The Broncos defense has been the least impactful defense in the league through three games. I define a defensive impact play as a QB hit, a sack, a tackle-for-loss, or a forced turnover.
Right now the Broncos are dead last with 13, and it’s not even close. Even the woeful tanking Dolphins have 19 defensive impact plays through three games.
|Team||Def Impact Plays|
|New England Patriots||59|
|Green Bay Packers||56|
|San Francisco 49ers||50|
|New York Jets||47|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||46|
|New Orleans Saints||45|
|Los Angeles Rams||37|
|Kansas City Chiefs||33|
|New York Giants||33|
|Los Angeles Chargers||31|
|Washington R. Potatoes||29|
The Broncos currently have three QB hits through three games - all by Bradley Chubb. There are 35 individual players with more than the Broncos have as a team. Why? Let’s look for answers.
One possible explanation is that we have played three QBs that are difficult to hit and or sack. Unfortunately that is not the reality. Despite each having played against the Broncos in 2019, the Raiders, Bears and Packers are 19th, 20th and 22nd in the league in terms of allowed sack rate (1st means lowest sack rate - currently Dallas).
That means that the other two opponents of the Raiders, Bears and Packers have been able to sack Derek Carr, Mitch Trubisky and Aaron Rodgers at a fairly high rate since we did not any of the three QBs.
Another possible explanation for the lack of defensive impact plays is this theory that our defensive players are tired from being overworked in training camp and the continued heavy use our both Bradley Chubb (currently at 95.9% of the defensive snaps) and Von Miller (94.8%).
We’ll dig into this shortly, but first I want to point out that while Miller and Chubb are two of our best individual players, they are not the entire defense.
Laying the blame for the lack of TEAM defensive impact plays solely on them overlooks the fact that on any given defensive play there are nine other guys who could be making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, or pressuring the QB and reading a route and picking the ball off. (It could be argued that I need to include passes defended in the defensive impact plays, but we can discuss that in the comments).
By and large, no one of the defense has stepped up and made plays through our first three game.
Even in the one team defensive impact stat where DEN is not last, TFL, the Broncos are 27th. The ten TFL only ranks DEN ahead of KC, SEA (both at 9), NYG (7), DAL and MIA (both at 4).
So let’s talk about this overwork/overuse theory. Here’s where I first noticed it
Hey #BroncosCountry, you all want a hot take? Fangio and his old school philosophy completely wore this team out during the way-too-long (and incredibly arduous) training camp. This team is mentally and physically tired. Oh, and having Mondays off instead of Tuesdays doesn't help— JEDI OF THE HUMAN BODY (@MileHighMario) September 22, 2019
Now, I can’t speak to how hard Vic Fangio drove the team during training camp, nor do I have any data to compare it to other NFL coaches’ approaches to training camp. What I can evaluate is whether or not other NFL players who are edge rushers have gotten used as much as Miller and Chubb have been used in the first three games and whether or not that hurts pass rushing effectiveness.
So to answer this question I am going to look at the top 50 or so edge defenders in the NFL and see how much they are used and if those who are playing 90-plus percent of the defensive snaps can still be elite pass rushers. This, of course will not answer any question about residual tiredness that may have carried over from an overly strenuous training camp as the gentlemen above postulates, but it will provide to data to frame the discussion.
So to start, let’s look at the percentage of defensive snaps that Von Miller has received throughout his career. Pro-football-reference.com will be used for this data collection and their data only goes back to 2012 so I can’t see how much Miller played as a rookie. Miller’s career low utilization came in the 2015 season - 76.2 percent while his career high came in 2012, 89.9 percent. Overall Miller has appeared in 82.9 percent of the Broncos defensive snaps (for his career - keeping in mind he only played in 9 games in 2013 because of injury and that was facotered in here).
Bradley Chubb played 844 defensive snaps in 2018 (oddly that was the exact same number as Von in 2018), which was 78.4 percent of our defensive snaps last season. So both Chubb and Von are being used more heavily this year than they have before in their NFL careers.
This may not continue if their backups develop to the point of being better able to fill their shoes while they get a little rest during games. Last season we had Shaq Barrett backing up Miller. Shaq is currently leading the league in sacks with 8.0 and he is second in the league with 8 QB hits. We also had first round bust OLB, Shane Ray, backing up Bradley Chubb, and while Ray was terrible last season, he was at least going to be given plenty of chances to show his ineptness because he was a former first-round draft pick.
So we’ve established that both Von and Chubb are being used more than they have in the past, but how do they compare with other edge defenders in the league so far this year (data from NFLGSIS.com). Unfortunately I can’t find a free site that shows QB pressures. PFF does, but I don’t have the money to get a membership to see behind their paywall anymore.
|Edge Rusher||Team||Def Snap % through 3 gms 2019||QB hits + sacks thru 3 games 2019|
|Dante Fowler, Jr.||Rams||84.3%||5.0|
|Kyle Van Noy||Patriots||81.4%||1.5|
There are some other edge defenders who are getting used almost as much as Miller and Chubb. J.J. Watt is playing 94.7 percent of the defensive snaps. Chandler Jones is playing 94.6%. Cameron Jordan is playing 93.9 percent. Whitney Mercilus is playing 93.7 percent. All of them have at least six combined QB hits + sacks. So that kind of shoots down the argument that overplaying edge defenders leads to an ability to rush the passer effectively.
It’s a small sample size (three games), but it is interesting to note that the, of the five players in double digits (QB hits + sacks), four out of five are playing in the low to mid 80% of the defensive snaps. This would suggest that there might be a sweet spot in terms of rest and utilization of edge defenders. So let’s take a look at a full season, 2018, to see if this trend plays out.
I looked at every player that had 20 or more QB hits in 2018. There were 28 of them. I sorted by combined sacks + QB hits and then looked at the snap percentage in 2018 for all 28. Eight of those 28 are defensive tackles, but if you average the snap percentage for the 20 edge defenders on the list you get 78 percent. Defensive tackles are generally classed as interior defenders and not edge defenders, hence their exclusion from this average of top edge defenders from 2018.
|Player||Sack||QH||QBH + sacks||2018 def Snap%|
So this analysis from 2018 would seem to suggest that to keep your edge defenders effective as pass rushers, you should let them rest one out of every five snaps.
Are Von Miller and Bradley Chubb being used too much?
This poll is closed
Yes - if their utilization continues to be this high
No - you gotta ride your best horses if you want to win the race