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Broncos 3rd & Long: Punked by the Pats

We've seen the Broncos have a complete team win (winning all phases). What you witnessed on Sunday was a complete team loss. The Pats beat us in every phase of the game - offense, defense and special teams.

Close, but not close enough. Brady shrugged off our 8 QB hits and generally had his way with our secondary.
Close, but not close enough. Brady shrugged off our 8 QB hits and generally had his way with our secondary.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

There are generally a couple of critical turning points in every game, that become obvious with hindsight, but may not have seemed tremendously critical at the time. For me, there were two of them on Sunday. The first was late in the second quarter with the Broncos trailing 20-7 and momentum clearly on the side of the Patriots.

The Broncos were driving and reached the Pats 34 with the wind at our backs. With McManus having missed from 41, Fox/Gase/Manning decided to go for it on 4th and 6 with 2:09 left to play instead of attempting a 51 yard FG. The Pats rushed 3 on 4th and 6 and sacked Manning. A conversion there probably keeps the Pats from scoring before the half and probably ends in points for us. That was a huge turning point in the game, turning what possibly could have been a 20-10 halftime score into a 27-7 halftime score (indirectly).

The second turning point(s) came in the late in the 3rd quarter with the Broncos down 16. We had just scored and had a modicum of momentum after a TD. We needed the defense to step up and get the O the ball back. So what happened? We allowing the Pats to drive the 80 yards, convert  three 3rd downs (two 3rd & longs) and score a TD that effectively ended any hope of a comeback.

Make no mistake, though, this was a total team failure. Offense, defense and special teams all played well below the standards that they have set so far this season. Offensively we were 4 of 12 on 3rd down (I count the conversion by penalty) and 0 for 4 on 4th down. Our running game was M.I.A. (17 carries for 43 yards, 2.6 ypc, we much of that coming in garbage time on that last drive) and we turned the ball over twice. The interception that bounced off Welker's chest was doubly painful because Welker got knocked out of the game on the play.

Defensively, we allowed the Pats to convert 4 of 8 on 3rd & long (more about that below) and our pressure on Brady, which was sporadic, seemed mostly ineffective. On special teams we missed one FG (and passed on a 51 yard attempt with the wind at our back). We were pathetic on kickoff returns (13.5 yards per return on 6 returns) and we gave up a punt return TD after almost getting a punt blocked when Colquitt dropped the snap. Every regular season has a low point. Let's hope that this was ours. Last year our low point happened in Foxboro when we blew a 24 point halftime lead.

Performance (or lack thereof) on 3rd & Long

With the exception of the KC game, our D on 3rd & long (7 or more yards to gain) has been above average so far this year. On Sunday, Brady did to us, what he seems to do us every time we face him in Foxboro, he converted on 3rd and long.

Situation Detail Result
3rd and 10 at NE 49 (10:34) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass incomplete deep middle to B.LaFell. Incomplete
3rd and 10 at DEN 28 (1:15) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short right to R.Gronkowski to DEN 17 for 11 yards (K.Webster) [V.Miller]. Conversion by catch
3rd and 10 at NE 46 (13:35) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left intended for D.Amendola INTERCEPTED by B.Roby [M.Jackson] at DEN 43. B.Roby to DEN 43 for no gain (J.Edelman). Interception
3rd and 8 at NE 37 (9:52) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass deep right to D.Amendola to DEN 42 for 21 yards (A.Talib). Conversion by catch
3rd and 11 at DEN 27 (7:56) T.Brady pass incomplete deep left to B.LaFell. Incomplete
3rd and 7 at NE 33 (4:09) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short right to B.LaFell to NE 41 for 8 yards (A.Talib). Conversion by catch
3rd and 11 at DEN 46 (1:15) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short middle to D.Amendola to DEN 32 for 14 yards (C.Harris). Conversion by catch
3rd and 10 at NE 9 (11:12) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short right to J.Edelman to NE 13 for 4 yards (B.Marshall). Catch but short

We forced the Pats into 3rd and long on 8 of their 17 3rd downs, but we allowed conversions on 4 of those 8. The real backbreakers came on the same drive (the final TD drive) and they occurred on consecutive 3rd down situations. For the season we are now allowing 32.3% conversion on 3rd and long (20 of 62) and 40.0% conversion on all 3rd downs. I'm going to break down two of the plays shown above - one good, and one bad.

First the Bad

Down 16 late in the 3rd, we really needed to get the ball back to our offense. After Von had jumped on the previous 3rd down situation (3rd and 4) to give the Pats a conversion by penalty (they had 4 first downs by penalty on the game, as did we), the Pats faced a 3rd and 7 on their own 33.

