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Broncos 3rd and long: close but no cigar

The Denver Broncos were close to bringing down the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8, but didn’t quite make it.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

There were failures in all four phases of the game on Sunday. Yes, I said four phases: offense, defense, special teams and coaching. I’ll go in depth into a few of the coaching mistakes later. The frustrating part about the 2018 Broncos is that the talent is there to be a playoff team, but the coaches are generally not putting the talent in positions to succeed. This team is 3-5, but could easily be 6-2 or 7-1 - with better coaching (and better QB). I’ll call out three examples from last game - one from each phase. Remember that our coaches had extra time to prepare for this game after the mini-bye that we got from playing a Thursday night game.

On special teams I am not going to rail on Cody Wadman. Yes, he had a 19 yard punt that completely demoralized the team, but that is not on the coaches. The special teams coaching fail was not telling Adam Jones to accept a touchback if the kickoff goes into the endzone. Touchbacks on kickoffs give the offense the ball on the 25, so any time a returner does not make it to the 25, they have made it harder on the offense. Adam Jones returned three kickoffs in the game: the first he caught five yards deep and returned to the 19, the second he caught at the one and returned to the 26 and the third he caught a yard deep and returned to the 19. So left 12 yards on the field by not accepting the touchbacks. Yes, 12 yards seems like a small thing, but his decision are symptomatic of a team that is not well coached. Holding happens often on kickoff and punt returns, and while we did not get flagged for holding on any of the kickoffs that were returned in this game, our offense is not great at digging itself out of deep holes. If Adam Jones had the ability to return kickoffs for huge yardage (or TDs) then the risk of a hold or a turnover might be worth it, but he has never returned a kickoff for a TD (and hasn’t returned a punt for a TD since 2012). So he should accept the touchbacks when he/we can.

The defensive coaching failure that I noticed was the confusion and unwillingness to call a timeout in the first half when Todd Davis was somehow left to cover Sammy Watkins in the red zone. The defensive coaches need to realize this and get a timeout called. Timeouts are not that precious in the first half as to allow something this glaring of a mismatch to occur.

On offense the coaching mistake was the flea-flicker that was intercepted. I understand that Bill Musgrave was just trying to spark the offense with the team down 10 in the 4th quarter, but the offensive coaches have to coach Case Keenum to throw that ball away if the receiver is not wide open. Again, you could say that the failure was on Keenum there and not on Bill Musgrave, but I disagree. Musgrave made the play call and Keenum needed to be coached to know his limitations on that play. He doesn’t have the arm to make that throw and Kendall Fuller took advantage. Remember, the situation that the led to the play. The Broncos had forced a punt and gotten the ball back on the 20. We had run Phillip Lindsay three straight times for gains of 11, 5 and 5 yards. We were moving the ball on the ground and were at our 41 with 8 minutes and 8 seconds to play in the game down 10. There was no reason to run a trick play there. A simple play action probably would have worked well given that we had run the ball successfully three plays in a row.

So now on to the normal focus of my weekly article. The defense was actually quite good at stopping the run on first down for the second straight week. The Chiefs ran the ball 10 times on first down for 29 yards (2.90 ypc). Overall we held the Chiefs to 49 yards on 18 carries - 2.72 ypc. It does not take much to get Andy Reid to abandon the run. Overall the Broncos have allowed 5.23 ypc on first down runs - still 30th. KC is still dead last at 5.72 - cold comfort. Houston lead the league allowing only 3.33 ypc on first down runs.

We forced the Chiefs into eight 3rd & long situations and they were able to convert two of them. KC only faced 10 third downs in the game.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Result
1 12:14 3 10 KAN 37 Patrick Mahomes pass incomplete incomplete
3 13:55 3 8 KAN 24 Patrick Mahomes pass complete short left to Tyreek Hill for 8 yards (tackle by Bradley Roby) conversion by catch
3 10:46 3 10 DEN 39 Patrick Mahomes pass complete short middle to Travis Kelce for 18 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons and Dymonte Thomas). Penalty on Shaquil Barrett: Roughing the Passer, 11 yards conversion by catch
3 6:13 3 7 DEN 29 Patrick Mahomes pass complete short left to Sammy Watkins for 6 yards (tackle by Tramaine Brock and Chris Harris) catch but short
4 9:33 3 8 DEN 41 Patrick Mahomes pass incomplete short right intended for Travis Kelce (defended by Tramaine Brock) incomplete
4 7:38 3 16 KAN 39 Patrick Mahomes pass complete short middle to Anthony Sherman for 10 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons). Penalty on Cameron Erving: Offensive Holding (Declined) catch but short
4 4:16 3 8 KAN 29 Patrick Mahomes sacked by Dymonte Thomas for -6 yards sack
4 0:59 3 7 DEN 34 Kareem Hunt right guard for 2 yards (tackle by Derek Wolfe) run but short

Both conversions came on the Chief’s opening drive of the 3rd quarter that ended in the touchdown to put them up 23-14.

The Broncos are now 26th in the league at stopping opponents on 3rd and long - allowing conversion 31.5% of the time. MIN is currently best in the league having only allowed 7 conversion on 50 3rd and long attempts - 14.0%. The Rams are still dead last allowing 40.9% conversion on 3rd and long.

FWIW offensively the Broncos are now 24th in terms of converting on 3rd and long - 21.3% and we have allowed 10 sacks in 3rd and long situations (2nd worst in the league) and four of those sacks have led to fumbles.

Right now, this team is in the bottom third of the league. Talent-wise this team could make the playoffs in the weak AFC with better coaching and better QB play, but I don’t expect to see much of either from the Broncos this year - not based upon the first 8 games. Case Keenum has regressed to his historical form. Halfway through the season he has 11 TD passes (plus a rushing TD) and 10 INTs. If he continues on that pace in the second half of the season, he will become the first Denver QB to throw 20 INTs in a season since Jake Plummer did it in 2004. The only other Bronco QB to do it after the merger was John Elway in 1985. That was the only season that Elway threw 20 or more INTs (he threw 23 that year). Frank Tripucka (thrice), Jackie Lee and George Herring also had seasons with 20 or more interceptions thrown prior to the merger.