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Broncos 3rd & long: three by three by three

I’ll review three good running plays, three good passing plays, and the three sacks from the Denver Broncos 20-13 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

So let’s start with the stats.

Despite starting the season 1-4, the Denver Broncos have been the third best team in the league at stopping opponents on third and long. They have only allowed three conversions on 28 attempts (14.3%) and only one per game (vs OAK, vs CHI and vs GB). New England (9.3%) and Dallas (10.3%) have both been better. Conversely San Fran (38.9%) and Washington (39.3%) have been terrible.

The Broncos held the Los Angeles Chargers to 0 for 4 on 3rd & long. Philip Rivers was 1 of 4 for 2 yards on 3rd & long and while he didn’t get sacked he was pressured on all four of those dropbacks. Rivers is and has always been really hard to sack, even with one of the worst offensive lines in the league starting in front of him.

The defense did a good job against the Chargers at stopping the run on first down. They ran the ball eight times for 26 yards (3.3 ypc) on first down. This was a big improvement relative the week before. I attribute that to the insertion of both Mike Purcell and Alexander Johnson into the starting defense. Both played well and played much better against the run than Adam Gotsis and Corey Nelson did versus the Jaguars.

For the season, the Broncos first down run defense ranks 29th overall (5.4 ypc). KC (31st) has been worse allowing 5.8 ypc on first down while Jacksonville has been the worst in the league allowing 6.2. On the other side you have the Jets (1st, 2.7 ypc) and the Eagles (2nd, 3.2 ypc). I think we shall see the Broncos continue to improve first down run stoppage as the season wears on. That 81-yard run by Leonard Fournette was on first down and is still skewing the average. The only AFC West team that is not in the bottom of the league at stopping the run on first down is the Raiders (11th). The Chargers are 26th.

Three bad passing plays (the sacks)

Sack #1 - strip-sack

This is 3rd and 11 and the Chargers rush four. Both Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson do a decent job of pushing their defensive ends past Joe Flacco, unfortunately Flacco does not feel the pressure and can’t step up in the pocket, because of the defensive tackles who end up getting blocked by Dalton Risner and Connor McGovern. Ronald Leary ends up blocking no one on the play.

Multiple re-watchings of this sack have me convinced that this sack is Flacco’s fault for not feeling the rush and moving just a little to avoid his arm getting hit, but I know that very few QBs have the pocket presence to do that and even those that do might have gotten stripped on a play like this. Uchenna Nwosu makes a great play here.

One other thing I noticed on this play is that Wilkinson is out of his stance and moving well before Bolles reacts to the snap. He’s a screen cap from right after the snap.

Sack #2

On this sack the Chargers again rush four and Wilkinson gets beaten by a speed rush. His defender, Nwosu, actually is going so fast that he flies past Flacco, but as Flacco steps up he steps right into the arms of Jerry Tillery who ends up beating Risner on a stunt. In Dalton’s defense he was not expected Flacco to step up so I don’t give the blame for this sack to him, but to Wilkinson whose man forced Flacco to step up to avoid the sack - Tillery was credited with the sack.

Similar to the last sack, Bolles is much slower out of his stance than Wilkinson. See the capture below from right after the snap.

Sack #3

This is 3rd and 4 from the Charger 30. Wilkinson gets smoked by Joey Bosa and Flacco has no chance. The rest of the line does a nice job of blocking and their LB, Jatavius Brown - #57, should have been called for defensive holding since he all but tackles Royce Freeman who is running a pattern. This sack made the FG attempt 54 yards instead of 47 (assuming we gained no yards on the play).

For some reason, McManus can’t hit a FG from 50 or longer to save his life, while at the same time he’s hit 33 straight from inside of 50. The missed FG would not end up hurting the Broncos, but at some point we are going to need McManus to hit a FG from 50 or longer and I hope he has reversed whatever hex he is under before then.

While it didn’t help him here, Wilkinson was again much quicker out of his stance at the snap than Bolles (see below).

