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Broncos 3rd & Long: Injured but victorious

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With so many player getting knicked or dinged during the game, this win on the road against a division rival is a testament to the toughness and depth of our roster.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

This was the type of game that great teams win.

They win these games because of depth, preparation and luck. Our quarterback was slowed by the flu and a thigh strain - he didn't show up on the injury report before the game. Sixteen of our 53 players did.

This was the type of game that great teams win.

Then, during the game our left tackle was lost in the first quarter. Our star running back looked like he was concussed in the first quarter. Our receiving tight end was only targeted twice, presumably because he is still slowed by his injury. Our hybrid weakside/middle linebacker, the real Brandon Marshall, was lost for the game in the first half. Our recently-returned WLB strained his knee and did not return.

Still with all of that, somehow we managed to score 22 points and hold the Chargers to 10.

Offensively this game would have been over long before the 4th quarter if he had been able to get red-zone TDs instead of FGs. I have to believe that Julius Thomas is still not at full speed, otherwise I can't explain the lack of red-zone targets for him. Three drives stalled inside the 10. The first drive we had first and goal at the 9, we ran CJ Anderson for 8, then missed two throws to Demaryius Thomas. The second drive we had 1st and 10 at the 12 and ran CJ for 1, passed to CJ for 3, then threw incomplete to Welker. The third time we had first and goal at the 1 and we were stopped on three straight runs (CJ, Juwan Thompson then CJ again). I love the fact that we decided to run the ball so much on goal-to-goal situations, but I hate the fact that we didn't punch any of them in. Maybe I should just credit the SD defense. The were stout against the run in goal-line and they obviously had JT well covered down there.

The luck factor helped us in this win. Derek Wolfe got a hand on the first SD FG attempt - saving 3 points. Whether you attribute that to luck or to Wolfe making a great play, it's something that we had not done this year until last game. Nick Novak doinked one from 37. Novak had only missed one FG this season prior to last game. Manning's fumble was recovered by the us. Osweiler's tipped pass was not picked. If any of those "luck plays" goes in favor of the Chargers, the game would have played out very differently.

Defense on 3rd and Long

Similar to what the Bills did the game before, the Chargers did a good job of staying out of 3rd and long. They only had four 3rd downs where they needed 7 or more to convert

Situation Detail Result
3rd and 31 at DEN 36 (7:48 2Q) (Shotgun) R.Brown up the middle to DEN 28 for 8 yards (B.Marshall, D.Bruton). Run way short
3rd and 10 at SD 20 (1:40 2Q) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short left to K.Allen. Incomplete
3rd and 10 at SD 36 (11:39 3Q) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to S.Ajirotutu to SD 49 for 13 yards (D.Trevathan). Denver challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short middle to S.Ajirotutu. Incomplete
3rd and 10 at 50 (2:42 4Q) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass deep left to S.Ajirotutu to DEN 33 for 17 yards (C.Harris). Conversion by catch

Their lone conversion on 3rd and long came in the 4th quarter on their final drive where we were playing way off to avoid giving up big chunks of yardage. For the game the Chargers did convert on 7 of 14 3rd downs (including the penalty conversion), but they have converted at that rate against the rest of the league (they are still 3rd in the league in 3rd down conversion rate). Their other 3rd downs were five 3rd and shorts (3 or less to gain) - they converted 4 of 5 - and five 3rd and mediums (4-6 to gain) - they only converted 2 of 5. One of their 3rd and medium conversions also came on their final drive linke their lone conversion on 3rd and long.

For the season we have now allowed conversion on 28 of 97 3rd and longs (28.9%) - one quarter of those came in the first game against the Chiefs. In 2013 we finished the season allowing conversion 24.8% of the time on 3rd and long and in 2012 that number was 26.3%. League-wide conversions on 3rd and long have occurred 27.3% of the time this year (802 of 2940). The best offense for converting them is GB (38.3% conversion). The best defense at stopping them is PIT (only allowing conversion on 19.2%).

Overall on 3rd down we have allowed conversion on 83 of 206 third downs (40.3%) - including conversions by penalty. Leaving out the penalty conversions, we currently rank 12th in the league on 3rd down conversions allowed - allowing 37.8% conversion.  The Colts lead the lead the league at 33.1% allowed.

Stopping the run on 1st and 10

The Chargers had a little more success running on first down this game than they did against us in Denver, but we were still able to stymie them when they ran on first down. The attempted 12 runs on 1st down against us netting 28 yards (2.3 ypc) with 11 of that coming on one run. Two of their first down runs were stopped for no gain and another was stopped for a loss of 5 (Malik Jackson blowing up another run - he seems to get at least one per game). We held the Chargers to 56 yards on 20 carries for the game (2.8 ypc). The stat sheet shows that we were also held to 2.8 yards per carry, but that is misleading because of the 4 kneel-downs (one by Oz and 3 by Manning) which each count as a run of -1. We had 115 yards on 35 carries in reality - 3.3 ypc looks a lot better than 2.8 ypc. Throwing out the garbage time 23 yard yard run at the end of the first SD game, we held them to 94 yards rushing on 34 carries for the season (2.8 ypc).

For the season we have allowed 503 yards on 156 first down carries (3.2 ypc). Overall we are allowing 3.4 yards per carry - good for second best in the league. In the past 4 games, we have held our opponent to under 100 yards rushing - a feat we have accomplished in 11 of 14 games so far. Our run defense continues to be one of the strengths of this team, forcing our opponents to throw on 2nd down more often than they would like. Of the 296 plays against us on 2nd down, 202 of them have been passes (68.2%). League-wide 58.6% of 2nd down plays are passes.

Concluding thoughts

The defense forced three 3-and-outs in the game (and had another 2-and-INT). The Chargers only mounted on scoring drive since their FG drive was set up by the 58 yard punt return. Our D only allowed 288 yards on the game - 80 of which (28%) came on the their TD drive. Their other three drives where they moved the ball (52, 53 and 75 yards) ended with a blocked FG, a missed FG and an INT. This was a strong effort by the defense despite not recording a sack or even a single hit on Rivers (according to ESPN). Our defense is currently the best in the league at forcing "3-and-out"s. We have forced 74 punts and 54 of those were after drives that went 3-and-out. In other words 73% of the time that we have forced a punt it was after holding the opponent without a first down. The average numbers of plays against us on drives ending with punts is 3.8. That is best in the league. The Colts are second best with 3.9.  We had another five drives where our opponent ran 4 plays and then was forced to punt

Four in a row, four straight division titles for Fox since he took over as head coach - a feat only matched by Hall-of-Famer, Chuck Knoll. Regardless of your opinion of Fox, that is impressive. The Broncos need to win out and get some help from the Jets (not likely) or the Bills (possible) to get the #1 seed. The Bengals are going to be a tough test in our final regular season road game next week. The Bengals need to win out to hold off the Ravens and the Steelers for the division title. Their defense looked great last week, but I would take that with a huge grain of salt considering the Browns and their floundering rookie QB. Their last four home games against real NFL offenses the Bengals allowed 24 to Ravens, 23 to the Jags, 24 to the Hoyer-led Browns and 42 to the Steelers. I'm expecting us to put up 30 on them. I'm expecting our defense to hold them to 17. Let me know in the poll how you think the D is going to do next game.