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Broncos third & long: Locking in on third downs

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Even with limited first team reps, Drew Lock played better on 3rd down than any Bronco quarterback this year.

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

So I normally use this space to focus on the defense, and while the defensive performance was good given the myriad injuries, I am going to focus on the offense today. Specifically, I am going to focus on third down offense.

Even after converting seven of fifteen third downs on Sunday, the Broncos are still ranked 30th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage (32.7%). The Broncos have only converted 54 of 165 third down attempts this season, and that number includes the seven conversions by defensive penalty. Much of that third down ineptitude falls on the head of the quarterback as third down performance (specifically conversions) is what separates the good QBs from the guys who are about to lose their jobs.

Joe Flacco dropped back to pass 98 times on third down and converted on 32 in eight games (4.0 conversions per game) with seven conversions coming via defensive penalty. Brandon Allen dropped back to pass 35 times on third down in three games and converted on 11 of those (6 passing, 3 running, 2 penalty) - 3.7 per game. Drew dropped back to pass 13 times on third down on Sunday and converted on 7 of those - all via the pass. See the table below.

Passing Rushing
Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Sk Yds Y/A 1D Rate Att Yds Y/A TD 1D
Joe Flacco 42 73 57.5 406 0 2 13 -87 5.6 21 61.8 5 20 4 0 4
Drew Lock 10 13 76.9 101 2 0 0 0 7.8 7 138.1 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Allen 9 26 34.6 66 1 0 4 -34 2.5 6 56.3 3 20 6.67 0 3

Admittedly, that was facing a team that had no film on him, but it was also facing a team in the Chargers that has two premier edge rushers and had both of its starting safeties back from injury, one of whom is elite. Also don’t forget that the Broncos offensive line was hobbled by injury with Elijah Wilkinson still playing for Ja’wuan James, Dalton Risner slowed by injury and Austin Schlottman playing for Ron Leary for a significant part of the game. Even with that, Drew Lock was not sacked on Sunday.

Joe Flacco was sacked 26 times in eight starts with 18 of those coming on third down. Allen was sacked nine times in three starts with four of those coming on third down.

We should also note that 101 of Lock’s 134 passing yards came on third down.

Overall Denver QB performance on third down this year has been bad. There have been 51 different QBs who have thrown the ball ten times or more on third down this season. Drew Lock currently has the best passer rating in the league on 3rd down. See the table below

