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Broncos 3rd and Long: Feasting on (Raven) crow

The Broncos defense was masterful on Sunday. It has been a decade since the Denver defense literally won a game for us. That happened yesterday.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

I'll be continuing the series that I have been doing for the past few years. Providing a defensive game recap through the lens of two significant stats:

1. How the defense does against first down runs.

2. How the defense performs when we get the other team in 3rd and long (7 or more needed to gain).

You can't get teams in 3rd and long if you give a big chunks on 1st down runs. Stopping the run on first down allows the defense to dictate the game, since most teams will throw on 2nd and long. Last season our defense was very good at stopping 1st down runs; we were 2nd in the league (3.42 ypc allowed - DET was 1st at 3.31). We were average at stoppage our opponents on 3rd and long (16th - allowing 24.8% conversion if you leave out conversion by penalty). If you include conversions allowed by penalty we gave up 28.9% conversion on 3rd and long last season (28 of 97).

3rd and Long performance against the Raisins

(my 5-year old daughter can't pronounce Ravens very well, so that is what she calls them)

Situation Play Result
3rd and 7 at BAL 38 (11:45) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass incomplete short middle to K.Aiken. incomplete
3rd and 7 at BAL 23 (4:33) (Shotgun) J.Flacco sacked at BLT 15 for -8 yards (B.Marshall). sack
3rd and 7 at BAL 23 (:12) (Shotgun) J.Flacco sacked at BLT 14 for -9 yards (D.Ware). sack
3rd and 9 at BAL 16 (1:28) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass short right to K.Aiken to BLT 15 for -1 yards (C.Harris). catch but short
3rd and 10 at BAL 35 (14:06) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass incomplete deep right to S.Smith. incomplete
3rd and 12 at BAL 36 (1:56) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass short left to M.Brown ran ob at BLT 39 for 3 yards. catch but short
3rd and 9 at DEN 18 (:52) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass incomplete short right to C.Gillmore (D.Bruton). PENALTY on DEN-D.Bruton, Defensive Pass Interference, 2 yards, enforced at DEN 18 - No Play. conversion by penalty
3rd and 10 at DEN 16 (:36) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass deep middle intended for C.Gillmore INTERCEPTED by D.Stewart (D.Bruton) at DEN 0. Touchback (M.Brown). Interception

Baltimore had 10 total offensive drives (not counting the kneel-down). We forced them into 3rd and long 8 times in them and allowed them to convert only once - on the pass interference on David Bruton on their last possession.  From memory, we got pressure on Joe (I'm not really elite) Flacco on every one of these plays resulting in two sacks, a bevy of hurried throws and one game-clinching interception. Overall we held the Raisins to 3 of 14 (21.4%) on 3rd down. The other two conversions came on the 10 yard completion to Steve Smith on 3rd and 5 and the 20 yard run by Justin Forsett on 3rd and 2 on their final drive. For a team that expects to be able to run the ball, we only allowed them to get into 3rd and short (3 or fewer yards needed to gain) three times and we stopped them on two out of three. Baltimore had only 11 first downs in the game, and only 4 of them came on 3rd or 4th down. We held them to 3.0 yards per play on Sunday. The league average last season was 5.4. Part of our 3rd down success against them was a result of our ability to stop their running game on first down.

Stopping the run on first down

They ran the ball 11 times against us on first down. Those runs netted 18 yards. That's 1.6 yards per carry. One of those runs was a loss (Sly getting the TFL) and five of them were stopped for no gain. The five runs that made it past the line of scrimmage gained 3, 4, 3, 5 and 4 yards respectively. All of you who were worried about Wade's defenses not being able to stop the run can stop worrying now. That was a superb performance overall against a veteran offensive line that was mostly unchanged from the line that was 5th in the league in average yards per carry last season (admittedly they lost their LT to a concussion early in the game). Our run stoppage on 1st down this game was as good as many of our games last season (4 games last year we gave up less than 2 ypc on first down runs). Overall we allowed 73 rushing yards on 23 carries (3.2 ypc).

What it means

Baltimore's running game was top-shelf last season. We shut it down (for the most past). Baltimore's offensive line was top-shelf last season in terms of protecting Flacco (2nd fewest sacks allowed last season, 19, behind us). We harassed him all afternoon, despite only registering two sacks. Kansas City's offensive line is not as good as Baltimore's. The Texans held them to 97 yards rushing on 3.2 carries (3.0 ypc), but they, like us, were only able to sack Alice Smith two times on Sunday. The absence of Derek Wolf (suspension) and Malik Jackson (concussion) could hurt us against a KC team that will continue to run the ball regardless of their level of success at doing so.