Many words have been written already about the Denver Broncos' loss to the Colts on Sunday night, but sometimes stats can tell the story just as well as, or better, than words can. Four stats in particular tell the sad tale of the divisional round loss for the Broncos better than the rest, stats which highlight the incompetencies and failures that spelt the end of the Broncos' 2014 season.
1. Third down percentage
Broncos 4/16 (25%) on 3rd downs
Denver converted just 25 percent of their third downs on Sunday, significantly down from their season average of 44.1 percent. The Broncos' conversion rate was the lowest of all playoff teams in 2014, tied with the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens; the teams with the lowest six percentages have all been eliminated from the playoffs. The Broncos failed to convert third downs when needed, especially in the second half, coming up with points on just one of six second-half possessions. Because of the poor third down conversion rate, the Colts were able to control the clock effectively, ending the game with nearly nine more minutes of possession than the Broncos when it was all said and done.
2. The tale of the two number one cornerbacks
Vontae Davis: 5/11, 21 yards, 0 TD, 52.5 QBR
Aqib Talib: 7/8, 90 yards, 1 TD, 153.1 QBR
Yes, it's well known in Broncos Country that Chris Harris Jr. is the true number one cornerback in Denver, putting up the numbers in both the slot and on the perimeter to prove it. Harris Jr. was one of the top corners of the entire divisional playoff round, putting forth another great game. That being said, Aqib Talib is the one being paid as the number one cornerback, and his game left much to be desired on Sunday; meanwhile, the Colts' number one, Vontae Davis, locked down Denver's receivers all day.
Talib was picked on all day by the tandem of Andrew Luck and TY Hilton, amongst other receivers as well. Luck completed seven of eight passes directed at the Broncos' number one corner, racking up 90 yards and a touchdown to go along with his 88% completion percentage. On the other side of the field, Vontae Davis excelled against Denver's toughest receivers, allowing just two of seven passes to be completed to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders for a total of 15 yards. The three other receptions that Davis allowed were to running back CJ Anderson and tight end Julius Thomas, for a total of six yards.
This tweet from Benjamin Hochman says it all about Davis' fantastic day:
How good was Colts CB Vontae Davis? Pro Football Focus: "His 6.8 grade is the highest we’ve ever given out to a CB in the postseason."— Benjamin Hochman (@hochman) January 12, 2015
On one side of the field, a number one cornerback showed up, while on the other, it became even more clear who the true number one is.
3. Deep passing
Despite consistently failing, the Broncos continued to attempt to take deep shots with Peyton Manning, almost all of which ended in misguided throws. Peyton told media after the game that the deep throws were his decision, but the number of intermediate routes present in the Broncos game plan was inexplicably low. The Colts dared Manning to open up and throw deep, and he unfortunately obliged, despite failed attempt after failed attempt.
"According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Manning was just 2-of-12 passing for 49 yards on pass attempts that traveled at least 15 yards and just 6-of-21 for 107 yards on passes that traveled more than 5 yards."- Adam Schefter/Jeff Legwold
Manning's poor decisions to consistently take the deep shot, along with the game-plan that consistently attempted to attack this area of the field, were a prime example of the stubborn willingness to try and try again, with no apparent in-game adjustments. With the reports that Manning was playing with a torn quad now surfacing, it begs the serious question why the percentage of deep passes that the Broncos QB attempted was the second-highest it's been all season.
4. Pass rush
Demarcus Ware + Von Miller= one QB hit, three QB pressures, zero sacks
Denver's pass rush was criticized by broadcasters, and while they were the only team outside of New England to not generate a single sack during the divisional round, the pass rush was not as bad as it was made out to be. According to Pro Football Focusstats, the Broncos generated 20 quarterback hurries in the game, suggesting that maybe it wasn't the poor pass rush to blame for Andrew Luck's time in the pocket; instead, maybe it was Luck's superb maneuvering within the pocket. The Colts' quarterback seemed to have all the time in the world, but much of that can be credited to Luck's patience and ability to keep his eyes downfield and avoid pressure while working in the pocket.
The biggest issue in Denver's pass rush was where the pressures came from; two of the highest-paid and biggest names in the NFL when it comes to pass rushers were relatively invisible. Von Miller and Demarcus Ware combined for one quarterback hit, three QB pressures, and zero sacks in the Broncos' most important game of the 2014 campaign. The Colts offensive line played very well, so not all of the onus must fall on the two pass rushers, but for two players who are paid to get to the quarterback, the lack of pressure by the two was certainly disappointing and undoubtedly a key factor in the game's outcome.