Passing Rushing
Rank Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Sk Yds Y/A 1D Rate Att Yds Y/A TD 1D
1 Drew Lock 10 13 76.9 101 2 0 0 0 7.8 7 138.1 0 0 0.0 0 0
2 Derek Carr 74 111 66.7 960 12 1 8 -59 8.6 54 126.0 5 32 6.4 1 3
3 Patrick Mahomes 49 81 60.5 782 8 0 6 -35 9.7 38 125.6 9 110 12.2 0 8
4 Matt Schaub 7 11 63.6 88 1 0 0 0 8.0 5 118.8 0 0 0.0 0 0
5 Lamar Jackson 56 86 65.1 733 8 1 3 -18 8.5 44 118.0 37 270 7.3 3 23
6 Matthew Stafford 55 88 62.5 741 7 0 9 -74 8.4 39 115.8 2 9 4.5 0 1
7 Ryan Tannehill 31 51 60.8 441 5 1 10 -84 8.6 20 113.3 7 16 2.3 1 3
8 Kirk Cousins 66 99 66.7 837 8 2 7 -58 8.5 49 111.4 10 24 2.4 0 5
9 Devlin Hodges 16 23 69.6 170 1 0 1 -13 7.4 8 105.3 4 13 3.3 0 1
10 Russell Wilson 63 103 61.2 915 7 2 13 -91 8.9 44 104.6 7 67 9.6 0 3
11 Matt Ryan 68 110 61.8 898 8 2 17 -135 8.2 50 104.3 10 58 5.8 1 6
12 Brian Hoyer 12 22 54.5 131 2 0 1 -11 6.0 8 102.7 2 7 3.5 0 0
13 Nick Foles 24 37 64.9 314 1 0 3 -23 8.5 15 100.5 1 3 3.0 0 1
14 Deshaun Watson 76 110 69.1 889 6 3 14 -99 8.1 55 100.2 13 107 8.2 2 8
15 Carson Wentz 74 130 56.9 839 10 1 12 -87 6.5 60 98.8 18 69 3.8 0 12
16 Jacoby Brissett 61 99 61.6 757 6 2 7 -35 7.6 44 97.1 14 60 4.3 0 9
17 Jimmy Garoppolo 71 107 66.4 766 8 4 10 -57 7.2 55 96.6 12 33 2.8 1 9
18 Josh Allen 59 99 59.6 757 6 2 14 -81 7.6 41 95.4 29 118 4.1 3 20
19 David Blough 9 14 64.3 153 1 1 1 -13 10.9 7 95.2 0 0 0.0 0 0
20 Aaron Rodgers 62 106 58.5 868 4 1 15 -131 8.2 45 93.6 9 42 4.7 0 2
21 Daniel Jones 72 118 61.0 829 10 5 13 -94 7.0 49 92.8 18 102 5.7 1 11
22 Dak Prescott 69 113 61.1 952 5 3 5 -41 8.4 52 91.8 18 129 7.2 1 10
23 Drew Brees 37 55 67.3 431 1 1 5 -36 7.8 25 89.3 1 2 2.0 0 1
24 Jared Goff 66 114 57.9 1029 6 5 10 -56 9.0 45 87.2 5 14 2.8 1 2
25 Teddy Bridgewater 32 55 58.2 373 3 2 5 -52 6.8 22 81.9 8 27 3.4 0 3
26 Kyle Allen 59 105 56.2 627 7 4 19 -185 6.0 46 80.1 5 26 5.2 1 1
27 Kyler Murray 74 125 59.2 696 3 1 10 -75 5.6 45 79.3 13 58 4.5 1 7
28 Mason Rudolph 41 77 53.2 547 4 3 7 -57 7.1 27 77.1 7 18 2.6 0 4
29 Gardner Minshew 50 96 52.1 623 5 3 8 -58 6.5 29 76.9 14 105 7.5 0 6
30 Ben Roethlisberger 9 17 52.9 124 0 0 1 -7 7.3 4 76.6 0 0 0.0 0 0
31 Tom Brady 71 134 53.0 870 6 4 11 -79 6.5 54 75.8 4 13 3.3 0 2
32 Sam Darnold 47 90 52.2 550 6 4 12 -82 6.1 34 74.8 4 33 8.3 0 1
33 Case Keenum 35 57 61.4 333 2 2 4 -40 5.8 22 74.7 2 3 1.5 0 1
34 Ryan Fitzpatrick 47 80 58.8 704 3 5 13 -64 8.8 36 74.2 12 66 5.5 2 6
35 Andy Dalton 62 109 56.9 759 1 2 10 -70 7.0 43 73.9 7 24 3.4 1 4
36 Baker Mayfield 59 110 53.6 667 5 4 14 -100 6.1 41 72.0 9 55 6.1 0 6
37 Mitchell Trubisky 52 97 53.6 565 4 3 16 -112 5.8 34 71.9 8 29 3.6 1 4
38 Chase Daniel 14 21 66.7 154 0 1 3 -20 7.3 9 68.4 3 3 1.0 0 1
39 Marcus Mariota 27 49 55.1 255 1 1 12 -86 5.2 15 68.0 8 42 5.3 0 3
40 Ryan Finley 15 30 50.0 174 0 0 5 -42 5.8 8 67.9 3 3 1.0 0 1
41 Philip Rivers 67 120 55.8 776 5 7 10 -60 6.5 49 65.1 3 26 8.7 0 2
42 Joe Flacco 45 77 58.4 425 0 2 14 -93 5.5 24 63.0 5 20 4.0 0 4
43 Josh Rosen 15 32 46.9 186 1 1 9 -60 5.8 9 62.8 1 1 1.0 0 0
44 Cam Newton 11 22 50.0 94 0 0 1 -5 4.3 7 61.6 1 0 0.0 0 0
45 Jeff Driskel 20 36 55.6 226 1 2 4 -10 6.3 13 60.6 2 16 8.0 0 2
46 Jameis Winston 70 122 57.4 799 6 10 13 -83 6.5 51 59.4 21 134 6.4 0 10
47 Matt Moore 12 24 50.0 90 0 0 4 -39 3.8 9 59.4 0 0 0.0 0 0
48 Brandon Allen 11 28 39.3 83 1 0 4 -34 3.0 8 59.2 5 30 6.0 0 4
49 Dwayne Haskins 18 42 42.9 186 1 2 11 -74 4.4 10 44.3 7 41 5.9 0 4
50 Luke Falk 15 25 60.0 116 0 3 6 -33 4.6 4 31.8 0 0 0.0 0 0
51 Eli Manning 9 22 40.9 63 0 1 2 -13 2.9 5 29.7 1 2 2.0 0 1

You can see that from a passer rating on third down, Joe Flacco is ranked 42nd and Brandon Allen is ranked 48th. Now I fully don’t expect Lock to maintain this pace once teams get film on him, but even if he regresses to mediocrity he will be a step up from the third down QB performance we have seen this season from our QBs.

As always I am going to put the data further into context. Has the Charger defense been bad on third downs so far this season? The answer is yes. The Chargers are currently tied for 28th in third down conversion percentage allowed (tied with OAK and MIA).

It is interesting to note that the Broncos next opponent, Houston has had the worst third down defense in the league so far this season. The Texans have allowed conversion on 47.8 percent of third downs. It gets better. The Broncos also get to face the Raiders (t-28th) and Lions (29th) in the final four games. Only the Chiefs (14th) are in the top half of the league at stopping opponents on third down and then just barely in the top half. Drew Lock is set up for third down success in his first five starts.

Table from Pro-football-reference.com (like all of the data in this piece) - unfortunately it’s not sortable in this format and the ranking is by total conversions allowed and not conversion percentage as shown.