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Broncos 3rd & long: At least the defense is playing well*

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Most of the time.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Before you get the impression that the asterisk means that I think the defense is playing poorly, let me say that they are not. They are still playing at high level (242 yards and 14 points allowed is elite), but they are not playing at as high of level as during the first few games of the year. There are some cracks that are showing because of the complete lack of an offense and multiple failures by the special teams units.

Stopping the Run on First Down

Teams are finding success running the ball against our defense in the past two games. Against the Giants the majority of those rushing yards came on first down (with many of them coming on that 47 yard run). This game was even worse. The Chargers ran the ball for 80 yards against us - 65 of which came on first down runs. Because their head coach was not worried about our offense scoring on their defense, they were able to run the ball 14 times on first down (4.64 ypc). The first down run defense was quite stout until late in the fourth when they were visibly gassed.

The two longest first down runs of the day (21 and 11 yards) came on the Chargers 4th quarter TD drive. Both were back-breakers. The 11 yard run started the drive and got the Chargers out from the shadow of their own goalpost (the drive started at their 8 yard line) and the 21 yard run was a gut-punch to a proud stout run defense that had held up quite well up to that point. We have now allowed 167 rushing yards on first down in the last two games after allowed 207 rushing yards total in the first four games. Yes, 68 of those 167 yards are on two runs, but our run D still allowed them.

We had no tackles for loss and three stops for no gain on first down runs this game. We have now allowed 269 first down rushing yards on 72 carries (3.74 ypc) and we have 5 TFL’s and 14 stops for no gain on first down runs. We are 9th in ypc allowed on first down runs. CLE is leading the league at 2.64 and JAX and NE are tied for last place with 5.67 ypc allowed.

On the offensive side we are 30th in ypc on first down - getting a paltry 3.32 ypc on first down runs. For comparison, three of our upcoming opponents have been very effective at running the ball on first down: KC 5.94 (1st), NE 4.95 (5th) and PHI 4.63 (8th).

Getting our opponent in and stopping them on 3rd and long

The good news is that of the twelve third downs that we forced, nine of them were of the long variety (7 or more needed to gain). Our defense, because of our ability to rush the passer, has generally thrived when we get the opponent in 3rd and long. The bad news is that all three of the 3rd down conversions that our defense allowed were on 3rd and long.

Quarter Time ToGo Location Detail Result
1 4:16 14 SDG 32 Philip Rivers pass incomplete deep middle intended for Keenan Allen (defended by Bradley Roby) incomplete
1 0:19 8 SDG 39 Philip Rivers pass incomplete. Penalty on Philip Rivers: Intentional Grounding, 16 yards incomplete
2 7:39 8 DEN 20 Philip Rivers pass complete short right to Keenan Allen for 19 yards (tackle by Bradley Roby). Penalty on Shaquil Barrett: Defensive Offside (Declined) conversion by catch
2 3:12 14 SDG 34 Philip Rivers pass complete short left to Austin Ekeler for no gain catch but short
2 1:59 10 SDG 15 Philip Rivers pass incomplete short right intended for Melvin Gordon incomplete
3 3:35 19 SDG 34 Philip Rivers pass complete short right to Tyrell Williams for 11 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) catch but short
4 10:13 11 SDG 18 Philip Rivers pass complete short right to Hunter Henry for 13 yards (tackle by Will Parks) conversion by catch
4 5:51 11 DEN 42 Philip Rivers pass complete short left to Travis Benjamin for 42 yards, touchdown conversion by catch
4 1:54 9 SDG 30 Philip Rivers sacked by Von Miller for -10 yards sack

The worse news is that two of the three were on that long 4th quarter drive that crushed any tiny hope the Broncos had of making a comeback in this game.

We have now allowed conversion on 8 of 39 3rd and longs (counting penalty conversions) - 20.5% for the season. Overall on 3rd down we have allowed conversion on 23 of 82 3rd downs - 28.0% (again counting conversions allowed by penalty). We currently lead the league in 3rd down conversion % allowed. SF is the worst allowing 50% conversion on 3rd downs.

Moving Forward

I have zero confidence in the offense ability to score points. A weak offense was further weakened by having to employ it’s 4th string RT and 5th and 6th (or 7th) string WRs on Sunday. Next Monday our offense will be facing a defense that is not as good as the defenses that it faced in the last two weeks, but I’m still not confident that Trevor Siemian, who is playing like a broken QB - broken in both body and spirit, can lead this offense to more than 16 points. I fear that our defense we again but put in bad situations and they will eventually have a breakdown like they have had in the past three games. One of two defensive mistakes in coverage will lead to 14 points for the Chiefs and our offense will not be able to overcome a deficit (again). In our three wins this season we have never trailed. In our three losses we have not even been able to tie the game once we lost the lead (BUF) if we ever even had it (NYG and @LAC).

