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Broncos 3rd & Long: A good second half this time

After two weeks of dominating the first half and then playing poorly in the second half, we flipped that this week. The Bengals dominated all but the last few minutes of the first half, but we owned the second half.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It's not supposed to be easy for inexperienced quarterbacks to move down the field and score against the elite Denver Broncos defense, but our defense did not look elite in the first half. We didn't stop the run on first down like we have for most of the season (more on that later) and we were not getting pressure on A.J. McCarron, because his line was playing extremely well.

The Cincinnati Bengals were allowed to convert on their first four 3rd downs leading to two long TD drives (80 and 90 yards). We didn't get our first 3rd down stop until in late in the second quarter on the missed field goal drive.

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

Situation Play Result
3rd and 11 at DEN 38 (4:48 - 2nd) (Shotgun) A.McCarron pass short left to T.Kroft to DEN 26 for 12 yards (B.Roby) Conversion by catch
3rd and 11 at DEN 27 (2:37 - 2nd) (Shotgun) A.McCarron pass incomplete deep left to M.Jones Incomplete
3rd and 20 at CIN 10 (8:52 - 3rd) (Shotgun) Giovani Bernard middle for 5 yards (tackle by Danny Trevathan) Run but short
3rd and 9 at CIN 20 (12:08 - 4th) (Shotgun) A.McCarron pass incomplete short left to T.Kroft Incomplete
3rd and 16 at CIN 14 (9:58 - 4th) (Shotgun) A.McCarron pass deep middle to M.Sanu to CIN 34 for 20 yards (B.Roby) Conversion by catch
3rd and 8 at CIN 46 (7:45 - 4th) (Shotgun) A.McCarron pass short middle to T.Kroft to DEN 39 for 15 yards (C.Harris) Conversion by catch
3rd and 20 at CIN 30 (2:00 - 4th) (Shotgun) A.McCarron pass short right to T.Kroft pushed ob at CIN 44 for 14 yards (S.Keo) Catch but short

In a disturbing trend, both of our last two opponents have been able to convert against us even on 3rd and long. It was not a surprise for Ben Roethlisberger to do this against us. He has always been able to convert on 3rd and long. It was a surprise for AJ McCarron to be able to convert on three of seven against us.

The conversion on 3rd and 16 was painful, but it was a good play by McCarron who took a shot to complete the throw. Our safety play was lacking. For the season we have now allowed 73 of 193 3rd and longs to be converted (37.8%) - that includes conversions by penalty.

Leaving out penalty conversions, we have allowed 25.0% conversion - 9th best in the league. Minnesota is currently the best in the league at 19.1% conversion allowed on 3rd and long. The best offense at converting on 3rd and long is Arizona, who are converting an amazing 40.0% of 3rd and longs.

The Bengals, overall, converted on 10 of 17 3rd downs against us despite playing with the backup QB. As I mentioned earlier they converted on their first four 3rd down tries all of which were medium length (4-6 yards needed). They also converted six of their first eight 3rd down tries. We made some adjustments and were able to stop them on five of their last nine 3rd down tries, but they still were able to do much more against us than I was expecting given that McCarron was making only his second NFL start.

Stopping the Run on First Down

During the first half the Bengals were able to consistently win the line of scrimmage and gain 4 or more yards per carry on first down runs. This was the perfect strategy to protect their young QB from our fierce pass rush since they were able to stay out of long yardage situations on 3rd down for most of the first half.

Their first down runs in the first half went for 4, 4, 5 , 2, 4, 16, 6, 5, 4 and -3 yards. All of those except for the the two yards and the negative three yards runs are "wins" for the offense.  That's ten carries for 47 yards (4.7 ypc). Compare that to second half were they ran the ball five time for 15 yards (3.0 ypc) with one stop for no gain and one tackle for a loss.

Moving Forward

One game left in the regular. One more chance to show how dominant our defense can be. One chance to guarantee that we get one of the coveted and much needed byes. Our depth has been tested at almost every position at this point in the season.

Getting that bye will go a long way to helping a deep playoff run, but the San Diego Chargers are not going to just roll over and play dead for us. They are going to do everything in their power to make our path as difficult as they can. They took the Raiders to overtime in week 16 before falling 23-20. They out-gained the Raiders and won the time of possession battle in the loss. Their offense has been improving in recent weeks, so I expect them to score a little more than the three they scored against us last time. I still expect us to beat them soundly.