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Broncos 3rd & long: Worn down

Nothing hurts a defense more than being on the field for a long time and given short field after short field to defend.

Denver Broncos v Miami Dolphins Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The 2017 Denver Broncos have become a joke. We have now descended to the level of the Cleveland Browns. Yes, we have had injuries, and critical ones at that, but that does not excuse the pitiful preparation and execution of the offense and the special teams. Let me talk specifically about the special teams for a bit.

We have now had two punts blocked in the last four games - meaning that we do a crap job of blocking for our punter. We are the only NFL team that has had two punts blocked. There have only been eights punts blocked this year in the NFL. We do a terrible job at punt coverage. We do a relatively poor job of kickoff coverage. Our returners, when they actually hold onto the ball, don’t understand when to return a kick and when not to.

In terms of punting we are 24th in net punt average and gross punt average. We are currently 30th in percentage of punts downed inside the 20. We are 23rd average punt return allowed. We have allowed one of the nine total punt return TDs this season in the NFL.

The kickoff coverage unit has been just as bad. We are 28th in average yards allowed on kickoff returns (25.2 yds) and we are one of the three teams that has allowed a kickoff return TD. Only the Bears and the Broncos have allowed both a punt and a kickoff return TD.

So now let’s pile on the offense and break down some of their ineptitude. Against Miami, our offense was one of thirteen on 3rd down. Our offense was so bad that Miami had 16 drives and half of them starting at midfield (or close to it) or in Denver territory. That is the very definition of putting your defense in a bad spot. To make matters worse - seven of those eight drives that started at midfield happened in the second half of the game. Our defense was literally playing with a short field for the entire second half. That fact that they only allowed 24 points is pretty amazing given how putrid our offense and special teams played. Below is the listing of all of the MIA drives in the game

# Quarter Time LOS Plays Length Yds Result
1 1 15:00 MIA 19 10 6:29 39 Punt
2 1 5:58 MIA 47 3 1:30 7 Punt
3 1 3:07 MIA 42 3 1:42 2 Punt
4 2 13:28 MIA 25 9 3:49 75 Touchdown
5 2 6:42 MIA 11 2 0:53 11 Interception
6 2 4:54 MIA 13 7 3:13 32 Punt
7 3 13:17 DEN 48 5 2:45 28 Field Goal
8 3 8:17 DEN 35 2 0:48 24 Fumble
9 3 6:28 DEN 48 3 1:32 9 Interception
10 3 4:56 MIA 39 4 2:02 61 Touchdown
11 3 1:53 50 3 0:57 5 Punt
12 4 14:49 MIA 48 3 2:47 7 Punt
13 4 10:27 DEN 23 1 0:06 23 Touchdown
14 4 10:21 MIA 48 3 1:32 -3 Punt
15 4 8:49 MIA 37 4 2:33 13 Punt
16 4 4:45 MIA 18 3 1:44 9 Punt

(Not) stopping the run on first down

So yes, a large part of this is due to the 42-yd TD run that our defense allowed on first down, but even factoring out that, the defense was getting gouged on first down runs this game. We allowed 115 yards on 17 first down runs (6.76 ypc). Removing the 42 yard run, we still allowed 73 yards on the other 16 first down carries (4.56 ypc). We also only had one TFL and no stops for no gain in this game on first down runs.

For the season we have now allowed 688 rushing yards on 152 first down carries - 4.53 ypc. The TD run by Kenyan Drake was only the second TD run that we have allowed on a first down run, but both were 40+ yard runs. Only three teams have allowed more runs of 40 or more yards than our ground (up) control defense - the Rams, Chargers and Jets.

Performance on 3rd and long

Despite missing our best or second best CB, the defense did quite well at stopping the Dolphins on 3rd and long.

Quarter Time ToGo Location Detail Result
1 9:19 15 DEN 47 Jay Cutler pass complete short left to Kenyan Drake for 5 yards (tackle by Todd Davis) catch but short
1 5:15 16 MIA 41 Jay Cutler pass complete short middle to Kenyan Drake for 13 yards (tackle by Todd Davis and Justin Simmons) catch but short
1 1:39 8 MIA 44 Jay Cutler pass incomplete deep left intended for DeVante Parker incomplete
3 10:41 11 DEN 20 Jay Cutler pass incomplete short middle intended for Jarvis Landry incomplete
3 3:36 11 MIA 38 Jay Cutler pass complete deep left to Kenny Stills for 20 yards conversion by catch
4 6:30 9 50 Jay Cutler pass incomplete short right intended for Kenny Stills incomplete

We were able to hold MIA to one of six on 3rd and long. Overall the phins were held to 4 of 15 on 3rd down against us. Despite the continued pitiful play of our offense, our defense is still ranked second int he league in preventing 3rd down conversions (behind the Vikings). This is a general theme. Our defense has been pretty good at everything EXCEPT allowing scores, due in large part to the ineptitude of our offense. We are 2nd in ypc allowed. We are 4th in passing yards allowed per game. We are tied for 31st in points allowed partly because the No Fly Zone has become the friendly skies. We are 29th in opposing passer rating against. Opposing QBs are averaging a passer rating of 98.9 against us so far this year.

Getting back to points allowed, only the Colts have allowed more points. Of the 315 points allowed by the Broncos this year - 115 have come after or as the direct result of a turnover. The best defense in the league has only allowed 176 points through 12 games. 315 minus 115 is 200. The second best defense in the league has only allowed 204 points. So if we had an mediocre offense that could hold onto the ball (and if our special teams didn’t turn the ball over like it was a Christmas gift to the other team) our defense would be in the top third of the league in points allowed.

Instead, because we have been playing uncomplementary football for most of the year, our defense is second to last in points allowed. If this discrepancy in yards allowed and points allowed continues through the the final four games, I will dig into the stats and see if there is any historic precedent for a defense to be a top five D against the run and pass and be at our near the bottom of the league in points allowed.

Moving on.

At this point I want to see improvement in the team. I want to see the coaches getting more out of the players than they were during the previous 9 games. I harbor no illusions that this will lead to victories (although we might accidentally win against the Colts), but I want to see this team beginning an upward trajectory on special teams and offense. What it comes down to for me is that I can stomach close losses at this point, but getting blown out by teams that are not good NFL teams is an embarrassment to our proud franchise. Somehow these other teams that have been having bad seasons have found a way to plug the holes in their sinking ships, if only to make them sink more slowly. Our coaches appear to be drilling new holes in the boat each week and I think the players have stopped trying to plug those holes.