The Denver Broncos defense has been good. Real good. They could have been a lot better through three games, but the defense has been real sloppy and undisciplined in one area: Penalties. And it has cost them, not just in meaningless yards, but in meaningful points for the other team.
The irony here is that the Broncos defense is 27th in the NFL in committing penalties by yards. However, when they have committed penalties it has cost them dearly, so it's not even about quantity. It's about when those penalties are committed and how the small number of penalties have produced points for the other team.
In Week 1, we saw what this defense could do against any team if they played their style of football. Two scoring drives given up for field goals, 117 yards given up through the air, 73 on the ground and a pick six. The defense outscored the opposing offense. In that game against the Baltimore Ravens the Orange Crush 2.0 defense committed a single penalty for a whooping two yards.
Albeit that single 2-yard penalty nearly cost the Broncos the game as it came on a third down and nine in the final minutes and in the red zone no less. David Bruton Jr., the most penalized player on the Broncos through three games (5) made up for that mistake by blanketing Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore in the end zone that resulted in a Darian Stewart game-saving interception.
Since that incredibly dominant game, the Broncos defense has gotten a bit sloppier each week and is giving points to the other team through those mental errors. To cover for that, the unit is relying on ever more miraculous plays to secure the win.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos defense forced five turnovers and really controlled the game. Except when they were busy giving the Chiefs opportunities with stupid penalties. Maybe it was just the Chiefs rivalry, but this game had the Broncos defenders chippy from the beginning, committing a roughing the passer, an unnecessary roughness and an offsides penalty on the first drive.
Fortunately, that 1st goal at the three yard line turned into a Jamaal Charles fumble at the six yard line that the Broncos defense recovered. Saved the points!
The Chiefs would have two more touchdown scoring drives in that game, one in the fourth quarter was entirely legit. Alex Smith hit Travis Kelce on the tight ends only big play of the game for a 29 yard catch and run. From there, Charles gashed the Broncos inside rushing lanes to get the ball to the eight yard line. Knile Davis then took it the rest of the way for a touchdown. The only touchdown the Broncos defense gave up through three games without committing some sort of stupid foul along the way.
The other Chiefs touchdown drive took place early in the second quarter. That 78 yard drive was aided along by 30 yards worth of two unnecessary roughness penalties. A gassed and frustrated Broncos defense then gave up the worst play through three games - a 34 yard touchdown run by Charles.
The game was tighter than it should of been due to those costly errors and the Broncos needed a miracle fumble recovery for a touchdown to avoid having to go into overtime.
Then you have the Detroit Lions game. The Broncos defense increased their penalty yards from 50 in the Chiefs game to a whooping 64 against the Lions. Once again, roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness penalties helped along a couple of offensive touchdown drives in that game. Outside of these two drives, the Broncos defense played sound football and suffocated the Lions offense on every possession.
The first drive came late in the second quarter when Von Miller was flagged for roughing the passer in what some might call a ticky tack call, but it did turn a nine yard gain into a 24 yard gain into Broncos territory. Then, as if the football gods were exacting some revenge, the Lions converted their only third down of the day that didn't come by way of penalty with an 11 yard Matthew Stafford pass to Calvin Johnson on a third and seven to get the Lions into the red zone.
On the Lions second touchdown drive I am torn between blaming the Broncos offense for this touchdown or sticking it to the Broncos defense, since this drive was a 29 yarder that came from a fumble by Demaryius Thomas. Then I realized half the yards the Lions needed for this touchdown came on an unnecessary roughness penalty (yes another ticky tack call) on Sylvester Williams when Stafford decided at the last second to slide into him for a sack. A few plays later, Ameer Abdullah would burn Brandon Marshall for a 16 yard touchdown reception.
Once again, the Broncos defense found themselves in an unnecessary situation of needing a defensive stop to secure victory. This time it was David Bruton Jr. who stepped up and made the big play.
GIF: David Bruton picks Matt Stafford pic.twitter.com/9K4CiOI9pM
— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) September 28, 2015
Currently the Broncos defense is giving up 16.3 points per game, which is tied for third in the NFL, but really that number should be 11.7 points per game as Peyton Manning has thrown for two pick sixes through three games. I consider those points as not something you can attribute to the defense. That 11.7 number is best in the NFL, two points lower than the New York Jets.
However, the Broncos sloppy play on the defense has led to a touchdown against both the Chiefs and Lions, while a short field from a Broncos turnover helped along another touchdown drive. It's crazy to think that this defense could be giving up seven points per game if they would maintain discipline on drives, but that's football.
|PENALTY AIDED (above 25 yds)
|PENALTY AIDED (under 25 yds)
One of those penalty aided under 25 yard drives started on the Broncos 29 yard line, but the other two were costly. Still, that is just 16 points on clean drives through three games. The Broncos defense also had two more heavily penalty aided drives that ended in a turnover or a turnover on downs. These penalties are something they need to work on cleaning up, because if they do this defense is going to be even more of a force to be reckoned with than it is now.
The Broncos defense has 116 yards in penalties on the year, with 114 of those coming in just the last two games. One of these unsportsmanlike penalties was called on Demaryius Thomas, but the rest were called on the defense:
- 4 unnecessary roughness for 49 yards
- 3 pass interference for 26 yards
- 2 defensive offsides for 6 yards
- 2 roughing the passer for 30 yards
- 2 unsportsmanlike conduct for 30 yards
There is little doubting the potential of this defensive unit. I am anxious to see them return to the form they had in the Ravens game, even though they have collectively made some amazing defensive plays in all three contests.
Outside of these very few, but quite costly penalties, the Broncos defense is 1st in the NFL in points per game (if you take out the pix sixes), 1st in total yards, 1st in yards per play, 6th in first downs, 1st in third down percentage (19% WHAT!?), 1st in passing yards per game, 2nd in passing yards per attempt, 3rd in sacks, 2nd in interceptions, 1st in QB rating, 7th in rushing yards, 6th in rushing yards per attempt, 1st in defensive touchdowns, and 2nd in total turnovers.
I figure if I am going to criticize the best defense in the NFL, I might as well end this post with the laundry list of positives. I'm still loving this Orange Crush 2.0. I am just left imagining how good they could be without these 15 yard drive sustaining mental errors.
What do you think Broncos Country?