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Broncos 3rd & Long: Denver's defense remains elite on 3rd downs

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Be careful what you wish for.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This offseason many talked about how great it would be to have a defense that could win games for us. We have that now. Unfortunately while our defense has progressed, our offense seems to have regressed by the same amount. Our offense has tried hard in the first five games to give the game away. So far our defense has not let them.

The Raiders came in with a very distinct strategy. In standard Jack Del Rio fashion, they stuck to it, even when it was not working in the second half. Their strategy was to run the ball with their massive offensive line and then get into manageable third down distances. Additionally when they chose to throw on first or second down Derek Carr was getting the ball out quickly and focusing on short routes. Looking at their third down conversion rate (8/17 counting the penalty conversion) and their time of possession (34+ minutes), their strategy worked. Looking at their score (10 points), it didn't.

Performance on 3rd & Long (7 or more needed to gain)

Believe it or not, this was our defense's worst performance on 3rd and long. The Faiders were able to convert three of nine and none of theme were by penalty.

Situation Play Result
3rd and 15 at OAK 37 (11:45 - 1st) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass short right to L.Murray to OAK 37 for no gain (M.Jackson, T.Ward) complete but short
3rd and 11 at DEN 15 (3:23 - 1st) (Shotgun) D.Carr sacked at DEN 20 for -5 yards (M.Jackson) sack
3rd and 9 at OAK 21 (5:35 - 3rd) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass deep middle to M.Rivera to OAK 40 for 19 yards (A.Talib) conversion by catch
3rd and 10 at OAK 40 (4:14 - 3rd) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short left to M.Crabtree (C.Harris) incomplete
3rd and 13 at DEN 31 (0:10 - 3rd) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass short middle to R.Helu to DEN 22 for 9 yards (T.Ward, B.Marshall) catch but short
3rd and 7 at OAK 28 (8:39 - 4th) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass deep right to M.Crabtree to OAK 49 for 21 yards (D.Stewart) [V.Miller]. PENALTY on DEN-V.Miller, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at OAK 49 conversion by catch
3rd and 6 at OAK 24 (6:14 - 4th) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short middle to R.Helu (A.Smith) incomplete
3rd and 9 at OAK 48 (4:05 - 4th) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass short middle to M.Rivera to DEN 42 for 10 yards (T.Ward). FUMBLES (T.Ward), recovered by OAK-R.Helu at DEN 42. R.Helu to DEN 42 for no gain (D.Trevathan) conversion by catch
3rd and 12 at DEN 44 (3:12 - 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) D.Carr sacked at OAK 49 for -7 yards (S.Ray) sack

The Faiders' strategy to try and stay out of the 3rd and long situations, did not work as well they would have liked since they ended up with 9 of 17 of their 3rd downs as long situations. Four of their 3rd downs were short situations (1, 2, 3 and 3) and they converted on three of those 4. I have to give some credit to the Raiders here, after five games they are 5th in the league in 3rd down conversion % on offense. We are 28th on offense after a pitiful two of thirteen yesterday.

Believe it or not, allowing 3 of 9 was our defense's worst performance on 3rd and long this season.

For the season we have now allowed conversion on 11 of 43 3rd and long situations (included conversions by penalty) - 25.6%. Overall we have allowed conversion on 34.8% (24/69) of 3rd downs (again including penalty conversions). If you leave out the penalty conversions, we have only allowed conversion on 30% of 3rd downs, this remains best in the league although the Texans and Titans are close to overtaking us.

Stopping the run on first down

The first thing that I am going to note is that the Faiders used 6 offensive lineman (bringing in Khalif Barnes) quite a bit in their running game. They still were only able to muster 65 yards on 25 carries (2.6 ypc). Jokeland ran the ball 12 times on first down for a grand total of 15 yards. These runs included two stops for no gain and two TFL's. Four of these first down runs had 6 offensive lineman in on the play. Their longest first down run of the day was 4 yards. Because of our ability to stop the run on first down, we put the Faiders in many 2nd and long situations which led to quite a few 3rd and long situations as you can see above.

Our defense is kicking tail and taking names in a lot of situations. Stopping the run on first down is only one of them. So far teams have run for 135 yards against us on 60 first down carries (2.3 ypc). The only team to run successfully against us on first down so far was the Chiefs, who gained 64 of those 135 yards. This team is doing better than 2014 at stopping first down runs at this same point in the season. Last season we allowed 175 yards on 58 first down carries through five games (3.0 ypc). Part of that last season was some long runs by Alex Smith (10 yds), Kniles Davis (19 yds) and Marshawn Lynch (10 and 12 yds) against us on first down.

Looking forward to next game - Cleveland 

The Browns are currently the second worst team in the league at stopping the run - allowing 5.0 ypc. In fact, if you look at the current team stats, the bottom five teams in the league currently in terms of stopping the run are future opponents - 28th NE, 29th CIN, 30th SD, 31st, CLE, 32nd GB. If we can't get the running game going against these teams, we might as well pencil in another early play-off exit. 18 carries for 43 yards (2.4 ypc) - what we did on Sunday - will not get it done in December and January.