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Broncos 3rd & Long: Strange Win

The offense had only 3 passing first downs. The defense allowed conversions on 9 or 16 3rd downs and 2 of 3 4th downs. We still won by 7, but it should have been a much larger final margin.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If I had told you in advance that the Broncos would turn the ball over three times, have a grand total of three passing first downs and allow the Bills to convert on 9 of 16 third downs, you would probably assume that we lost the game. All three of those things occurred and we won. Even more amazing is the fact that we should have won by a bigger margin than we did. The Tamme fumble (costing us at least 3 points) and the Bills conversion on 4th and 16 (they scored a TD on that drive) made this game a lot closer than it actually was.

With an elite pass rush, a 14 point lead and 4 minutes left in the game at home, this game should have been over. Defensive lapses (or our prevent D) let the Bills make this game a lot closer than it was. If they had recovered the onside kick, they could have pulled a Tebow-style miracle out and tied it at the end with a TD. We got the win, but we didn't put the Bills away when we had the chance. Tamme's redzone fumble and the Talib/Bruton drop on the sure INT both hurt in this department.

Defensive Performance on 3rd and Long

The Broncos forced 16 3rd down plays on the Bills 77 offensive snaps. Seven of those were long situations (7 or more needed):

Situation Detail Result
3rd and 11 at DEN 44 (6:15 1Q) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass short right to F.Jackson pushed ob at DEN 39 for 5 yards (D.Bruton). Catch but short
3rd and 21 at BUF 9 (2:33 2Q) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass short right to S.Chandler to BUF 20 for 11 yards (C.Harris). Catch but short
3rd and 16 at BUF 46 (5:33 3Q) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass deep left to S.Watkins pushed ob at DEN 19 for 35 yards (B.Roby). Conversion by catch
3rd and 14 at DEN 14 (10:52 4Q) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass short right to C.Hogan for 14 yards, TOUCHDOWN. D.Carpenter extra point is GOOD, Center-G.Sanborn, Holder-C.Schmidt. Conversion by catch
3rd and 14 at BUF 4 (6:12 4Q) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass short middle to F.Jackson to BUF 16 for 12 yards (B.Marshall). Catch but short
3rd and 16 at BUF 14 (3:38 4Q) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass incomplete short left to F.Jackson. Incomplete
3rd and 8 at BUF 35 (2:58 4Q) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass short right to C.Hogan to BUF 42 for 7 yards (A.Talib). Catch but short

The Bills were able to convert only two of the 3rd and longs, but we did not get a single sack on 3rd and long this week after getting three sacks on the six 3rd and long situations the week befor4e. When the Bills got in third and medium (4-6 yards needed) they converted all 3 times. When they got in 3rd and short (1-3 yards needed), they converted on 4 of 6. This was a bad game by our defense in terms of 3rd down conversion. Even with that, we would have held them to 10 points if Talib or Bruton comes down with that easy pick. For the season we are allowing 29.0% conversion on 3rd and long (27 of 93). On all 3rd downs we are allowing 39.6% conversion. The 9 3rd downs conversion allowed this game was our second worst number allowed this year (14 to KC in Denver).

One Bad Play on 3rd and Long

It's 3rd and 16 from their 46 with 5:33 left in the 3rd. The Bill line up with 3WR (Sammy Watkins left and the other two on offensive right with a TE in the slot and Fred Jackson in the backfield.  The Broncos counter with a 3-3-5. Demarcus Ware is lined up in a two-point stance outside the LT. Malik Jackson is lined up in a 0-technique on the center and Derek Wolfe is lined up over the TE in the slot. Von Miller is 3 yards off the LOS over the RG. Brandon Marshall and TJ Ward are both lined up over 4 yards back between Ware and Jackson. We have 6 guys who look like they could be rushing the passer. Bradley Roby is giving Watkins an 8 yard cushion. Chris Harris and Aquib Talib have the two WRs on the defensive right. David Bruton is lined up 14 yards deep,  showing cover-2. Rahim Moore is 17 yards deep at the snap. After the snap, Von blitzes into the A-gap where he is doubled effectively by the center and the RG. Jackson is blocked the LG. Marshall runs a cross-blitz behind Von. The TE and RT double-team Wolfe. The LT blocks Ware with help from a chipping Jackson who then flares out into the flat. So we rush 5 and the Bills keep 7 to block with Jackson leaking out into the pattern after a chip on Ware. We have 6 guys to cover 4 receivers. Von knocks over their center, but in doing so he gums up the middle for both himself and Marshall. Ware gets pushed too deep as Kyle Orton has a little bit of pocket to step up into.  Marshall gets around the fallen center and the block of the RG and hits Orton just as he releases the ball. Jackson almost looks as if he is spying Orton as he does not appear to make much effort to push the LG. This gives Orton enough space to get the throw off before Marshall takes him down. Roby is covering Watkins with safety help from Moore. Roby has inside leverage and gets beaten by a good corner route and a well-placed ball by Orton the gives Moore no time to get over the top to help. The Bills do a decent job hear of picking up the blitz. The Bills gain 35 on the catch, but Orton gets beaten by Harris on the next play for the interception at the 2.

