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3rd & long: Broncos defense gets its mojo back

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The offense was as bad and the defense was not sacking the opposing QB, but somehow the Broncos managed to gut out a 10 point win over the reeling and limping Jaguars

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Needing to protect a six point lead with 1:22 left against the Saints, who had no timeouts left. The defense failed and the Saints drove 75 yards for a tying touchdown. Needing to protect and eight point lead against the Chiefs, with no time-outs left, with 3:00 to play, the defense failed and not only allowed the touchdown, but also the two-point conversion. This week, out defense was in an all-too-familiar situation of needing to protect a lead late in the game. This time they came through, with a "strip-sack" by Von Miller the led to the game-clinching FG. Admittedly, the Jags offense' is one of the worst in the league, but they are still an NFL team and maybe facing a weak offense was what our defense needed to get its mojo back. The remaining offenses on the schedule are all more adept than the Jaguars offense. So our last four games are going to be a true test of how this defense compares to last year's defense.

Stopping the Run on First Down

The Jags were definitely committed to running the ball, particularly on first down. They ran 32 plays on 1st and 10, choosing to run the ball on 21 of them. Those 21 runs gained only 58 yards (2.76 ypc) and we had one stop for no gain and one TFL. Statistically this is best first down run performance (ypc-wise) of the year for our defense (although it is almost exactly as well as we did against CIN - 2.78 ypc allowed on first down runs). For the season we have now allowed 746 yards on 182 first down runs (excluding kneel-downs) - 4.14 ypc. This is good for 14th in the league.  SD leads the league in this stat allowing only 3.54 ypc on first down runs while SF is currently the worst first down run defense allowing 5.20 ypc (OAK is 31st at 5.04).

We now have 9 TFLs and 9 stops for no gain of first down runs. Last season we finished the regular season with 16 TFLs and 25 stops for no gain on first down runs. We are on pace to finished this regular season with 12 of each. That would be less than half of the stops for no gain that the 2015 run defense tallied in the regular season. I see that as a direct result of the loss of Malik Jackson, Vance Walker and Danny T.  Jared Crick, Billy Winn and Todd Davis (to a certain extent) do not have the strength and quickness to make plays in the backfield on runs.

Defensive performance on 3rd & Long

The Jags offense came into the game as one of the worst offenses in the league at 3rd down conversions. So by all rights we should have been able to stop them almost every time - every other defense in the league has been able to do so. They were able to convert on 7 of 19 3rd downs (36.8%) in this game (including the conversion by penalty) which is basically what we have allowed all year (38.7% including penalty conversions). See below for their performance on 3rd & long

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
1 13:33 3 12 JAX 18 Blake Bortles pass complete short right to Neal Sterling for 6 yards (tackle by T.J. Ward) Catch but short
1 0:09 3 9 DEN 45 Blake Bortles pass incomplete short right intended for Marqise Lee Incomplete
2 1:33 3 9 JAX 14 Blake Bortles pass complete short left to Bryan Walters for 12 yards (tackle by Shane Ray) Conversion by catch
2 1:07 3 17 JAX 19 Blake Bortles pass complete short left to Allen Robinson for 5 yards (tackle by Chris Harris) Catch but short
3 14:23 3 7 JAX 28 Blake Bortles pass incomplete short left intended for Marqise Lee (defended by Darian Stewart) Incomplete
3 7:00 3 9 JAX 41 Blake Bortles pass incomplete short middle intended for Bryan Walters Incomplete
3 1:55 3 7 DEN 42 Blake Bortles for 7 yards (tackle by DeMarcus Ware) Conversion by run
4 6:15 3 7 JAX 23 Blake Bortles pass incomplete deep left intended for Allen Robinson. Penalty on Bradley Roby: Defensive Pass Interference, 17 yards (no play) Conversion by Penalty
4 6:02 3 10 JAX 40 T.J. Yeldon left end for 5 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) Run short
4 2:49 3 10 JAX 29 Blake Bortles pass complete short left to Bryan Walters for 4 yards (tackle by T.J. Ward) Catch but short

The Jags were able to convert on 3 of 10 3rd & longs (which is basically what we have allowed this season). They had one conversion by catch (12 yard completion to Walters), one conversion by scramble (Bortles' reviewed side-line dive scramble for 7 yards) and one conversion by penalty (DPI on Bradley Roby in the 4th quarter).

For the season we have allowed conversion on 29 of 94 3rd & longs (30.7%) - this includes penalty conversions. I was surprised to find that we have only allowed two 3rd & longs to be converted by penalty this season - the other was a DPI on Will Parks against the Bucs (on 3rd and 17). Leaving out the penalty conversions, we are currently 18th in the league at stopping teams on 3rd and long. This should be surprise given how well we rush the passer. BAL leads the league allowing conversion on only 18.3% while WAS in last allowing conversion on 41.8%.

Two of our remaining four opponents are near the top of the league at converting on 3rd & long. NE is currently 5th (33.7%) while TEN is 8th (31.8%). We have already faced some of the best teams in the league at converting on 3rd & long: TAM is 1st (37.3%), IND is 4th (34.3%), SD is 6th (32.4%) and CAR is 7th (32.1%). FWIW our other two remaining opponents are 25th (KC - 23.1%) and 19th (OAK - 27.7%).

Moving Forward

Both the offense and the defense have a lot of questions to answer in the remaining four regular season games. With a 4-0 finish, we still have an outside chance at winning the AFC West for the 6th straight year (we would need OAK to go 1-3 in their last 4 and KC to go 2-2). OAK going 1-3 is not out of the realm of possibility. They have all three of their divisional road games left to play (@KC, @SD and @DEN) with their sole remaining home game being against the resurgent Colts. The likelihood of the Raiders finishing 1-3 in their last four is probably better than the likelihood of the Chiefs finishing 2-2. The Chiefs have three of their last four games at home including three straight at home (OAK, TEN, DEN) finishing the regular season on the road against SD. If we go 4-0, that means we beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead in December (something the Broncos have rarely done, but let's say we pull that off), then we would need the Chiefs to lose against either TEN at home or at SD (I'm assuming that the Chiefs beat the Raiders in Arrowhead) in order for them to go 2-2 down the final stretch.

None of this matters if our offense continues to falter as it has done in most of our recent games. If the offense continues to DERP all over the field, I see us finishing 1-3 or 2-2 in the last four.