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Broncos' 3rd & Long: Defense continues to dominate

Some people call these "ugly" wins, but I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Our defense continues to play well enough to win games for us as our offense struggles to find itself.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Broncos' offense found something that worked most of the time against a below-average defense. The defense continued to show the world that it is one of the best, if not the best, in the league.

Depending upon what happens in the Monday night game, we will either be tied for third or tied for fourth in points allowed. Unless the Chiefs completely shutdown the Packers offense (not going to happen), Broncos will finish week 3 as the No. 1 defense in yards allowed per game.

You have to look long and hard to find a defensive stat where the Broncos are not in the Top 10 in the league.

As the NFL measures the stat, we will be first at stopping conversions on third down. I could go on, but suffice it to say, you have to look long and hard to find a defensive stat right now where the Broncos are NOT in the top 10 in the league.

So let's get to the stats that you wanted to see when you clicked on this link.

Defensive performance on 3rd and long (7 or more needed to gain)

It never gets old writing about dominant Broncos defensive performances. This game was another one. Detroit had 11 actual drives (not counting the kneeldown at the end of the first half). We forced them into eight 3rd-and-longs on those 11 drives.

Situation Play Result
3rd and 14 at DET 16 (13:28) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short middle to G.Tate to DET 19 for 3 yards (M.Jackson; D.Trevathan). complete but short
3rd and 18 at DET 15 (9:30) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short left to T.Riddick to DET 32 for 17 yards (T.Ward). complete but short
3rd and 9 at DET 12 (3:39) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass incomplete deep left to G.Tate. PENALTY on DEN-C.Harris, Defensive Pass Interference, 23 yards, enforced at DET 12 - No Play. conversion by penalty
3rd and 9 at DET 34 (11:33) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass incomplete short left to A.Abdullah. incomplete
3rd and 7 at DEN 28 (3:12) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short right to C.Johnson ran ob at DEN 17 for 11 yards. conversion by catch
3rd and 11 at DET 47 (4:47) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short middle to M.Stafford to DET 41 for -6 yards (D.Ware). Ball batted at the line by Den #90-A. Smith, then caught by Stafford. catch (by Stafford) but short
3rd and 10 at DET 33 (14:09) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass incomplete short left to C.Johnson (A.Talib). incomplete
3rd and 12 at DEN 48 (3:44) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short left intended for C.Johnson INTERCEPTED by D.Bruton at DEN 37. D.Bruton to DEN 49 for 12 yards (A.Abdullah). interception

Detroit was only able to convert on two of these plays - the pass interference penalty on Chris Harris, Jr. in the first quarter and the completion to Calvin Johnson on Detroit's lone good drive of the night in the second quarter.

Detroit faced 13 third downs all night and converted five (I count the conversion by penalty - the NFL does not). The other three conversions came on 3rd and 6 (catch for 7), 3rd and 1 (run for 1) and 3rd and 3 (catch for 3). For the season our defense has now forced 22 3rd and longs and allowed conversion on four total (18.2%). Only one of those conversions on third and long did not come by penalty (Megatron's catch last night).

For the season, our defense has allowed nine conversions on 35 total third down attempts (including conversions by penalty) - 25.7 percent. If you leave out the penalty conversion (as the NFL does), we are leading the league in 3rd down conversion percentage at 18.8 percent (6/32). The last time we led the league in 3rd down conversion percentage allowed was in 2012, and we started out horribly that year by allowing a bunch of 3rd and long conversions in the first three games (to Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub - 12 of 23).

We have yet to face a QB that is good at converting on 3rd and long (Joe Flacco, Alex Smith and Stafford are not). If we can have the same level of success against Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Roethlisberger as we have had against the first three QBs we have faced, we may be able to ride this defense all the way to the Lombardi trophy.

Going back to the 2012 season, the three best QBs at converting on 3rd and long are Rivers (35.8%), Roethlisberger (34.3%) and Ryan (33.2%). Manning comes in at 4th in this stat (33.0%). Drew Brees (32.9%), Andrew Luck (31.2%), Andy Dalton (30.9%) and Brady (30.5%) are close.

As a team Jacksonville is dead last at converting on 3rd and long over this time period - 20.7%. So far this season, our defense has made every offense we have faced look worse than the worst offense in the NFL since 2012 at converting on 3rd and long.

Performance against the run on first down

Both defenses controlled the line of scrimmage and won at the point of attack against the run. Not counting the Stafford kneel-down to end the half, the Lions ran the ball 12 times on first down for 21 yards (1.8 ypc). Half of their first-down runs were either losses (3) or stops for no gain (3). Our ability to stop the run on first down this game was very similar to what we did in week one against the Raisins. The other thing to note from last night's game is that the Lions went with six offensive linemen on two of those first-down runs; both runs went for no gain. The Lions tried two other times to use six offensive linemen to aid the running game. Those two other plays went for four and one yards. That four-yard run was one of their better runs of the game.

Our defense has made every offense we have faced look worse than the worst offense in the NFL since 2012 at converting on 3rd and long.

So far this season we have allowed 103 yards on 40 first down carries (2.6 ypc) with 4 TFLs and 9 stops for no gain. When teams have run against us on first down 33% of those runs have resulted in a loss or no gain. I expect that this number will get worse as we face more teams who can run the ball effectively later in the year. As of right now many of our future opponents are in the top 10 in ypc: Faiders (#1), Viking (#2), Colts (#6), Bears (#7), Packers (#9)

Looking ahead

The Vikings come into Denver next week at 2-1, bringing our old friend, Norv Turner, as the offensive coordinator. They are second in the league in average yards per carry, behind Jokeland. The Vikings have the second highest run percentage (running plays/total offensive plays) in the league after three games (52.9%). Only Buffalo has run the ball at a higher rate (53.0%).

Both teams have elite running backs and young QBs. I expect Minnesota to run the ball on first down against us. Through three games they have the highest run percentage in the league on first down (68.4%); Detroit has the lowest at 32.2%. If they are able to gain decent yardage like Jamaal Charles was able to do against us on first down in week two, then it will make Teddy Bridgewater's life a lot easier next Sunday.

If we are able to stuff Adrian Peterson on first down runs like we did to Justin Forsett in week one, we should destroy the Viking's offense. Right now the Vikings' passing game is one of the worst in the league. Through three games Bridgewater is completing only 50 percent of his passes with a league-worst one passing TD and 449 passing yards.