ypc) for the season. The average gain on a run this season in the NFL was 4.1 yards. So our D was a little below average on first down runs. We allowed 35 runs of 9 or more yards on first down, including 10 runs of 20 or more on first down. We only allowed 13 runs of 20 or more on the season, so only 3 of those came on 2nd or 3rd down runs. On the positive side, we were one of only 5 teams this season to NOT allow a run of 40 or more yards. Four out of those 5 teams made the playoffs (only the Giants did not). We had 105 first down runs against result in 2 or fewer yards gained (this is considered a play that the defense "won"). So our D won on 105 of 214 first down runs (49.1%). In terms of stuff percentage (a stuff is a run resulting in zero or negative yards), the D had 46 of these no first down runs (21.5%). 20 of those were stops for no gain and 26 were TFLs (tackles for loss). Overall our run D finished 10th in yards allowed per carry at 3.9 - meaning we were better against second and third down runs than we were against 1st down runs. We had the 7th best stuff % in the league, getting stuffs on 11.2% of runs against us. The Rams lead the league in stuff % at 13.6%. Surprisingly, the Bengals (#32 - 5.7%), Chiefs (#30 - 6.8%), Colts (#29T - 6.9%), Pats (#29T - 6.9%) and Chargers (#25 - 7.2%) were all really bad at getting stuffs. This bodes well should we find ourselves needing to convert a 3rd and short in a late game situation to keep the clock running like last year.
What does any of this mean for the playoffs? Only SD of the AFC playoff teams was really effective at converting on 3rd down. For the season, they converted 13 of 28 third downs against us (46.4%), which is pretty close to what they did against the rest of the league. IND converted only 5 of 17 against us and NE converted only 6 of 14 (but those six were all huge). KC only converted 11 of 24 3rd downs against us (46%) but a few of those were in garbage time at the end of the first game. Neither IND or NE ran the ball effectively against us on first down when we played earlier this year (if you leave out the end-around by Butterfingers vs IND and the 33 yard run by Bolden vs NE). SD, on the other hand SD ran it down our throats on first down in our last meeting (24 carries for 116 yards on 1st down). KC was held in check (save one 35 yard run) on first down runs during our first meeting, but they ran the ball pretty well against us on first down in the second meeting (12 carries for 98 yards).
The defense obviously doesn't look anywhere near as good heading into the playoffs in 2013 as it did in 2012. It didn't matter in 2012. It might now matter (in a good way) in 2013. The offense is playing better right now than it was at the end of last season and we should have Welker back for the next game we play. While the defense is not performing up to the level of our 2012 D, the final two games were fairly good performances against admittedly weak offenses. Lest I sell the defense short, I need to point out that our last 4 opponents were held to less the 200 yards passing (158, 160, 153 and 191 yards respectively). In fact, in the second half of the regular season, our D held every opponent except the Pats to less than 300 yards passing. Another very positive trend from the last 4 games, the Broncos were +4 in turnovers (forced 5 and only lost 1).