The good passing plays

Good play #1 - first offensive play

So the Broncos opened the game with three TEs in the game (or 2 TEs and FB if you count Andrew Beck as a FB). The fake to Phillip Lindsay holds the LBs and McGovern, who does not have a man to block at the LOS, ends up peeling back to take the defender who beats Beck.

This gives Flacco plenty of room to step up and deliver a strike to Jeff Heuerman. Noah Fant was also running a vertical route off of the play-fake, but he was well covered while Heuerman was wide open. Troy Fumagalli was game-day inactive. So all three TEs on the roster (Beck is listed as a TE/FB on the roster) were in on this play.

Second good passing play

Flacco was pretty bad on third down against the Jags (3/9 for 33 yards). So it’s interesting that instead of running the ball on 3rd and 1 here, we chose to throw. I like how much more the Broncos are using both Freeman and Lindsay are receivers this season.

The blocking on this play is pretty bad. The Chargers rushed five and while I give Bolles credit for recognizing the DB blitzing, he can’t let the inside guy, Nwosu, go free. Your are taught to pick up defenders from the inside out as the inside defender has the shorter path to the QB. Risner expected Bolles to pick up Nwosu and Nwosu ends up getting an almost free run at Flacco. Seeing Wilkinson release tells me that this was a designed screen pass, but Bolles picked up the wrong guy here. Ideally he would be able to get enough of both defenders to slow Nwosu so that Risner could pick him up.

Third Good Passing Play

This is 2nd and 7 early in the 4th quarter. DEnver lines up in the shotgun with two TEs (H-backs) off-set, Beck and Heuerman, and Fant in-line with one WR, Courtland Sutton, split out wide and Lindsay in the backfield. Lindsay, Beck and Fant immediately release into the pattern. Heuerman initially pass blocks before bledding out into the flat and the Chargers rush four. Lindasy and Fant run routes designed to clear out defenders for Beck who sits it down at the sticks near the right sideline. Both of our tackles do a good job of pushing their defenders past the QB and our interior OL gives Flacco enough space to step and just enough time to release the ball. Leary gets beaten and his man forces Flacco to flip this ball side-arm.

Three Good Running Plays

First good running play

This was our second play from scrimmage. This was a zone stretch run (notice the first step of the OL) that Lindsay cuts back. Every one on the OL did their job well and Bosa bites hard on the boot-leg fake, running himself out of the play. This play also catches their backside OLB flat-footed as he is slow to react/decide where the ball is.

Second good running play

This run is blocked fairly well, but is also defended fairly well. The 13 yards that are gained here are almost all Lindsay. This play was going to be stuffed at the LOS, but Lindsay has the ability to stop, redirect and accelerate to take advantage of Andy Janovich blocking Bosa twice (first cutting him then blocking him again once Lindsay cuts back). Emmanuel Sanders also makes a really nice block that turns this from a ~4 yard run into a 13 yard run. You should also note that Sutton ends up blocking two defenders on this play (in tandem with Bolles).

This play told me that the team is still playing really hard for the coaching staff despite the 0-4 start. In 2016 or 2017 a play like this would have resulted in no gain partly because we didn’t have a RB with the skills Lindsay but mostly because the players did not normally give this kind of snap-to-whistle effort.

Third good running play (the game clincher)

This play is blocked perfectly. Not only are all of the blockers squarely fitted up on their defenders, but they are driving them off the LOS (easier to see from the side view, but the LOS is the 25). Janovich absolutely hammers the LB and Lindsay has a hole big enough to drive Jerry Jones’ ego through.

Lindsay’s ability to subtly change direction and to quickly accelerate after deciding on cut-back lane is something that I haven’t seen from a Bronco RB since TD. I’m amazed every day that he went undrafted, but then again, TD was a 6th round draft pick. Drafting is still much more of an art, despite all the available data that teams have, than a science.


What play is your favorite?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    1st good passing play
    (25 votes)
  • 1%
    2nd good passing play
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    3rd good passing play
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    1st good running play
    (14 votes)
  • 4%
    2nd good running play
    (16 votes)
  • 65%
    3rd good running play
    (229 votes)
  • 16%
    (56 votes)
348 votes total Vote Now