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Broncos 3rd & long: Multi-system failure

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The Broncos injury depleted offense and defense were exposed on Sunday against the 49ers

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Good teams beat the teams that they are supposed to beat. The 2018 Broncos are not a good team. For that matter, neither were the 2017 Broncos. During Vance Joseph’ tenure as head coach the Broncos are 7-8 in games where Vegas had them as the favorites. Now admittedly, Denver was only favored by 3 on the road against the 49ers, but the loss in San Francisco is another embarrassing loss on the resume of Vance Joseph.

It’s probably not as bad as the loss to the Jets earlier this year where we made a journeyman running back look like Timmy Smith in the Super Bowl Adrian Peterson in his prime. It’s also not as embarrassing as the home loss to the Giants last season (Denver was 13.5 point favorites in that game). And yes, the loss to the 49ers was not a blowout loss. We have yet to suffer a blowout loss this season when we entered the game as favorites (after living through three in 2017 - NYG, @LAC and @MIA), but this one hurts more because this team was starting to give me hope.

This loss pulled that hope away like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown just as he is running up to kick it. We, as Bronco fans, are now lying on our collective backs staring up at the clouds wondering why we ever started to trust this coaching staff. The No Try Zone just allowed a QB who should be selling life insurance to beat them. It’s highly possible that Nick Mullens will never win another NFL game in his career - allowing him to join an embarrassingly long list of QB’s who have one of their few career victories against the Broncos - like JaMarcus Russell, Akili Smith, John Skelton, and Chris Redman. Those four QBs have a combined 22 NFL wins between them, but each led their team to a victory over the Broncos. Now Nick Mullens can add his name to that inglorious list.

Defensively our defense was okay at stopping the run on first down. The 49ers were committed to it and we didn’t do a great job of stopping it. They ran the ball 16 times on first down for 56 yards (3.50 ypc). While they weren’t gashing our defense on first down runs, we weren’t stuffing them either. On only one of those runs were they stopped for no gain or negative yards (first quarter run by Jeff Wilson tackled for -1 yards by Shelby Harris). They had 5 runs of 1 yard, 1 run of 2 yards and then the other 9 carries on first down gained between 4 and 9 yards. That’s a bunch of second and short or medium situations which make the job of a limited QB much easier. So that brings us to how the Broncos did when we forced the 49ers into 3rd and long situations.

The 49ers are credited in the gamebook with only converting four of thirteen third down situations, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Broncos forced them into 7, 3rd and long situations (not counting the kneel down at the end of the game) and the 49ers converted three of them.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Score Detail Result
1 10:32 3 10 DEN 22 0-0 Nick Mullens pass incomplete short right intended for Kyle Juszczyk incomplete
2 4:38 3 9 SFO 21 13-0 Nick Mullens pass complete short right to Kyle Juszczyk for 17 yards (tackle by Darian Stewart) conversion by catch
2 2:32 3 8 SFO 40 13-0 Nick Mullens pass complete short right to Marquise Goodwin for 22 yards (tackle by Isaac Yiadom). Marquise Goodwin fumbles (forced by Isaac Yiadom), recovered by Darian Stewart at DEN-32 (tackle by Marquise Goodwin). Penalty on Su'a Cravens: Defensive Holding, 5 yards (no play) cenversion by penalty
3 11:43 3 15 SFO 39 20-0 Nick Mullens sacked by Bradley Chubb for -10 yards sack
3 2:23 3 9 SFO 48 20-7 Nick Mullens pass incomplete deep middle intended for Dante Pettis incomplete
4 11:23 3 9 DEN 45 20-7 Nick Mullens pass incomplete short middle intended for Trent Taylor is intercepted by Darian Stewart at DEN-41 incomplete
4 3:39 3 7 SFO 23 20-14 Nick Mullens pass complete short right to Dante Pettis for 31 yards (tackle by Demaryius Thomas) conversion by catch

This doesn’t count the two that should have been converted where Mullens had his receivers drop balls that hit them in their hands when they were going to convert. In reality this should have been much worse. Kyle Juszczyk and Dante Pettis both had drops on third and long passes, meaning that they should have been 5 of 7 on third and long against us. That means that their backup QB (and offensive coaches) are much better than our backup CBs (and defensive coaches).

I’d tell you how the Broncos currently rank in first down run stopping and conversion stoppage on 3rd and long, but it really doesn’t matter any more. The season is effectively over for the Broncos, so I am going to save my energy for another topic (the 2019 Denver QB situation - stay tuned).