Stopping the Run on first down (and on other downs)

The Bills only ran the ball 16 times against but they gained 74 yards on the ground (4.6 ypc) - being down by 18 early in the 3rd quarter caused them to go away from the running game. The Bills only ran the ball three times in the second half.  Nine of their 16 runs came on 1st down and two of them went for first downs. The Bills gained 39 yards on their 9 first down carries (4.3 ypc). One of their first down runs was stopped for no gain and another was stopped behind the LOS (Malik Jackson blew-up both plays). For the season we have allowed 475 yards on 144 first down runs (3.3 ypc). We have 14 stops for no gain and 14 TFLs on those 144 runs (19% stuff rate on first down runs).

According to we are currently 8th in the league in stuff % (percentage of opponent runs that go for zero or negative yards) at 11.3%. The Lions lead the league at 16.7%. We have played against all but two of the teams that are ahead of us in this stat (DET and TAM). From an offensive standpoint we are the 7th best team in the league at NOT getting stuffed on run plays. Only 8.0% of our running plays end up with 0 or negative yards. Interestingly TEN is the best team in the league at NOT getting stuffed on runs with only 6.2% of their runs getting stuffed.

We are currently 2nd in terms of big running plays allowed (22). The Lions have only allowed 20. Big running plays are defined as runs of 10 or more yards. For comparison, we allowed 40 big runs last season. If we continue of this pace, we will finish the season with 27 big runs allowed. That would be the best value for a Broncos team at least as far back as 1990. The previous Broncos' best in the past 25 seasons is 30 long runs allowed in 2012.  While I'm curious to know how the Orange Crush defenses compare, the running game was much more a part of the NFL back then so I'm not sure that numbers are comparable. Generally when a team does not give up long runs, it is a direct result of good safety play as those runs of 5-9 yards are stopped by the safeties before they become runs of 10 or more. TJ Ward has had a big impact here.

Concluding thoughts

After the suckitude in St. Louis, the Broncos downshifted the offense. For those, like me, who still drive a manual transmission, there are instances when shifting to a lower gear is the best strategy. I would argue that we made this shift to a lower gear as a result of the impending treacherous conditions (a bunch of really good defenses and a shift in the weather). Some would even say that in doing so we are trying to match the run-to-steup-the-pass offense that Elway led in his final three seasons in Denver. In the first 10 games we had 424 passing plays and 243 running plays. We threw the ball 63.5% of the time. Over the past three games we have 91 passing plays and 103 running plays (not counting kneeldowns). Meaning that we are throwing 46.9% of the time. The two NFL teams that have thrown the least this season are the Seahawks (47.0%) and the Texans (48.2%). Our offense over the past three games has matched their run/pass distribution.  We have an offense now that can beat defenses with the run or the pass. We've done it the past three games with the run, but don't be fooled into thinking that our passing game is no longer a threat. Once JT and DT are both healthy, this passing attack will return to the level of deadly that it was earlier in the season.

Next week we have a Chargers team in SD that will be fighting for its playoff life. The set-up will be reminiscient of last season when the 11-2 Broncos played the 6-7 Chargers in week 15. Last year's Chargers were playing well defensively at that point in the year (allowing 17 and 14 points in the two game prior). This year's Chargers are not playing as well defensively, but they did do a good job of limiting Brady and the Pats for most of the game on Sunday night. It was interesting to note that there more Pats fans than Chargers fans at that game in SD. I'll be curious to see if we can pull the same feat, packing more Broncos fans than fair-weather Chargers fans next Sunday. While the SD defense looked good for most of the game on Sunday night, the SD offense was mostly stymied by the Pats D. The Chargers were held to 216 yards of total offense and really only put together one drive all night (80 yd TD drive). Their other score came off of a fumble return TD. Their second longest drive of the game was 30 yards and they had 4 3-and-outs to go with 3 4-and-outs. The Pats D took advantage of a SD offensive line that looked over-matched most of the night. Will we try to similarly pressure Rivers next Sunday? I sure hope so. When we have had success against the Chargers over the past three years, we have gotten after Rivers and forced him into mistakes.