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Broncos 3rd and long: defense goes bird hunting

The Denver Broncos defense came to life against the Arizona Cardinals with a dominating performance on Thursday Night Football.

Denver Broncos v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

It sure feels good to get a win.

I know that the Arizona Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league and that they very well could be drafting #1 overall next season (if the Oakland Raiders don’t beat them to it), but I thought the same thing about the New York Jets on the Denver Broncos way into that game and they stomped our team. So at least for 10 days, I can feel like this team is heading in the right direction and not sinking like that 4-game losing streak would seem to suggest.

So for one week, at least the coaches made some good moves. On defense that resulted in us not allowing a 200-yard rusher for the third week in a row. The Cardinals pretty quickly become one-dimensional after they got down to 21, but even before that they were not running the ball effectively. They managed to gain 69 yards on 21 carries (3.29 ypc) which is worlds better than the average ypc allowed by the Broncos defense in the two games before. The Cardinals tried to run the ball on first down, which was a strategy that had been very successful for the Los Angeles Rams and the Jets. The Cards were held to 14 yards on nine first down carries (1.56 ypc) and most of those came on J.J. Nelson’s 7 yard run.

The Broncos maligned run defense held the dangerous David Johnson to 6 yards on 7 first down runs. The run D had two stops for no gain and one TFL on first down runs against the Cardinals. David Johnson would finish the game with 39 yards rushing on 14 carries, but 17 of those 39 came on one run. On his other 13 runs he gained 22 yards; that is what this Broncos run defense has generally looked like in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and it would be great if they could get back to that level.

Why is it important to stop the run on first down? Because it will allow them to keep opposing offenses off-schedule and force them into 3rd and long situations, which has been the forte of our defense for the past three years.

After their performance on Thursday (with Monday night’s game yet to occur) they are no longer dead last in ypc allowed on first down runs. They have moved all the way up to 30th. Their 5.45 ypc allowed on first down runs is better than the Kansas City Chiefs (5.49) and Detroit Lions (5.60). The Houston Texans currently lead the league at 3.08 ypc allowed on first down runs.

The Broncos only forced the Cards into 3rd and long five times. They converted one of five - on a 14 yard scramble by Josh Rosen.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
1 0:34 3 14 CRD 17 David Johnson middle for 6 yards (tackle by Derek Wolfe and Justin Simmons) catch but short
2 11:26 3 15 CRD 33 Josh Rosen sacked by Shaquil Barrett for -10 yards sack
3 10:14 3 10 DEN 26 Josh Rosen middle for 14 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) conversion by run
3 2:08 3 10 CRD 25 Josh Rosen pass incomplete short left intended for Larry Fitzgerald. Penalty on John Wetzel: Offensive Holding (Declined) incomplete
4 2:48 3 21 CRD 35 Josh Rosen pass complete short middle to Chase Edmonds for 5 yards (tackle by Chris Harris and Isaac Yiadom) catch but short

The Broncos have now allowed 15 conversion on 46 3rd & long situations (32.6%) which is 26th in the league. The Chiefs are still leading the league in this category having only allowed six conversions on 42 3rd & long situations (14.6%). The Broncos have a long way to go to get close to how well the defense has performed in these situations over the last three years. They were 7th in 2017, 5th in 2016 and 9th in 2015.

The 2018 Broncos now stand at a cross-roads. They are poised to play on the road in Arrowhead stadium as heavy underdogs. Arrowhead has always been a tough place for the Broncos to play, even when we were routinely beating the Chiefs twice per year. So this game presents a monumental challenge for both the players and coaches.

The team has a “mini-bye” to prepare for the Chiefs, but that did not help this coaching staff last season as they lost to the woeful Giants in Denver after our actual bye last season. They also have a coaching staff that has produced two road wins in two seasons and in both of those road wins the Broncos were the favored team.

The Broncos have not won a road game where we were underdogs since 2016 (against the New Orleans Saints). I have little confidence in this coaching staff’s ability to game plan for an opponent in the way that the coaching staff could in 2015, but a win next Sunday would go a long way to change that lack of confidence.


What do you think will happen in Arrowhead on Sunday?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Denver will get blown out
    (72 votes)
  • 44%
    Denver will keep it close, but lose
    (98 votes)
  • 19%
    Denver will win a close game
    (44 votes)
  • 3%
    Denver will win in a blowout
    (8 votes)
222 votes total Vote Now