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3 & Out with Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz

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Are the Broncos better than their record? Should Chad Kelly replace Keenum? Schatz’ thoughts on Denver here.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens
Could Chad Kelly be an upgrade over Case Keenum?
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve read any of my work since joining Mile High Report, you’ll know I hold Football Outsiders and analytics in high regard. So it’s was a huge pleasure to have this chat with Aaron Schatz, their founder. I’ve been reading Schatz work since I first became an obsessive NFL fan in 2003 and still find I learn a great deal every week. If you haven’t checked out their site I can’t recommend it enough. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

You can find an explanation to Football Outsiders’ stats here.

1st and 10

Through 5 weeks the Los Angeles Rams have one of the ten best offenses by DVOA, even better than the 1997 Broncos. They’re also among the ten best defenses in the league. Does this team have any critical weaknesses opponents can exploit?

I’m giving a cursory glance at some of our splits here, and the advanced charting stats that are available from Football Outsiders Premium

On offense, I guess the weakness is that they don’t get much value out of their tight ends but I’m not sure how that changes the way you play against them. It’s not like you’re going to leave the tight ends uncovered entirely.

On defense... Their biggest weakness is stopping the run, especially right up the middle. They’re 25th in adjusted line yards against runs up the middle. That sounds insane with Suh and Donald in there,but the whole defense is entirely predicated on getting to the passer.So with the No. 1 running game in the league by DVOA, Denver could be well-suited to go up against the Rams with a heavy dose of the running attack.

Also, they haven’t been a great team in coverage this year. Pass rush leads the league in pressure rate. But based on cornerback charting, Marcus Peters hasn’t been up to his previous standards. He ranks 43rd in success rate and 55th in yards allowed per play. Though based on a longer-term outlook it’s hard to think of Marcus Peters as a”weakness.” They’re 27th against “other WR” in DVOA so maybe going after nickelback Nickell Robey-Coleman is a good idea.

As I mentioned in GIF Horse this week, the Rams are really weak to runs up the middle. Musgrave needs to capitalize.

2nd and 6

One of the things that FO does that I keep an eye on every week is their schedule ranking. Denver’s is brutal this year as they’re past schedule ranks as the 6th hardest in the league and the future schedule rates as 8th. Is this team better than they’ve shown? Do you think there’s a possibility they can eek out a decent season through the rest of this murderer’s row of games? FO does give them as good of odds at the playoffs as a top five selection in the NFL draft.

Yes, I think that the Broncos are probably a little better than they’ve looked to the naked eye because of the difficult schedule, but you’re right, it doesn’t really get any easier. I don’t think this team is destined for a playoff spot but I think a draft pick somewhere between 6-10 is more likely than between 1-5.

3rd and 5

Going into this season I expected Denver’s defense to have huge issues in the secondary. I’ve thought that if the pass rush didn’t get there, the No Fly Zone would basically be Southwest Airlines. Through five games that’s looked like the case, but what’s surprising is how far Denver’s rush defense has fallen from last year when they were third in DVOA. What’s changed and is there any hope the D can find it’s footing over the next couple of months?

Run defense is inconsistent from year to year. I mean, all of defense is inconsistent, so run defense is inconsistent. I haven’t watched enough of their games to tell you if any one player is particularly under-performing, or if there’s a schematic thing. One big thing, however,is that Denver is dead last in “open-field yards per carry,” meaning the yards that come more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. They’ve allowed a lot of big long runs, and often that can be attributed to tackling in the secondary rather than any problem with the big mollies up front. We also have them around the league average in broken tackles on defense, where last year they were one of the best teams.

The secondary is a big part of the Broncos run D woes.

4th and 3

I know it’s early, but I’ve watched every game this year and pore over the stats each week. It’s obvious that Keenum has performed even worse than projected, while the Broncos offense as a whole looks better,especially the run offense which is now first in the league by FO’s numbers.

I’m not sure if you noticed Chad Kelly’s performance in the preseason, but if Keenum keeps tanking is it unreasonable for fans to hope that the 2nd year QB can be an improvement?

Normally I would say that it’s unreasonable to expect a seventh-round pick to be an improvement on anyone, but then again, Case Keenum has been better than anyone would have expected from an undrafted free agent. I will say that by FO numbers, Keenum hasn’t been horrendous. He’s been bad, but he’s 24th out of 35 quarterbacks in passing DVOA right now. That’s worse than Denver wants right now, but I would hesitate to say Kelly could do much better. But if they’re 2-6 in a couple weeks, they might as well see if Kelly can do better and figure out if they have something there for the future.

Is Keenum playing for his career in Denver already?