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Broncos vs. Colts 3rd and Long: A tale of two halves

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The Broncos held on two win in a game that looked to be a blowout (21 point lead in the 4th), but the defense showed flashes of brilliance and stepped up to secure the game late.

Justin Edmonds

I'll be renewing the post-game defensive analysis that I have been doing for the past two seasons. As usual I will focus on two key things

1. Defensive performance on 3rd and long (and  3rd down in general)

2. Defensive performance against runs on 1st down

Both of these are critical to winning. Our defense excelled in both situations in 2012 and faded somewhat it 2013. I will also be added another short portion this year - a week by week comparison to the Orange Crush defenses of 77-79. Some have talked (and written) about how this D could be as good.

Giving up 17 points in one half is not what we were expecting from this D, but the Colts offense (and that Luck guy) are pretty good. I would not be surprised if we see them again in the playoffs.

3rd and Long

Our defense forced the Colts into six 3rd and long situations here they are:

3rd and 16 at IND 14 (12:58) (Shotgun) A.Luck scrambles up the middle to IND 19 for 5 yards (B.Roby).
3rd and 8 at IND 22 (6:00) (Shotgun) A.Luck sacked at IND 15 for -7 yards (sack split by D.Ware and M.Jackson).
3rd and 13 at IND 7 (13:41) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass incomplete deep right to T.Hilton (A.Talib) [M.Jackson].
3rd and 9 at IND 44 (7:18) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass short left to H.Nicks to IND 47 for 3 yards (T.Ward).
3rd and goal at DEN 9 (3:32) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass short middle to H.Nicks for 9 yards, TOUCHDOWN. A.Vinatieri extra point is GOOD, Center-M.Overton, Holder-P.McAfee.
3rd and 15 at DEN 48 (2:03) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass short left to T.Hilton to DEN 39 for 9 yards (Q.Carter).

The only one that they were able to convert was the Luck touchdown scramble near the end of the second half. That being said, the 3 yard completion to Nicks on 3rd and 9 and the 9 yard completion to Hilton on 3rd and 15 were both followed by 4th down conversions. The Colts had 12 drives in the game and only 4 ended on punts (two ended with interceptions and two on downs). The Colts were 2 of 4 on 4th down. For comparison, the Broncos had 10 drives (not counting the two kneel-downs) with 5 ending in scores (50% scoring, matching what we did last year). In the first half, every drive we had (save the kneel-down) ended with a score (4 of 4). In the second half, only 1 of 6 ended in a score (again not counting the kneel-down). We did not punt in the first half, and punted 5 times in the second half. We had three drives in the first half the consumed 4 or more minutes of game clock, including one drive that chewed up 6:35. We had 4 drives in the second half that consumed less than two minutes of game clock - including the horrible 4-minutes offense FAIL where we only took 28 seconds off of the game clock by throwing incomplete on 2nd and 3rd down.

Overall holding the Colts to 1 of 6 (16.7%) on 3rd and long and 4 of 13 (30.7%) on all 3rd downs are both good. Last season we allowed 24.8% conversion on 3rd and long and 38.8% conversion on 3rd down overall. The other 3 conversions by the Colts on 3rd down came on distances of 5 (8 yard completion), 3 (14 yard completion) and 2 (41 yard TD).

The scariest thing to me about our defensive performance was the yards per play (ypp) that we allowed - 5.8. That would have made us one of the worst D's in the league had we finished there last seasonl. The Bears were the worst in the league last year with 6.2 ypp allowed. The 2013 Bronco D only allowed 5.3 ypp. The 2012 Bronco D led the league with 4.6 ypp.

1st down runs against

One of the keys to getting the other team in 3rd and long is to hold them to 2 or fewer yards on 1st down runs. The Colts did not run that often on 1st down partly because they were trailing by a large margin for most of the game. Last year the Colts ran the ball 15 times against us on 1st down for 69 yards (4.6 ypc), but almost half of that (30 yards) came on an end around to Heyward-Bay. Outside of that 1st down run, we shut them down last year including four TFLs on 1st down runs. This year they ran the ball 7 times for 24 yards on 1st down (3.4 ypc) with only 1 TFL (Irving's stop). None of those 7 runs went for big yards (Richardson's 7 yard run in the 1st quarter was their best), but only 3 of those were stopped for 2 or fewer yards. Indy was forced to abandon the run once they went down by 24. Next week against the Chefs will be a much better test of our first down run defense - at least until we get up big on the Chefs and they abandon the run. Last season we finished the year allowing 4.4 yards per carry on first down runs and we got significantly worse at stopping first down runs after Vickerson and Wolfe were both done for the year.

Comparison to the Orange Crush

Much like the OC of old, our defense did much better against the run than the pass last night. Unlike the OC defenses of 77, 78 and 79, we did not hold our opponent to 6 or fewer points in week 1. The 76 OC defense gave up 17 points in an opening game loss to the Bengals (our offense was held to 171 total yards in that game). The OC D in the next three years did a good job of limiting points in week 1 despite giving up a decent amount of passing yards  except in 79 (particularly by the late 70s standards). The comparative points and yards allowed for week 1 are shown below

Opponent Year Points Total Yards Rushing Passing
STL Cards 1977 7 273 69 204
OAK Faiders 1978 0 318 117 201
CIN Bengals 1979 0 232 95 137
IND Colts 2014 24 408 54 354

The 2014 Broncos D played a similar brand of "bend-don't-break" defense in week 1, but didn't do as good of a job at no breaking.

A win is a win. The defense will continue to improve as CHJ, Von, DW, QC and RM all get back in "regular season" shape. Let's hope the offense doesn't have another half where they collectively disappear like last night.