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Denver Broncos Passing -- Inflated from Garbage Time?

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     As I've perused discussion both here at MHR and on other sites, I've come across a rather curious perspective about Denver's passing game. Denver's passing game is on a pace to eclipse the phenomenal success of the 2008 passing attack. If you will recall, in 2008, the Denver offense amassed 4471 passing yards, or 279 yards per game. The offense notched twenty-five touchdowns against eighteen interceptions. The 2010 Broncos passing game is on a pace to record 4612 yards, thirty-one touchdowns, and nine interceptions. The curious discussion that I mentioned is the contention that Denver's 2010 passing statistics are more reflective of inflated stats that come from playing from behind a huge deficit in "garbage time" in games that the Broncos have gone on to lose.

     There are three pieces to this discussion, each of which merit a moment or two of consideration: (1)The concept of "garbage time," (2)Playing from behind a large deficit, and (3)The passing statistics from late in the game when behind versus the first three quarters of those same games.

Take a breath and jump in

The Concept of "Garbage Time"

     Maybe I'm must old-fashioned and out of the loop when it comes to this term. As I was growing up in my football fandom, garbage time was a term used mainly in college football. It referred to a time, late in the game, most usually late in the fourth quarter when the score was hopelessly out of reach for one of the teams. At that point, the head coach would generally start playing his younger players to get them some valuable game experience. The term gradually began to show up (in my experience) in the NFL, but as with college ball, was used to refer to a time, late in a game, when the score was hopelessly out of reach for one of the teams.  This was the time when the winning team would start dropping back into a prevent defense, and give up a lot of yards underneath, in order to avoid allowing any kind of rally by the losing team. The question then becomes, have the Broncos had to play a lot of "garbage time?"

In surveying the sixteen losses in 2009 and 2010, we find the following to be the case as the Broncos entered the fourth quarter (numbers in parentheses is the number of the point differential):

1)Four times, the Broncos have led entering the fourth quarter (2010 NYJ (7), 2010 SF (4), 2009 Was (3), 2009 Oak #2 (3)).

2)Five times, the Broncos entered the fourth trailing by a single score (2009 Phi (3), 2009 KC #2 (3), 2010 Jax (3), 2009 Pit (4), 2010 Ind (7)).

3)Three times, the Broncos entered the fourth trailing by two scores (2009 Bal (9), 2010 Bal (10), 2009 Ind (14)).

4)Three times, the Broncos entered the fourth trailing by three scores (2009 SD #2 (17), 2010 StL (20), 2010 SD #1 (21)).

5)One time, the Broncos entered the fourth quarter trailing by seven scores (2010 Oak #1).

     When looking at those games, it is hard for me to call the fourth quarter of nine of the games (leading or down by one score) to have consisted of "garbage time." Then next three (down by two scores) would also be ones that I would be hesitant to characterize with that term. A case might be made for referring to the fourth quarter of the three games where Denver trailed by three scores entering the fourth as garbage time, but even those are a might "iffy" in my mind. The only game where I could say that I truly believe there was a "garbage time" -- that is, the score was hopelessly out of reach would be the 2010 Oakland #1 game where the Broncos trailed by forty-five entering the fourth quarter.

Playing From Behind a Large Deficit

     This concept is also one that I find curious. There seems to be a perception in some circles that Denver was constantly playing from behind these large deficits. This is not nearly as prevalent a case as it might seem. Denver has been far more competitive throughout its losses than we might realize. Too often our image of our losses is locked into the image of the 2009 32-3 loss to San Diego, 2009 44-24 loss to Kansas City, the 2010 59-14 loss to Oakland and the 2010 35-14 loss to San Diego. Let's look at the scores entering the fourth quarter of each of the losses:

Team Score at End of 3 Pt Differential # of Scores Needed
Baltimore 7-16 -9 2
Pittsburgh 10-14 -4 1
Washington 17-14 +3 Leading
San Diego 3-20 -17 3
Indianapolis 7-21 -14 2
Oakland 16-13 +3 Leading
Philadelphia 24-27 -3 1
Kansas City 24-27 -3 1
Team Score at End of 3 Pt Differential #  of Scores Needed
Jacksonville 14-17 -3 1
Indianapolis 13-20 -7 1
Baltimore 7-17 -10 2
New York Jets 17-10 +7 Leading
Oakland 14-59 -45 7
San Diego 7-28 -21 3
San Francisco 7-3 +4 Leading
St. Louis 13-33 -20 3

     In only four out of the sixteen losses, did Denver face a deficit of three or more scores entering the fourth quarter. In four of them, Denver led entering the final quarter. In five of them, Denver trailed by only a single score. Even the three games where the Broncos trailed by two scores were games that were within reach. At most, it can be argued that Denver has had four games that had large deficits and thus might be construed as having "garbage time."

Passing Quarters 1-3 vs Quarter 4

     The last question that should be raised is: how do the passing stats from the first three quarters of the sixteen losses compare to the passing stats of the fourth quarter in those same games?  Let's take a look:

2009 Qtr 1-3 4th Qtr
Team Comp/Att Yards % of Tot Yds Comp/Att Yards % of Tot Yds
Baltimore 14/26 73 48 9/11 79 52
Pittsburgh 20/27 201 91 3/11 20 9
Washington 13/24 199 97 1/7 7 3
San Diego 8/13 101 59 7/16 70 41
Indianapolis 22/31 232 84 7/10 45 16
Oakland 15/25 212 76 4/9 66 24
Philadelphia 20/32 152 80 7/9 37 20
Kansas City 16/32 283 66 16/24 148 33
2010 Qtr 1-3 4th Qtr
Team Comp/Att Yards % of Tot Yds Comp/Att Yards % of Tot Yds
Jacksonville 17/23 248 84 4/10 47 16
Indianapolis 22/36 384 81 15/21 92 19
Baltimore 13/22 188 59 10/16 133 41
New York Jets 10/26 154 74 4/8 55 26
Oakland 11/24 152 77 1/5 46 23
San Diego 16/27 150 69 8/11 67 31
San Francisco 18/23 227 61 10/17 143 39
St. Louis 12/26 166 49 11/15 181 51

     Looking at this data, it would appear to me that, with the exception of the 2009 Baltimore game and the 2010 St. Louis game, where the majority of the passing yards were compiled in the fourth quarter -- and the possible exceptions of 2009 San Diego, 2010 Baltimore and 2010 San Francisco -- the Broncos have more often started out with a strong performance in the first three quarters, only to have the passing game falter when it came to the fourth. Further, in the games where the Broncos went into the fourth quarter with the greates deficits ( 2009 SD - three scores, 2010 Oak - seven scores, 2010 SD - three scores, 2010 StL - 3 scores) only in one of those games (2010 StL) did the majority of the passing yards come in the fourth.

In Conclusion

     It just does not appear to me, as though the Broncos have, in fact, seen an inflation of their passing statistics due to playing from behind large deficits in "garbage time." Rather, they more often started strong, then faltered as they fell behind.