In his 20 NFL starts, Trevor Siemian has only lead four drives in the 4th quarter or overtime that allowed the Broncos to take a lead. Two of those drives occurred in his first three starts (CAR and @CIN). He has lead 20 4th quarter scoring drives in 20 starts, but the last time he lead the team on a scoring drive in the 4th quarter that either tied the game or took the lead was last year in Denver against KC (we were down 16-10). Here are all 20 4th quarter scoring drives

Year Date location Opp Result Plays Length Yds Tm Opp Qtr Time Tm Opp Result
2016 9/8/2016 CAR W 21-20 10 ( 4 P, 7 R, 0 Y) 4:41 23 14 17 4 9:26 21 17 Touchdown
2016 9/18/2016 IND W 34-20 8 ( 3 P, 4 R, 0 Y) 2:11 58 23 20 4 1:51 26 20 Field Goal
2016 9/25/2016 @ CIN W 29-17 13 ( 8 P, 6 R, 0 Y) 7:56 82 16 17 4 6:56 23 17 Touchdown
2016 9/25/2016 @ CIN W 29-17 4 ( 3 P, 1 R, 0 Y) 1:39 83 22 17 4 4:23 29 17 Touchdown
2016 10/13/2016 @ LAC L 21-13 11 ( 10 P, 0 R, 0 Y) 2:36 56 10 21 4 0:27 13 21 Field Goal
2016 10/13/2016 @ LAC L 21-13 11 ( 9 P, 2 R, 0 Y) 3:51 51 3 21 4 8:08 10 21 Touchdown
2016 10/24/2016 HOU W 27-9 7 ( 0 P, 6 R, 0 Y) 2:43 20 24 9 4 1:57 27 9 Field Goal
2016 10/24/2016 HOU W 27-9 7 ( 2 P, 4 R, 0 Y) 3:20 22 21 9 4 11:36 24 9 Field Goal
2016 10/30/2016 LAC W 27-19 6 ( 3 P, 2 R, 0 Y) 2:43 71 24 19 4 5:19 27 19 Field Goal
2016 11/6/2016 @ OAK L 30-20 2 ( 2 P, 0 R, 0 Y) 0:51 75 13 30 4 5:18 19 30 Touchdown
2016 11/13/2016 @ NOR W 25-23 10 ( 5 P, 4 R, 0 Y) 4:18 43 17 17 4 3:23 20 17 Field Goal
2016 11/13/2016 @ NOR W 25-23 7 ( 4 P, 3 R, 0 Y) 3:52 27 10 17 4 9:37 17 17 Touchdown
2016 11/13/2016 @ NOR W 25-23 4 ( 1 P, 2 R, 0 Y) 0:18 2 20 17 4 2:50 23 17 Field Goal
2016 11/27/2016 KAN L 30-27 11 ( 4 P, 6 R, 0 Y) 6:09 49 24 24 5 8:51 27 24 Field Goal
2016 11/27/2016 KAN L 30-27 6 ( 2 P, 4 R, 0 Y) 2:37 96 17 16 4 3:00 24 16 Touchdown
2016 11/27/2016 KAN L 30-27 4 ( 2 P, 2 R, 0 Y) 1:37 88 10 16 4 7:47 17 16 Touchdown
2016 12/4/2016 @ JAX W 20-10 4 ( 0 P, 3 R, 0 Y) 0:58 6 17 10 4 0:29 20 10 Field Goal
2016 12/11/2016 @ TEN L 13-10 11 ( 9 P, 1 R, 0 Y) 4:27 39 7 13 4 4:28 10 13 Field Goal
2016 12/11/2016 @ TEN L 13-10 5 ( 5 P, 0 R, 0 Y) 2:36 26 0 13 4 9:58 6 13 Touchdown
2017 10/15/2017 NYG L 23-10 7 ( 6 P, 1 R, 0 Y) 2:03 58 3 20 4 4:07 9 20 Touchdown

If you can honestly say that you are confident that Trevor Siemian can lead the Broncos on a 4th quarter game-winning FG drive with the game tied, then you are much more optimistic than I. While I would love to see that happen, the regression of both Trevor Siemian and our offense as whole over the past four games has eroded any confidence that our 42 point performance against DAL might have given me.

The Broncos scored 42 points in one game against Dallas and have scored 66 in their other five games. That’s 13.2 points per game, or worse than the worst scoring offense in the NFL, MIA, who is currently putting up 15.3 ppg.