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Broncos 3rd and long: historically bad run defense

Welcome to the worst run defense in NFL history. And that’s not hyperbole.

Los Angeles Rams v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

If you read my weekly offering here, you know I enjoy thinking, writing and talking about football stats. While they are much more fun when the Denver Broncos are setting good records, there is a perverse pleasure in “watching things burn”, or in this case watching our run defense get burned.

Since the merger there have been 180 games where a team has allowed 270 or more yards rushing. Five teams gave up that many rushing yards three times in a season, while another 21 gave up 270 or more twice in a season. Denver is now one of those 26 teams on that dubious list. Since the merger teams that allow 270 or more on the ground are 14-196-1. That’s a 6.6% winning percentage.

It’s not quite as bad if you restrict it to the last decade. From 2008-2018, teams giving up 270 or more rushing are 6-42 (12.5% winning rate) and since 2013 teams are 4-12 (25% winning rate). So while it has gotten easier, 4-12 gets you fired as a head coach anywhere outside of Cleveland.

Oddly enough the last team to give up 270 or more rushing yards and WIN was the 2016 Miami Dolphins. Guess who was their defensive coordinator.

Here’s a hint: he’s the Denver Broncos current head coach.

The 2018 Broncos now hold the record for yards rushing allowed in two consecutive games since the merger at 593. The previous holder of this record was the 1978 Baltimore Colts who allowed 570 combined yards on the ground in the first and second games of the season that year (278 and 292). Somehow the 1978 Broncos lost to that team 6-7 despite only allowing 237 totals yards of offense and 11 first downs to the Colts.

Right now the Broncos are allowing 161.3 yards rushing per game (968/6). With 968 rushing yards allowed in 6 games they have allowed two yards fewer than the 2000 Ravens did in 16 games. While the Broncos run defense has been terribad (and worst in the league) it is still not at historically bad levels.

The 1978 Bills allowed a record 3228 rushing yards in 16 regular season games (201.8 yds per game) while the 1977 Kansas City Chiefs set the standard for run stop futility allowing 2971 yards in 14 regular season games (212.2 yds/g). Right now the Broncos run defense is worse than the 2008 Broncos (146.1 yds/g) and the 2010 Broncos (154.3 yds/g). After the 2008 season, Mike Shanahan got fired. During the 2010 season, Josh McDaniels got fired. I sense a trend here. Do you?

So how did the Broncos do against the run on first down? They were terrible. The Rams ran the ball 19 times for 143 yards on first down (7.53 ypc). For comparison, Denver ran the ball 9 times for 24 yards on first down (2.67 ypc). Todd Gurley’s first down runs included runs of 29 and 21 yards.

The Broncos have now allowed 10 runs of 20 or more yards this year and three runs of 40 or more. The terrible 2010 Broncos defense allowed 12 runs of 20 or more and five runs of 40 or more in 16 games. The atrocious 2008 Broncos D allowed 20 and 6. The 2018 Broncos run defense is on pace to allow 27 runs of 20 or more and eight of 40 or more yards. Both values would be the worst in modern Broncos’ history.

I’m not even to bother to give the stats so far this year at stopping the run on first down. They’re dead last at stopping the run on first down. I can tell you that without even looking at the stats. There is no way that they are not dead last after the past two weeks.

The Broncos defense was equally as bad at stopping the Rams on third and long as they were at stopping the Rams’ running game. The Rams were only forced into 3rd & long five times and they converted three of them. The Broncos stopped their first two and they converted their last three.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
2 5:30 3 13 50 Jared Goff pass complete short left to Gerald Everett for 12 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) catch but short
3 13:03 3 10 RAM 46 Jared Goff pass incomplete short right intended for Gerald Everett incomplete
3 9:06 3 10 RAM 42 Jared Goff pass complete short middle to Robert Woods for 14 yards (tackle by Chris Harris) conversion by catch
4 12:41 3 7 DEN 39 Jared Goff left end for 13 yards (tackle by Will Parks) conversion by scramble
4 4:13 3 13 DEN 27 Jared Goff pass complete short left to Robert Woods for 19 yards (tackle by Brandon Marshall) conversion by catch

That final conversion was a back-breaker. They had them in 3rd and 7 with 4:13 left in the game on the DEN 27 and they allowed Jared Goff to scramble for 13 yards, which set up the game-deciding FG. If they stopped them there, maybe their back-up place kicker misses a 40-ish yard FG and then the Broncos have four minutes to tie the game with a touchdown.

At this point and don’t think it’s a matter of if, but when, Vance Joseph finally gets fired. I have zero confidence in the coaching staff’s ability to get things righted and keep this wounded ship from sinking.


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