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Broncos run defense is up for its challenge against the Vikings

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With the Minnesota Vikings and Dalvin Cook coming to town, the Broncos will have their hands full.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The upcoming game against the Minnesota Vikings presents another tough test for the Denver Broncos defense - especially on the ground. Denver has faced several top running backs and rushing attacks throughout the season, with some mixed results.

However, over the last few weeks, since promoting Mike Purcell to the starting nose tackle slot and starting Alexander Johnson at inside linebacker, the Broncos rushing defense has been downright stifling.

I worked with our resident stats and numbers guru, Joe Mahoney, to examine just how much Denver’s run defense has been shutting down opposing rushing attacks, especially after seeing them hold Nick Chubb to 3.1 YPC last Sunday.

Here is what we found.

We looked at how Denver’s opponents so far this season have fared in their rushing attack against the rest of their schedule, minus the Denver game, and compared it to their performance in their game against Denver. For simplicity we just looked at Yards Per Carry.

In this chart above, you want the blue bars to be lower than the orange bars.

Next, we looked how far under their average YPC Denver held their opponents. This one is really telling.

Obviously the Bears and Jaguars stick out as major blemishes on Denver’s record. However, aside from those two games, Denver has held their opponents under their season average YPC.

Additionally, they have held six of their nine opponents to 20% below their previous average. The slate of games after Jacksonville, when Purcell and Johnson joined the lineup is particularly encouraging, as both the major trouble games happened prior to that combo joining the starters.

Here are the raw numbers if you want to see the full table.

Denver Run Defense

TEAM vs DEN vs rest of NFL % dif Long
TEAM vs DEN vs rest of NFL % dif Long
OAK 3.5 4.85 -28% 13
CHI 5.31 3.24 64% 46
GNB 3.3 4.3 -23% 12
JAX 7.11 4.38 62% 81
LAC 2.19 3.9 -44% 16
TEN 1.9 4.63 -59% 6
KAN 3 4.45 -33% 22
IND 4.1 4.2 -2% 16
CLE 3.1 5.57 -44% 16

One of the big factors in those two failure games were big plays on the ground. Take a look at the longest run given up in each of Denver’s games and compare it to the chart above.

The long runs given up are important for this upcoming match-up, because the Minnesota Vikings have had twelve plays of 20+ yards on the ground, which is the most in the NFL.

They come into Sunday’s game 4th in the NFL in rushing touchdowns, 9th in yards per carry, and 3rd in yards per game. They are also 2nd in the league in first downs gained on the ground.

Denver will have a tough test, but the numbers over the last several weeks suggest the Broncos defense has shored up their run stopping issues from early in the season. This will be one of the big match-ups to watch for on Sunday when Denver heads to Minnesota.