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Broncos 3rd & Long: Closing out the Chargers and wrapping up homefield

It wasn't pretty. We lost the turnover battle. We lost time of possession. We gave up big runs on first down. We gave up an 80-yd TD pass. We did all of that and still won. Thank you, Broncos defense.

Getting the lowest seed possible (#1), some times means getting low like Von Miller
Getting the lowest seed possible (#1), some times means getting low like Von Miller
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Our defense saved the day - again.

The offense turned the ball over 5 times, but our defense only allowed those turnovers to be turned into 10 points. That's strong.

For the season our offense or special teams turned the ball over 31 times. Three of those were pick-6's. On the other 26 drives that started with one of our turnovers (not sure what happened to the other two), our defense only allowed 14 scores (10 TDs and 4 FGs).

That's pretty strong too, but this is not.

Every time our offense turned the ball over inside our own 38, we allowed a score. Ten out of ten (eight TDs and two FGs). When our offense turned the ball over beyond our own 38 we only allowed four scores (two TDs, two FGs) on 16 drives. I would have thought that our defense was better than that when our offense gave the ball away in plus territory, but I guess my perception does not match reality.

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

The Chargers did a good job of staying out of 3rd & long situations for most of the game mainly because they ran the ball effectively on first down (more of this later). They only had six 3rd & long situations

Situation Play Result
3rd and 8 at SD 48 (11:58 - 1st) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to A.Gates to DEN 40 for 12 yards (J.Bush) Conversion by catch
3rd and 7 at DEN 46 (1:20 - 2nd) (Shotgun) P.Rivers sacked at SD 49 for -5 yards (D.Ware). PENALTY on SD-P.Rivers, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced between downs Sack
3rd and 8 at DEN 13 (8:18 - 3rd) Antonio Gates Pass From Philip Rivers for 13 Yrds J.Lambo extra point is Good Touchdown
3rd and 7 at DEN 42 (1:17 - 3rd) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short right to D.Woodhead to DEN 38 for 4 yards (K.Webster) Catch but short
3rd and 7 at SD 25 (5:04 - 4th) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass deep middle intended for T.Williams INTERCEPTED by S.Keo at SD 45. S.Keo to SD 23 for 22 yards (D.Woodhead) Interception
3rd and 15 at DEN 49 (2:00 - 4th) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short right to D.Inman to DEN 40 for 9 yards (A.Talib; D.Trevathan) Catch but short

They were able to convert on two of six - their first attempt on 3rd and 8 where Gates made a nice move to get open and make a catch for 12 yards and the touchdown reception to Gates which also came on 3rd and 8. That was a great catch by a surefire Hall of Famer. You'll notice that our interception and one of our sacks happened on 3rd & long. The Chargers were only able to convert on six of 18 3rd downs overall against us on Sunday.

Overall, we allowed opponents to convert on 38.5% of 3rd downs (including penalty conversions). Leaving out penalty conversions on 3rd down, we allowed 80 conversions on 227 attempts (35.2%), which was 7th best in the league this regular season. The Texans led the league at 28% allowed. The Chiefs, Seahawks and Vikings all allowed a lower percentage of 3rd downs to be converted than we did among playoff teams. The Steelers have the worst 3rd down defense among the 12 playoff teams allowing 40% conversion on 3rd downs.

For the season we allowed conversion on 36 of 128 3rd & longs (28.1%) - again including penalty conversions. Leaving out penalty conversions, we allowed conversion on 30 of 118 (25.4%) which was 8th in the league. Minnesota was the best in the league allowing conversion on only 18.0%. Houston, Arizona and Seattle were the only other playoff teams in the top 10 in this stat. The playoff team who was the worst was Washington - 28th - allowing 30.3% conversion on 3rd & long.

Stopping the Run on First Down

One of the reasons why the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers were able to stay out of 3rd & long situations was their surprising ability to run the ball against us on first down.

San Diego ran for 81 yards on 16 first down carries against us on Sunday (5.06 ypc). This is surprising because we came into the game leading the league in yards allowed on first down runs at 3.11 ypc. We ended the season at 3rd allowing 3.26 ypc behind both Carolina (3.12) and Seattle (3.13).

The Chargers had three big runs against us on first down (20, 13 and 12 yards) which accounted for more than half of the yards we allowed on first down runs. Their other 13 first down runs netted 36 yards (2.8 ypc). This is troubling because the Chargers finished dead last in rushing average this season (3.46 ypc).  They were able to gain 110 yards on 29 carries against us Sunday (3.79 ypc), so it's not like they gashed us in the running game like the Chargers have in previous years, but they did perform better than they have most of the season and almost all of that damage occurred on first down runs.

For the season we allowed 681 yards on 209 first down runs. That is almost exactly half of the total rushing yards we allowed (1337 total so that is 50.9%). We finished second in the league in 2014 allowing 3.51 ypc on first down runs (behind Detroit).

In three of the last five seasons we have finished near the top in this stat three times

Year 1st down ypc allowed league rank
2015 3.26 3
2014 3.51 2
2013 4.37 19
2012 3.59 2
2011 4.26 14

Interesting it was in the two years where we were NOT very good at stopping the run on first down that we won playoff games - 2011 and 2013. Let's hope that that trend does not continue.

Moving Forward

This is year four with Peyton Manning. We have only advanced in the playoffs in one out of the three previous seasons, but this year is much different.

Our team was led by our defense. It's trite to say, but it is true - defense wins championships. Even though that didn't help in 2012, I think this team will no go down with a whimper like that team did. John Elway has built a team that fights for every yard, every catch and every tackle.

This team has something that the 2012 team didn't - the "kicking and screaming" attitude. I think that - and some healthy players because of the bye - will go a long way to bringing the Lombardi trophy back to Denver where it belongs.