The Denver Broncos currently have the second most yards needed on average on third down at 8.0. Only the Vikings have been worse (8.3). Much of this has to do with how inept the Broncos have been at running the football. But wait, you say, the Broncos are currently 11th in yards per carry and 10th in total rushing yards. My reply is that those numbers are deceiving because of a few long runs that mask how the run game is mostly ineffective.
The Broncos currently have 749 rushing yards on 164 carries (this removes kneel-downs), but 180 of those yards are from four runs. 4.57 yards per carry looks pretty good, the issue is that those few long runs are “balancing” the horde of stuffed runs.
A full 75 of the Broncos 164 runs have gained two yards or fewer (46 percent) and 49 have gained one yard or fewer (30 percent). If you plot the yards gained on the X-axis and the number of runs that gained that many yards on the Y-axis you get a run game histogram. The Broncos run game histogram so far this season is shown below.
Ideally you want the vast majority of the area under this curve to be on the right side of the zero point on the X-axis. The Broncos have way too much at zero and on the wrong side of zero.
Notice that I have chosen the X-axis bounds as -10 to 10. The Bronco run game has also looked good from “yards-per-carry” standpoint because of the eight runs that haver gained 11-14 yards and the 12 runs that have gained 11-70 yards. Those twelve runs account for 297 of the 749 rushing yards (40 percent).
So to recap, 20 percent of runs our have gained 0 yard or fewer and 40 percent of our total rushing yards have come from twelve total runs. That’s feast or famine with a very heavy dose of famine from our running game.
For comparison, here is the histogram for the team that currently leads the league in average yards per carry, the Browns.
While they, like us, have a peak at two, they have a host of runs that gained four, five and six yards, which we do not have. They also have a significantly smaller percentage of runs that gained <2, <1 or <0 yards. For them: 38 percent have gained 2 or fewer, 25 percent 1 or fewer, and only 13 percent 0 or fewer yards.
The Broncos have two very talented running backs who both can make tacklers miss. So this is not an indictment of the running backs, it’s an indictment of the offensive line. Too often both running backs are having to make a tackler miss in the backfield just to get back to the line of scrimmage. Right now Melvin Gordon has eight broken tackles and Javonte Williams has eleven. I would guess that about half of those occurred in our own backfield.
Another way to look at this how infrequently the Broncos have been in 3rd and short (1, 2 or 3 yards needed). The Broncos have only had 19 3rd and short situations in seven games (2.7 per game). Only the Packers with 14 in six games (2.3 per game) have had fewer. Compare that to Buffalo that leads the league with 5.2 3rd and short situations per game so far. Not surprisingly, the Broncos are 30th at converting on 3rd and short having only converted 9 of 19. Only the Giants (8 of 17) and the Bengals (13 of 28) have been worse.