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Broncos 3rd & Long: Two weeks of second half misery

Two games, two eerily similar second halves from our offense - two losses.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Because of the demands of my real job, I was unable to write up my review of the loss to the Oakland Raiders. So you get a double shot of pain here getting to relive both games that the Denver Broncos would falter in the second half - giving up double-digit leads in both games.

The defense overall against the Raiders was superb. The defense allowed 126 total yards. There have only been 10 games this century where a team allowed 130 or fewer yards and lost. We now have the ignominy of being on that list. The last team to do it was the Titans in 2010 who lost to Pittsburgh despite allowing a total of 127 yards.  The offense couldn't score in the red zone and we made some costly mistakes both on offense and defense that led to that loss. The performance on 3rd and long was superb though.

Performance on 3rd and long (7 or more needed to gain) against the Raiders

The Raiders only converted on four of sixteen third downs overall (including penalty conversions), but one of those was huge.

Situation Play Result
3rd and 9 at OAK 21 (8:57 - 1st) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short middle to S.Roberts. PENALTY on DEN-C.Harris, Illegal Contact, 5 yards, enforced at OAK 21 - No Play conversion by penalty
3rd and 10 at OAK 35 (14:04 - 2nd) (Shotgun) D.Carr sacked at OAK 20 for -15 yards (D.Wolfe) sack
3rd and 7 at OAK 23 (3:50 - 2nd) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete deep left to A.Cooper incomplete
3rd and 15 at OAK 35 (7:56 - 3rd) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short right to A.Cooper incomplete
3rd and 15 at OAK 30 (15:00 - 4th) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short middle to S.Roberts incomplete
3rd and 15 at DEN 16 (14:26 - 4th) Mychal Rivera Pass From Derek Carr for 16 Yrds TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. D.Carr pass to C.Walford is incomplete. ATTEMPT FAILS. touchdown
3rd and 8 at OAK 41 (9:01 - 4th) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short middle to C.Walford (M.Jackson) incomplete
3rd and 9 at DEN 25 (5:17 - 4th) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete deep left to A.Cooper incomplete
3rd and 18 at DEN 45 (2:48 - 4th) (Shotgun) L.Murray up the middle to 50 for -5 yards (A.Smith) run way short

They converted on their first third and long - the holding call on Chris Harris Jr. and then on only one other during the game - the touchdown on 3rd and 15 where Shiloh Keo showed why he was unemployed the week before. They converted on two of nine third and longs on the day.

Stopping the running game on first down

The Raiders ran the ball 23 times for 27 yards against us (1.2 ypc). Eight of those runs were on first down and they netted 18 yards (2.3 ypc). As our defense has done all year, we shut down the running game on first down to force the Raiders into second and third and long situations. This was even more apparent against the Steelers who only even tried to run the ball on first down four times against us (one of those was in a kill-the-clock situation at the end of the game). Those four carries on first down by the Steelers netted 1 yard (0.3 ypc). We had ostop for no gain on a first down run against the Raiders, one stop for no gain against the Steelers and one TFL on a first down run against the Steelers. For the season we have 28 stops for no gain and 17 TFLs on first down runs on 178 first down rushing attempts against us - meaning that 25% of all first down runs against us this year have resulted in zero or negative yards.

For the season we are allowing 3.02 yards per carry on first down runs - 538 yards on 175 carries. That is the best in the league. Seattle is second allowing 3.21 yards per carry on first down. Washington is currently the worst in the league at 5.14.

Performance on 3rd and long against the Steelers

Way back in 2011 when I started doing the format for reviews, one of the things that stirred me to do it was watching Ben Roethlisberger slice up our defense on 3rd and long that year (converting 7 of 9). So I was not surprised to see more of that yesterday. This defense is better than the 2011 defense, but Big Ben has been converting on 3rd and long his whole career and he is one of the best in the game at it. After yesterday Ben is completing a ridiculous 78.8% of his passes on 3rd and long (26 of 33).

Situation Play Result
3rd and 20 at DEN 46 (9:31 - 2nd) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete deep left to D.Heyward-Bey. PENALTY on DEN-A.Talib, Defensive Pass Interference, 24 yards, enforced at DEN 46 - No Play Conversion by penalty
3rd and 13 at PIT 42 (0:40 - 2nd) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass deep left to A.Brown pushed ob at DEN 42 for 16 yards (B.Roby) conversion by catch
3rd and 11 at PIT 41 (9:24 - 3rd) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to M.Wheaton to DEN 46 for 13 yards (S.Keo) conversion by catch
3rd and 9 at DEN 45 (7:54 - 3rd) (No Huddle, Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short right to M.Bryant to DEN 35 for 10 yards (A.Talib). Penalty on DEN-D.Ware, Defensive Offside, declined conversion by catch
3rd and 12 at PIT 35 (10:02 - 4th) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to A.Brown to PIT 44 for 9 yards (D.Bruton) [V.Miller] catch but short

Because of their ability to throw the ball on first and second down, we only forced them into five third and long situations. They converted on a disgusting four of those five with us only stopping their final attempt. Overall the Pittsburgh Steelers converted on eight of sixteen third downs (including the penalty conversions).

For the season we have now allowed conversion on 70 of 186 third and long situations (37.6%). Leaving out penalty conversions we are allowing conversion on 23.8% of 3rd and longs. That is good for 8th. Houston and Arizona are leading the league at 20.0% allowed.

Moving forward

This team has been decimated by injuries and it is showing now. I'm not just talking about the the players who aren't playing, I'm talking about the players who are playing hurt. We were able to compensate somewhat against the Raiders, but the cracks did show through finally. Against the Steelers, our depleted safety corps was victimized multiple times particularly in the second half.

I don't know what our team is going to do now. It's obvious that our offensive coaches have no ability to "counter-punch" in the second half. The Raiders and the Steelers both made changes on defense and we had little or no answers.

The remaining two games of the season are now huge. They are both at home, what is good, but if we lose them both we could miss the playoffs entirely. We need to win them both to guarantee a bye.

Our next opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals comes in with their backup QB having led them to 24 points against the hapless 49ers, but those 24 points are deceiving. Their three TD drives covered 11, 36 and 20 yards - meaning that they were more a function of the 49ers inept offense and the Bengals good defense than the Bengals offense. That being said they did do something that we were unable to do against the Raiders with our backup QB - score TDs in the red zone. The Bengals were limited to 242 yards of offense against the 49ers.