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Broncos 3rd & long: Dismantling the Cowboys

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The Denver Broncos completely outclassed the Dallas Cowboys on third downs.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

That was fun to watch. Yes, I’ll admit I was a little nervous after they tied it up at 7 off a strip-sack fumble and then Cody Latimer fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but that nervousness faded is our defense continued to do what they did for most of the game - dominate. They dominated in a manner that we hadn’t seen since the 2015 D turned the Panthers in meek little kittens in super bowl 50. This game however we more than just our defense making a statement, this was our whole team making a statement, and that statement was “Our defense is still elite and now we have an offense to go with it.”

On to the numbers:

Stopping first down runs.

The Cowboys decided that rather than try to run the ball against us, they would attempt to prove that Dak Prescott could win the game by throwing on the No Fly Zone. On their first two offensive possessions they threw the ball on first down. It wasn’t until their third possession that they ran the ball on first down - Elliot up the middle for two yards. By the time they got around to trying to establish their running game they were down by 14 points - a situation that they rarely faced with their creampuff schedule in 2016.

For the game they only attempted 5 runs on first down, gaining 13 yards with Rod Smith’s (no, not THAT Rod Smith) gaining most of those on a 4th quarter run for 8 yards. Ezekial Elliot had three runs on first down for a total of -1 yard. This was domination by our front 7. I’m sure that some Cowboys fans will try to argue that the Cowboys could have run the ball if they had tried earlier to do so, but that’s like when my child tries to convince me they haven’t been eating oreo cookies when I can see them on their teeth. For the game the vaunted Cowboys rushing attack was held to 40 yards on 14 carries (2.86 ypc).

For the season we have now allowed 63 yards on 18 first down runs with 21 on those coming on the first first down run we faced this year. That is 3.5 ypc on first down runs for the year. Since that 21 yard run, we have only allowed 2.47 ypc on first down runs. That’s doing some work particularly against a team that wants to make running the ball their strength (LAC) and a team that was the best in the league at running the ball a year ago (DAL).

Stopping the opponent on 3rd & long

The Cowboys did a decent job of staying out of 3rd and long situations by throwing short passes that negated the pass rush somewhat, but when we did get them in 3rd and long situations we shut them down.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
1 0:28 3 10 DEN 46 Dak Prescott right end for 7 yards (tackle by Shaquil Barrett) run but short
2 4:42 3 14 DAL 21 Dak Prescott pass incomplete short left intended for Brice Butler incomplete
2 0:39 3 10 DEN 43 Dak Prescott pass complete short left to Jason Witten for 5 yards (tackle by Will Parks) catch but short
3 1:17 3 9 DEN 38 Dak Prescott pass complete short left to Cole Beasley for 8 yards (tackle by Chris Harris) catch but short
4 4:00 3 14 DEN 18 Dak Prescott left end for 11 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) run but short

We held them to 0 for 5 on 3rd and long and 3 of 14 overall on third downs. For the season we have now allowed 2 conversions on 10 3rd and longs (20%). Were we to maintain that level of performance for the entire season, it would be the best that our defense has done since I have been tracking this stat.

Moving forward

Next week we go to Buffalo to play against our old offensive coordinator in Rick Dennison. I’m sure that the D is going to have fun dismantling uncle Rico’s offense. I also think that Mike McCoy is going to want to show uncle Rico just what you can do with skill position players like Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Trevor Siemian, Virgil Green and C.J. Anderson. I’m leery of a let-down after two big games in a row, but I think this team is hungry and I don’t think our coaching staff or our players are going to take the Bills lightly.