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3rd & Long: 2010 redux

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It’s beginning to look a lot like 2010. Gross!

NFL: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

There was a play in the 4th quarter that summed up the Broncos season so far. Down by 18, the Broncos had just stopped the Patriots on 3rd and 5 to force a punt. On the punt, we had 12 men on the field. That 5 yard penalty gave the P*ts a first down at the Denver 36. They would go on to score the final TD of the game on that drive. That was the 4th major special teams blunder of the game and it, like the blocked punt was a turnover for all intents and purposes - meaning that our special teams this game turned the ball over three times (muffed punt, blocked punt, penalty on NE punt). Two of those three are not counted as turnovers in the official stat book. They should be.

If you look solely at official turnovers, Denver is second to last both offensively and defensively. We have turned the ball over 21 times in 9 games (only Cleveland has been worse with 23) and we have only forced 7 turnovers in 9 games (only Oakland has been worse with 6). Our -14 turnover difference is worst in the league - worse than Cleveland. I’d like to say that in the history of the franchise Denver has never been league worst in turnover ratio, but I can’t. We were dead last in 1995 (30th of 30 teams), but it was a different game then (in terms of turnovers). That 1995 team turned the ball over 30 times and only forced 21 turnovers. The worst ratio last season was the Bears who forced only 11 turnovers and turned the ball over 31 times (35.4%). Our current ratio is 28.5% which is significantly worse than the worst team in the league in 2016. The worst that Denver has ever done in terms of turnover ratio was in 2008 (43.3%). Without dramatic improvement over the final seven games, the 2017 Broncos will go down in team history as the worst ever in terms of turnover ratio. I choose to look at ratio since it normalizes for era (turnovers were much more common in the 70s). Turnover ratio is takeaways over giveaways so a higher number is better.

Denver Turnover Ratio since the merger

Year Turnover ratio (D/O)
2016 108%
2015 87%
2014 125%
2013 100%
2012 96%
2011 60%
2010 67%
2009 130%
2008 43%
2007 103%
2006 100%
2005 188%
2004 69%
2003 83%
2002 81%
2001 137%
2000 176%
1999 93%
1998 150%
1997 148%
1996 100%
1995 70%
1994 84%
1993 111%
1992 72%
1991 132%
1990 78%
1989 134%
1988 85%
1987 131%
1986 121%
1985 116%
1984 162%
1983 115%
1982 53%
1981 170%
1980 76%
1979 93%
1978 129%
1977 144%
1976 109%
1975 67%
1974 110%
1973 100%
1972 65%
1971 103%
1970 78%

Stopping the opponent on first down runs

New England ran the ball 14 times on first down for 49 yards (3.50 ypc). Those first down runs were split evenly between the first and second half. The fact is that they didn’t need to run the ball on first down against us. T*m Br*dy was 15 of 17 for 179 yards and 1 TD when throwing the ball on first down. That’s turning the No Fly Zone into the Friendly Skies.

One of his two incompletions on first down was the incompletion to Rob Gronkowski in the endzone that was reviewed. To make matters worse, Brady threw the ball two more times on first down incomplete, but we got defensive penalties called on us. So to sum up, on 29 of 33 first down plays, New England gained positive yardage and they averaged (including the two 5 yard penalties) 7.2 yards per play against us on first down. That goes a long way to explaining the 3rd & long data in the next section.

For the season the Broncos have now allowed 522 rushing yards on 116 first down carries (4.50 ypc) with more than one quarter of that total (146 yards) coming against Philly.

Getting the opponent in 3rd & Long and then stopping them

We forced in the P*ts into exactly two 3rd and longs. So few that I am not even going to bother to put them into a table. We didn’t force them into 3rd and long until the 4th quarter. The first happened at 14:19 to play in the 4th. They had 3rd and 9 and Brady was able to complete a 14 yard pass to Gronk for the first down. The next occurred with 5:59 left to play in the game. They were in 3rd and 7 and Brady completed a 4 yard pass to James White. With a huge lead and no reason to kick a FG, they went for it on 4th down and Brady threw incomplete to Gronkowski. We actually held the Patriots to 4 of 11 on 3rd down conversions, but that masked the fact that we gave the ball back to them (hidden 3rd down conversions) twice after stopping them on 3rd down (muffed punt and 12-men on the field penalty). 6 of 11 looks a lot worse than 4 of 11.

I’ve been tracking 3rd & long performance since 2011. This is the fewest 3rd & long situations that our defense has forced in that entire time span.

For the season we have now held opponents to 21.8% conversion on 3rd and long (12 of 55 - including penalty conversions). We have held opponents to 29.4% conversion on 3rd down (including penalty conversions). We are still leading the league in 3rd down conversion % allowed on defense, but that’s cold comfort when we have now dropped to 29th in points allowed. It’s a testament to how poorly we have played on special teams and offense that our defense is 4th in the league in yards allowed and 29th in the league in points allowed. Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s uncanny how well teams have protected the ball against us this year (part of that is a lack of strip-sacks). In nine games this season our opponents have only fumbled three times. We recovered two of those. The next closest team is the Bungals whose opponents have only fumbled 5 times in 9 games. Last season there were four teams whose opponents only fumbled 12 times during the 16 game regular season. The fewest opponents’ fumbles this century is seven (2014 Titans). On our current pace we will break that record. The fewest opponents’ fumbles recovered in a 16 game NFL season is 3 (1995 Packers). FWIW, the Packers opponents fumbled 12 times that year. NFL.com does not have a record for fewest total opponents’ fumbles in a season. That value of seven for the 2014 Titans might be the NFL record.

Moving backward

Normally I call this section moving forward, but this team is not. They appear to be taking two steps backward for every step forward they tentatively make. I know you are going to hate me for saying this, but I want to see the team focusing on 2018 from here on out. That means I want them to improve each week, but still lose. Ideally that means we insert Paxton Lynch in as QB immediately - rip the bandaid off and deal with the pain. The only logical reason for continuing to play Brock Osweiler, if Lynch is truly healthy (which we are being told his still is not), is that John Elway is still holding out hope that Brock turns into the franchise QB that John thought he could be when he drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft.

Why do I want the team to lose? I want us to get the most out of the 2018 draft that we possibly can. The odds are that we will be taking another QB in the first round of the NFL draft. Having a top 6 pick would greatly improve our chances of getting a Carson Wentz or a Phillip Rivers instead of a Paxton Lynch. Even if we don’t end up NEEDING to use our first round pick on a QB in 2018, we would still be in position to get another top shelf offensive tackle. You can win in the NFL with an average QB and an elite offensive line. As a former offensive lineman, I fully admit my bias, but I would rather see us invest lots of draft capital on our offensive line in the 2018 draft - even if that means our QB options for 2018 entering training camp are Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly. If we truly have an improved (top 10) offensive line in 2018, I honestly think we can win with either of those three QBs taking the snaps. Hell, I’d even buy the argument that we could win with Trevor Siemian taking snaps behind an elite offensive line.

Unfortunately for us, the tanking to maximize our draft, only works if we “hit” on the majority of our picks in 2018 and that is something that hasn’t happened in very often with our current front office.

Poll

How do you want the Broncos to finish?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    lose out - 3-13 - embrace the tank
    (128 votes)
  • 12%
    4-12 (this would match our worst record in a 16 game season)
    (45 votes)
  • 6%
    5-11
    (24 votes)
  • 9%
    6-10
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    7-9
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    8-8
    (9 votes)
  • 1%
    9-7
    (7 votes)
  • 29%
    10-6 til we ain’t
    (106 votes)
355 votes total Vote Now