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3rd & Long - Clipping the Cardinals Wings

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Despite the 20 points allowed, this was a dominant performance by our defense. Our D allowed two sustained drives on the day - forcing 11 punts. Read on see what it looked like statistically

Sack you very much
Sack you very much
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The undefeated Cardinals are undefeated no more thanks to a Broncos offense the looked like it did in 2013 (mostly) and a Broncos defense that looked like it did in 2012. The game looked to be close match-up during the first quarter in which the Cards' D forced a 3-and-out on the Broncos second possession and the Cards' O marched down the field relatively easily on their first two drives (both ended in FGs though).

The first quarter ended with a 7-6 score and Arizona had the momentum after forcing that 3-and-out.  Despite the score, the game was never really close after the first quarter. I know that the Cards drew within 4 points after the "blind squirrel finds a nut" 81-yard TD catch and run, but the Cards' offense had been effectively stymied even before Stanton got knocked out. Why do I say that? The Cards' converted 3 or 16 third downs on the day. The last one of those three came on their second drive with 2:41 left to play in the 1st quarter. With the exception of their two one-play TD drives, every single Cardinals' drive ended after the first quarter ended in a punt with 10 of those 11 drives ending in a 3-and-out (the 11th was a 4 and out).

Here are the defensive results on 3rd and long

3rd and 15 at DEN 15 (9:18) (Shotgun) D.Stanton pass incomplete short right to M.Floyd [T.Ward].
3rd and 12 at ARI 18 (4:03) (Shotgun) D.Stanton pass deep left to L.Fitzgerald pushed ob at DEN 49 for 33 yards (B.Roby).
3rd and 10 at DEN 30 (1:52) (Shotgun) D.Stanton pass incomplete short left to Jo. Brown (B.Roby).
3rd and 9 at DEN 39 (11:24) (Shotgun) D.Stanton sacked at DEN 49 for -10 yards (V.Miller).
3rd and 10 at ARI 20 (1:28) (Shotgun) D.Stanton pass short right to M.Floyd pushed ob at ARZ 27 for 7 yards (A.Talib).
3rd and 8 at ARI 26 (12:18) (Shotgun) D.Stanton pass incomplete short right to Jo. Brown [V.Miller].
3rd and 17 at ARI 13 (8:09) (Shotgun) L.Thomas sacked at ARZ 10 for -3 yards (sack split by M.Jackson and V.Miller).
3rd and 9 at ARI 44 (5:10) (Shotgun) L.Thomas pass incomplete short right to L.Fitzgerald [T.Ward].
3rd and 14 at ARI 16 (7:00) (Shotgun) L.Thomas pass incomplete deep left to L.Fitzgerald. Penalty on ARZ-J.Veldheer, Offensive Holding, declined.
3rd and 11 at ARI 19 (3:48) (Shotgun) L.Thomas pass incomplete short left to M.Floyd.

We forced the Cards into 3rd and long 10 times on 16 3rd downs situations. They only converted one of those - the 33 yard pass to Fitzgerald. The Cardinals only converted 2 other 3rd downs during the game (both in the first quarter) - a 3rd and 1 (17 yard pass to Ellington) and a 3rd and 6 (15 yard pass to Fitz). Those 3 plays accounted for 30% of the yards allowed by the Broncos in the game. If you add the 81-yard TD, you have 68% of the yards allowed by the Broncos on 4 total plays. Think about that. The Cards ran 56 plays and on the other 52 they gained 69 total yards. That is a dominant defensive performance. It's hard to argue otherwise when the defense allows a total of 215 yards. Stanton completed 9 passes in the first quarter; the Cards had 3 completed passes after that. The only pass that the Cards completed in the second half was the 81-yard touchdown.  The other 3rd down distances were 4, 3, 3, and 1 yards to go.

For the season our D is now allowing 43.1% 3rd down conversion (28/65) and 28.1% conversion on 3rd & Long (9/32). We are forcing opponents into 3rd & long on almost half of their 3rd downs (32 of 65 - 49.2%). Seven of the nine 3rd and long conversions were allowed against KC.

Stanton completed 9 passes in the first quarter; the Cards had 3 completed passes after that.

One of the reason that we were able to force so many 3rd & longs was our effectiveness at stopping the run on 1st down (and 2nd down, for that matter). Our D allowed a total of 15 yards on 8 first down runs (1.9 ypc). Their longest run of the day on first down was 5 yards. Six of their eight first down runs resulted in gains of 2 or fewer yards with one TFL (-2 by Von). For the game we allowed a total of 37 yards on 19 carries (1.9 ypc).  For the season we are now allowing 3.4 ypc on first down runs. We dared them to beat us with the pass but stacking the box and they were unable to run against us.

The defense played exceedingly well, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Ask the 2013 Chiefs how easy it is to look great on defense when you are playing against 2nd and 3rd sting QBs. When our defense does to a great QB what it did to the Cards backup QBs, I will say we have arrived. Remember that our 2012 defense stymied Rivers (for 3 halves), Brees, Newton, Palmer and Flacco. The sheer number of dropped passes (9?) by the AZ receivers was staggering - many of those were unforced - and certainly helped our D. I doubt we have that luxury again this season. A number of those drops would have resulted in first down catches.

So now we get to fly to NY to face a Jets offense that was absolutely incompetent yesterday. In theory, the Broncos D should be able to do to the Jets O what the Chargers D just did to the Jets O - shut it down completely, but I would not be surprised in the least if next Sunday's game is close for a significant portion of the game.