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Broncos 3rd and long: letting one slip away against the Chiefs

The Denver Broncos defense played the dynamic Kansas City Chiefs offense well, but came up short at the most critical points as Patrick Mahomes asserted himself as one of the league’s best players.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The hype-train surrounding both Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offense had built up so much momentum that the narrative being played by the national sports outlets was that they were going to steamroll the Denver Broncos defense. It would have been exceptionally sweet to derail that hype train, to do to Mahomes what the 2015 Broncos defense did to Aaron Rodgers, but it didn’t happen.

The defense did stymie him and the Chiefs offense for three quarters of the game, but there is no sugar-coating that fact that they blew a 10-point 4th quarter lead at home on Monday Night Football.

Were the Broncos able to stop the run on first down and keep that gimmick-offense that they run off-schedule? The answer is kind of.

The Chiefs ran the ball 12 times on first down for 50 yards - 4.17 ypc. That is almost exactly what the average carry was last season in the NFL. Their longest first down run was 7 yards, so they weren’t gashing the Broncos defense with runs on first down, but the Broncos were also not getting them off-schedule. Their shortest run on first down was for 2 yards. So when they ran it on first down, at worst they faced 2nd and 8.

For comparison, Broncos runs on first down netted 114 yards on 15 carries - 7.60 ypc, but they did have three first down runs stopped for no gain, meaning that on the other 12 runs they averaged 9.5 ypc. Sadly, one of those runs for no gain on first down came on the drive that lost us the game.

So I’m gonna go off on a tangent here to question the decision of the play-callers on offense. The Broncos threw the ball 37 times and ran the ball 22 times (15 on 1st down, 6 on 2nd, 1 on 3rd).

If the Broncos were having so much success running on first down, why not run on second down as well? I realize that the play-action passing game should have been wide open with all of the Broncos success running on first down, but their passing attack was mostly punchless last game.

So how did Case Keenum do when throwing the ball on second down last game? He was 4 of 8 for 30 yards and was sacked twice. Only one of those 4 completions went for a first down.

So to recap, the Broncos were having great success running the ball on first down, but chose not to run the ball very often on second down so that Keenum could average 3.8 yards per attempt throwing the ball on 2nd down. Keep in mind that the Broncos also gained 31 yards on 6 second down carries (5.2 ypc). But, hey, running doesn’t score points. According to Vance Joseph, “You throw the ball to score. That’s never going to stop.”

The Broncos have now allowed 207 yards on 54 first down carries (3.83 ypc). That is 9th in the league. Philly leads the league at 3.30 and Detroit is still in last place at 6.82. In terms of stuffing the run on first down (0 or negative yards gained on the run) the Broncos have eight in four games. Washington only has three while Indianapolis has 20.

Getting them in and Stopping them on 3rd and long

So how did the Broncos do when they forced the Chiefs into 3rd and long? Well, first off, they forced fifteen third downs, but allowed them to convert on seven of them (while the Broncos offense went 2 of 11 on 3rd down). Nine of those fifteen were third and long.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
1 6:13 3 7 DEN 15 Patrick Mahomes pass incomplete short right intended for Sammy Watkins (defended by Bradley Roby) incomplete
1 4:23 3 10 DEN 41 Patrick Mahomes pass incomplete short left intended for Travis Kelce incomplete
2 9:42 3 8 DEN 8 Patrick Mahomes left end for 8 yards, touchdown conversion by run - TD
2 2:32 3 20 KAN 37 Patrick Mahomes pass incomplete deep left intended for Chris Conley incomplete
3 14:09 3 9 KAN 26 Patrick Mahomes pass complete deep right to Demetrius Harris for 24 yards (tackle by Darian Stewart) conversion by catch
3 11:34 3 11 DEN 32 Patrick Mahomes pass complete deep middle to Travis Kelce for 29 yards (tackle by Bradley Roby) conversion by catch
3 6:55 3 17 DEN 44 Patrick Mahomes pass incomplete deep right intended for Chris Conley incomplete
4 10:53 3 16 KAN 31 Patrick Mahomes pass complete short middle to Tyreek Hill for 15 yards (tackle by Chris Harris) catch but short
4 2:03 3 7 DEN 46 Patrick Mahomes pass complete deep right to Demetrius Harris for 35 yards conversion by catch

The converted on four of those nine 3rd and longs with catches of 35, 29, 24 yards as well as the eight yard scramble for their first touchdown. We should also note that the defense stopped the Chiefs on three of their first four third and long situations, then failed to stop them on three of their last five, and that catch for 15 on 3rd and 16 led to the conversion on 4th and less than a yard, so they essentially converted that one as well (so 4 of their last 5).

Let’s look at the 35 yard catch on 3rd and 7 with two minutes left in the game. They are in empty set with four receivers to the offense right and a lone receiver left. The Broncos appear to be in man with a single high safety (Simmons). They rush five and the Chiefs only have five to block. In general, you assume that this is going to be a win for the defense. The Broncos five pass rushers are Bradley Chubb, Shane Ray, Brandon Marshall, Adam Gotsis and Will Parks.

Why is Von Miller not in the game?

Chubb and Ray bring pressure off of the offense’ left forcing Mahomes to roll right, but the Broncos have no one rushing to contain on that side as Gotsis gets washed down into the center of the field and Parks never gets off the LOS.

Somehow Demetrius Harris gets free in the secondary (no defender within 5 yards) and would have scored easily if he didn’t stumble making the catch. The nearest player to him is Shaquil Barrett (Why is Barrett in coverage and Parks rushing the passer?). Barrett is the guy who is supposed to be covering Harris, who is a TE. Barrett blows the coverage leading to this huge gain on 3rd and long and essentially leading to the go ahead touchdown.

This is a case of completely blown coverage. The Chiefs’ defense did the same thing with the game on the line, but Case Keenum was unable to hit the wide open receiver. That stings ... a lot.

For the season the Broncos have now allowed conversion on eight of 27 in third and long situations - 29.6%. That is 24th in the league. The team they just played has allowed conversion on one of 24 - 4.2%, best in the league, and the Rams have allowed conversion on 50% of these situations against them this year, league worst.

Moving Forward

The 2018 Broncos have reached a crossroads. They can either take this disappointing loss where both the offense and the defense failed quite spectacularly in the 4th quarter and use it to motivate themselves and turn the season around, or they can do what they did in 2017. That was to start pointing fingers and give up on the season (leading to an 8-game losing streak).

Both players and coaches can grow professionally as their careers progress, but that does not mean that they will. The optimist in me would like to think that the Broncos head coach learned from his mistake in 2017 and will NOT repeat those in 2018. The realist in me keeps saying that we are watching the same movie we saw in 2017, just with a slightly different cast of characters. The Broncos are already on a two-game losing streak and I don’t know if the coaches have what it takes to get this team ready to beat the Jets on Sunday in the festering, mercury-infused swamps of New Jersey.


What do you see happening in NJ on Sunday?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    The Broncos will come out angry and crush the Jets
    (61 votes)
  • 38%
    Two floundering offenses will make this a close game, but Denver will prevail
    (121 votes)
  • 32%
    Our offense will shoot itself in the foot with holding penalties, inaccurate passes and questionable play-calling leading to a close loss.
    (101 votes)
  • 9%
    The wheels will completely come off and the Broncos will get blown out. Sam Darnold will pick apart our secondary.
    (29 votes)
312 votes total Vote Now