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Broncos 3rd and long: flipped (by) the bird(s)

Win or lose - I break down how the defense did in two critical metrics: stopping the run on 1st and 10 and stopping the other team when we got them in 3rd and long.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive performance in this game looks decent at first glance, but if you look a little deeper, you quickly understand why this game never seemed close. For this first time in a long time, our inside linebackers were exposed and exploited. The Falcon's RB combination of Davonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined to catch seven of eleven targets for 167 yards and 1 TD. Matt Ryan and Kyle Shanahan diagnosed this weakness in our defense and attacked it relentlessly. By the time we adjusted, it was too late and the game was essentially decided. Similarly, our offensive weakness, Ty Sambrailo whose punch had all the power of a three-year old playing patty-cake, was repeatedly exploited. Ty Sambrailo made a bad defensive end into a Pro-bowler yesterday. I would not be surprised if Vic Beasely does not get another sack this season. How our coaching staff did not realize Ty's deficiency earlier and get him out of there is surprising. I bet no one thought that in the fifth game of the 2016 season many of us would be screaming for the coaches to move Mike Schofield out to right tackle.

Defensive Performance: Stopping the Run on 1st Down

The defense did not do a good job this game stopping the run on first down. We allowed 73 yards on 16 first down carries - 4.6 ypc  Included in that were runs of 15, 11, 9, 7 and 6 yards. We came into this game having done quite well against the run on first down in the our last three games (99 yards on 33 carries). For the season we have now allowed 280 yards on 69 first down carries (leaving out kneel-downs) - 4.06 ypc. We had one TFL and one stop for no gain on first down runs against the Falcons. For the season we have three TFLs and five stops for no gain on first down runs through five games. This is marked regression from last season. After five games last season we had eight TFL and twelve stops for no gain. Relative to the rest of the league our defense is 10th at yards allowed on first down runs. Green Bay still leads the league allowing a paltry 2.23 ypc on first down runs. Washington is league worst allowing 5.43 ypc on first down runs.

Defensive Performance: Results on 3rd and Long

Surprisingly, when we got Atlanta into 3rd down situations, they were mostly 3rd and long - eight out of twelve (67%). They were only able to convert on one of those eight.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
1 14:20 3 7 ATL 28 Matt Ryan pass complete short right to Mohamed Sanu for 9 yards (tackle by Chris Harris). Penalty on Shane Ray: Defensive Offside (Declined) Conversion by Catch
1 5:10 3 18 DEN 41 Matt Ryan pass complete short middle to Devonta Freeman for 13 yards (tackle by T.J. Ward) Complete but short
1 0:46 3 31 ATL 16 Matt Ryan pass incomplete short left intended for Tevin Coleman Incomplete
2 11:22 3 10 ATL 21 Matt Ryan pass incomplete deep right intended for Julio Jones Incomplete
2 2:00 3 9 DEN 19 Matt Ryan pass complete short right to Tevin Coleman for 4 yards (tackle by Bradley Roby) Complete but short
3 10:51 3 8 ATL 37 Matt Ryan sacked by Von Miller for -6 yards sack
3 0:07 3 19 ATL 38 Matt Ryan pass complete short middle to Mohamed Sanu for 12 yards (tackle by T.J. Ward). Mohamed Sanu fumbles (forced by T.J. Ward), recovered by T.J. Ward (tackle by Andy Levitre) Complete but short
4 2:27 3 8 DEN 36 Devonta Freeman left tackle for 7 yards (tackle by Chris Harris and T.J. Ward) Complete but short

Atlanta's lone 3rd and long conversion came really early in the game. They did not convert again on 3rd and long. Atlanta was only able to convert on one of four other 3rd down situations (5, 2, 2, and 1 needed to gain). That lone conversion came on the 22 yard catch by Sanu on 3rd and 5. So what happened, how did they put up 23 points on our defense? Well, they were able to get a first down on 14 (of 47) first or second down plays. For comparison, our offense had only 7 plays (of 45) on first or second down that resulted in a first down. Only CIN had that kind of success on first and second down this year against our defense (14 first downs on 50 plays). Our defense against CAR, IND and TB allowed 27 first downs on 152 first and second down plays (17.8%). This is why 14 of 47 (29.8%) feels like we get dominated. To put this all in perspective, the worst defense in the league at allowing first downs on first or second down, JOakland, is allowing conversion on 33.5% of those plays. That is why 30% feels like our defense got exposed, because they did.

For the season we have now allowed conversion on 13 of 38 3rd and longs (34%) - including conversions by penalty. That is near the bottom of the league (roughly 27th). With penalty conversions on 3rd and long excluded, the worst team in the league is Washington - allowing conversion on 45.5% - and the best team is now JOakland who has only allowed conversion on 11.5% (3 of 26). That is misleading about the Raider defense if you remember how they do on first and second down from the last paragraph (hint - they suck).

Moving Forward

The team now has a short week to figure out what went wrong, correct it and get ready for a wounded and demoralized Charger team in San Diego on Thursday night. I'm worried that Kubiak's ailment will be enough of a distraction to keep the team from getting their focus on the Chargers. Hopefully our veteran leadership and seasoned coaching staff can overcome that distraction. The Chargers are similar to the Falcons in that they have a high scoring offense (currently 2nd in the league - averaging 30.4 ppg) and a putrid defense (currently 27th in the league allowing 28.4 ppg). I think our defense matches up well with the Chargers offense, unless we have another game where we fail to cover the other team's RBs in the passing game. I think that this game will come down to whether our offense can do anything against their beleaguered defense. Our offense was mostly putrid against the Falcons. Improving upon that should mean that we escape San Deigo with a victory.