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Broncos 3rd & long: Changing the Rivers course

How did the defense perform this week?

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The defense did it again, rescuing an inept and mostly listless offense to give us a huge divisional win. The depth that our defense displayed was tremendous and amazing. Missing our starting ILB, Corey Nelson stepped up and played 95% of the defensive snaps. That is huge given that his career high prior to last game was 27%. Nelson showed that he has developed to the point of being a capable replacement for Todd Davis or Brandon Marshall at ILB. Having capable backups is critical to making deep playoff runs because guys will get injured. Nelson was not the only backup to step up huge in this game, Lorenzo Doss made an even bigger leap. In 2015 he had 3 defensive snaps. Prior to Sunday, he had 1 defensive snap this season, but because of the injuries to Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster, he was pressed into duty and took 49% of the defensive snaps for us (40 defensive snaps). Despite having his man targeted frequently by the savvy veteran QB, Phillip Rivers, Doss acquitted himself quite well.

So let’s move on to the main topics of discussion. First, how did the defense do at stopping the run on first down? This was not a great game. The Chargers ran the ball a great deal on first down - 19 times for 88 yards (4.6 ypc). While there were three decently long runs included (17, 12 and 11 yards), these numbers aren’t skewed by one long run like in our last meeting with the Chargers. The were taking it to our front 7 on first down and getting at least 2 yards almost every time. We had two runs that we stopped for 1 yard gains and two runs that we stopped for no gain. We did not have a single TFL on a first down run this game. For the season we have now allowed 475 yards on 113 first down carries (4.20 ypc). At this point in 2015 we had only allowed 328 yards on 113 (2.90 ypc). We have 7 TFLs and 8 stops for no gain on first down runs in 8 games this year. Through 8 games last season we had allowed 14 TFLs and 19 stops for no gain on first down runs. In 2015 we were much better at stopping the run on first down - which generally leads to getting opponents in more 3rd and long situations. Relative to the rest of the league our defense is 16th at stopping the run on first down. The Panthers are 1st allowing only 3.36 ypc and the 49ers are last allowing 5.45 ypc.

Stopping Opponents on 3rd & Long

Our defense actually did a good job of forcing the Chargers into 3rd and long despite giving up almost 5 yards per carry on first down runs. Of their 17 3rd down situations 10 were long (7 or more needed to gain).

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
1 7:30 3 7 DEN 7 Philip Rivers pass complete short middle to Antonio Gates for 7 yards, touchdown Conversion by catch
1 2:49 3 15 50 Philip Rivers sacked by T.J. Ward for -8 yards Sack
2 13:51 3 7 SDG 45 Philip Rivers pass complete short right to Tyrell Williams for 4 yards (tackle by Chris Harris and Bradley Roby) Catch but short
2 10:25 3 8 SDG 41 Philip Rivers pass incomplete short left intended for Tyrell Williams (defended by DeMarcus Ware) Incomplete
2 1:04 3 10 DEN 27 Philip Rivers pass incomplete deep left intended for Travis Benjamin Incomplete
3 9:18 3 12 SDG 12 Philip Rivers pass complete short left to Dontrelle Inman for 15 yards (tackle by Lorenzo Doss) Conversion by catch
3 5:43 3 8 DEN 22 Philip Rivers pass complete short middle to Antonio Gates for 8 yards (tackle by T.J. Ward) Conversion by catch
3 4:09 3 10 DEN 14 Philip Rivers pass complete short left to Travis Benjamin for 14 yards, touchdown Conversion by catch
4 10:28 3 9 SDG 47 Philip Rivers sacked by Justin Simmons for -9 yards Sack
4 1:25 3 10 SDG 45 Philip Rivers pass complete short right to Melvin Gordon for 1 yard (tackle by Von Miller and Corey Nelson) Catch but short

We held the Chargers to 4 of 10 on 3rd and long. Only one came on their opening TD drive and that was the TD catch by Antonio Gates. We wouldn’t allow another 3rd & long conversion until the 3rd quarter and the remaining three all came on the same long (almost 8 minutes of game time) TD drive in the 3rd quarter.

For the season we have now allowed conversion on 20 of 61 3rd & long’s (32.8%). This is 25th in the league. The Raiders are actually leading the league at stopping teams on 3rd and long allowing conversion on only 18.8% (9 of 48) while the Saints are dead last allowing conversion on 40.5%. We have three games remaining with those two teams. It’s interesting to note that the Raiders, while being able to stop teams on 3rd and long, are not really doing so because of pressure. They have only 1 sack on 48 plays that opposing offenses have run against them on 3rd and long. Denver has 9 sacks on 3rd and long defensively.

On the flipside, our offense in also near the bottom of the league at converting on 3rd and long, 23.2% conversion is currently 24th. The P*ts are leading the league converting on 43.1% of 3rd & longs while the Ravens have been able to convert a paltry 16.9%.

Moving Forward

I mentioned that Raiders don’t get much pressure, even on 3rd and long (league worst 1 sack), but what I didn’t mention earlier is that the Broncos have been the best at avoiding sacks on 3rd and long plays on offense. Our offense have been in 3rd and long situations 56 times in 8 games and we only have allowed one sack under those situations (opening game). I don’t know that this means much though since the Raiders are poor at stopping the run on first down (30th in the league allowing 5.01 ypc), so unless are OL gets owned like they did on Sunday against SD, we should be able to avoid 3rd & long and stay ahead of the chains. The Raiders have allowed 13 runs of 10 or more yards on first down this year. In other words, 13.4% first down runs against the Raiders this year have resulted in a first down or a touchdown. This is not to say that they have been horrible against the run on first down - they have been boom or bust with 10 tackles for loss on first down runs in 112 first down carries against them (9%). We only have 7 TFLs on first down runs this year (6%).

The Raiders are in the top 10 in many offensive metrics so far this year. The most critical being turnovers. They have only turned the ball over 6 times in 8 games (4th in the league). This has led to an offense that is 6th in scoring, 5th in total yards, 5th in passing TDs, 8th in ypc. There is no denying that their offense has been good for the first half of the season, but they have yet to really face a quality defense. Much like the Panthers offense last season, they have gotten fat by feasting on horrible defenses. Here are the points allowed rankings of the defenses that they have faced and how many they scored against that team

Opponent Scoring Def Rank Pts allowed OAK score DIFF
Saints 31st 30.7 35 4.3
Falcons 29th 28.9 28 -0.9
Titans 18th 22.9 17 -5.9
Ravens 9th 19.9 28 8.1
Chargers 24th 26.5 34 7.5
Chiefs 8th 19.6 10 -9.6
Jags 26th 28.0 33 5
Bucs 25th 27.0 30 3

The Raiders have only faced three decent defenses this year and they were shut down by two of them, the lone exception being the game against the Ravens.