Brandon LaFell 3rd down vs. Broncos (better)

The Pats are in 3 wide with Rob Gronkowski slot left, Julian Edelman wide left, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola right. We counter with a 3-2-6 with 9 guys in the box. Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe down.  DeMarcus Ware is standing up over Gronk. Brandon Marshall is at 5 yards and lined up over the LG. Bradley Roby is on Edelman. Chris Harris Jr. is on LaFell. Kayvon Webster is eyeing Gronk and staggered behind Ware. Von Miller is standing up over their RT, Sebastian Vollmer, and Aqib Talib is on Amendola. Ward at 9 yards back on def. center right. Rahim Moore at 12 yards deep on def. center left.

Talib drops before the snap to 5 yards off. Harris blitzes. Moore comes up to cover Amendola.  Talib stays with LaFell who fakes an out and then does a square-in. We bring 5. Jackson is doubled. Wolfe is blocked well by their RG. Ware was blocked well by Solder. Vollmer and Vereen are left to handle CHJ and Von. They handle the pressure well blocking our 5 with 6. Talib bites on the out fake and LaFell is open about two yards in front of the sticks. Miller gets a little too deep coming behind Tom Brady as he steps slightly into the pocket to make the throw. Wolfe wasn't able to keep Brady from stepping up in the pocket. LaFell makes the catch about a yard in front of the sticks and dives for the first down. The catch gains 8 and the Pats convert keeping the drive alive. They would eventually score on this drive and put the game effectively out of reach.

Now the Good

The Pats had scored a TD at the end of the first half to increase their lead to 20 and they were getting the ball to start the second half. At that point they had scored 24 unanswered points. We needed the defense to stop them and a turnover could go a long way to getting us back in the game. Our defense did just that. After two straight incompletions, Brady faced a 3rd and 10 at his own 46. The Pats are in a 4 wide look, but Gronk is split out as a WR. Like the above play, Amendola, LaFell, Edelman and Vereen are in. We counter with the same 3-2-6 look. Ware in wide 9. Marshall walked-up. Jackson and Wolfe as down lineman. Von is again on the defensive left. Webster and Roby are the CBs on the right.  Ward and Moore are both deep at the snap. Ward comes up into the picture on the snap. CHJ blitzes again similar to the play above. We bring five. Jackson comes clean up the middle and hits brady just after he throws. Wolfe might have gotten a fingertip on the ball as he didn't get far into the backfield but jumps as the ball is being thrown (he is 6-5). The ball is thrown high and goes over Amendola's head where he gets a hand on it tipping it into Roby's waiting arms.

Bradley Roby interception vs. Patriots

Stuffing the Run

Our D is predicated on two things, stopping the run on first or second down and getting the opponent in 3rd & long so our pas rush can wreak havoc. For the most part we did the former on Sunday, but generally failed on the latter (we had only one sack but 8 QB hits on Brady). On first down runs we allowed 48 yards on 15 carries (3.2 ypc). We had one TFL (Q. Smith) and four stops for no gain on their first down runs. The Pats only rushed for 66 total yards (on 25 carries), so the majority of their rushing yardage came on first down. They challenged our strength. They were much more effective at running on first down in the second half than they were in the first half. Their first down runs of 6, 7  9 and 13 yards all came in the second half.  For the season we are now allowing 3.0 ypc on first down and 3.3 ypc overall. Over the past 5 games we have allowed 257 yards on 92 carries (2.8 ypc). Through the first half of the regular season we have only allowed 27 rushing first downs. To put that in perspective when we lost in Foxboro in 2012, we allowed 18 rushing first downs in that game.

Moving forward

At exactly half-way through the regular season, the Broncos know what they need to do to make it back to the summit of the NFL. In many ways this was the nadir. Let's hope that the players and the coaches use this humbling experience to get better from here on out. While the schedule in the second half looks easier, we still have only 3 games in Denver of the final eight. Here's the rest of the regular season schedule

Home/Road Team Record
@ Oakland Raiders 0-8
@ St. Louis Rams 3-5
Miami Dolphins 5-3
@ Kansas City Chiefs 5-3
Buffalo Bills 5-3
@ San Diego Chargers 5-4
@ Cincinnati Bengals 5-2-1
Oakland Raiders 0-8

If we play in any of the remaining games like we did yesterday, we will most likely lose. What's your prediction for our record in the second half of the regular season (see the poll).