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Stats the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it - Week 2

More about fourth down conversions and the Denver Broncos.

Denver Broncos v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Through two weeks of the NFL season the Denver Broncos are five for five on fourth down conversions. In 2020 the Broncos only had four conversions the entire season. In 2020 the Broncos were also the second worst team in the league at converting on 4th down - converting at 28.6 percent (Jaguars were worse). Oddly enough, we led the league in fourth down conversions in 2018 with fifteen. We also lead the league that year in fourth down attempts with 25.

Admittedly one of our 4th down conversions on Sunday was the play at the end of the half where Teddy Bridgewater dumped it to Melvin Gordon who ran for 30 yards, but that is still a fourth down conversion, even if some want to put an asterisk by it. The other 4th down conversion on Sunday was the QB sneak on 4th and 1 from the JAX 16 with 2:58 left that essentially sealed the game. It was another somewhat aggressive decision by Vic Fangio. The Broncos were up by 10 and the FG there puts us up by 13, but our kickoff coverage team had just allowed a kickoff return touchdown. By going for it, we made sure that, even if we got stopped, the Jags kickoff return team would not have another chance to house one.

I went back and looked at how the Broncos have done on fourth down every year this century. With five conversions already, the Broncos have already converted almost as many times as we have in a full year on average (we average 7.3 conversions per season this century). All data is from Stathead.com.

Year 3rd Dn Conv % 4th down Plays ToGo Yds 1st% TO% TD 4th Dn Conv Int Fmb Sk Pass Rush
2020 38.7% 14 5.7 8.0 28.6% 14.3% 1 4 2 0 1 12 2
2019 31.7% 15 5.3 6.3 73.3% 0.0% 1 11 0 0 1 11 4
2018 33.3% 25 4.6 3.2 60.0% 4.0% 3 15 1 0 2 19 6
2017 39.0% 20 6.4 6.4 35.0% 10.0% 2 7 2 1 0 14 6
2016 34.2% 17 3.1 4.2 52.9% 5.9% 0 9 1 0 0 8 9
2015 35.3% 14 4.1 8.4 50.0% 7.1% 3 7 1 0 0 10 4
2014 44.1% 13 3.3 7.1 46.2% 0.0% 1 6 0 0 2 8 5
2013 46.3% 9 2.0 7.4 88.9% 0.0% 2 8 0 0 0 5 4
2012 45.1% 5 1.2 12.7 60.0% 0.0% 1 3 0 0 0 4 1
2011 30.8% 13 5.5 -1.9 23.1% 7.7% 1 3 1 0 1 9 4
2010 32.4% 19 5.1 6.2 31.6% 0.00% 1 6 0 1 0 13 6
2009 36.3% 18 6.0 10.1 33.3% 0.0% 1 6 0 0 0 11 7
2008 47.5% 10 4.7 3.8 40.0% 0.0% 2 4 0 0 0 7 3
2007 40.4% 22 4.5 5.4 31.8% 0.0% 0 7 0 0 0 17 5
2006 37.0% 13 4.0 7.3 53.8% 15.4% 1 7 2 1 1 8 5
2005 36.2% 19 2.1 4.9 73.7% 10.5% 4 14 1 1 0 3 16
2004 37.7% 15 5.5 9.6 40.0% 6.7% 1 6 1 0 2 11 4
2003 38.9% 13 3.7 -0.9 23.1% 0.0% 0 3 0 2 2 6 7
2002 38.1% 23 4.9 5.6 69.6% 4.3% 1 16 0 1 1 13 10
2001 37.9% 10 4.3 7.0 40.0% 10.0% 1 4 1 0 0 5 5

Another interesting piece of information that can be pulled from this table is the average yards needed on the fourth down plays. In 2017 the average yards needed when we went for it on 4th down was 6.4. Compare that to 2012, a year when we had a much better offense, when the average needed was only 1.2 yards.

I also included the third down conversion rate for each season for the Broncos. Generally when the offense has been effective at converting on third down, we haven’t needed to go for it much on 4th down.

I also did not try to tease out which of these fourth down attempts were goal-to-go. That plays a huge role in the coaches decision whether to go for it on 4th down or not. If you chose to kick a FG on fourth and goal from the five or closer, that’s a 22 yard or shorter field goal attempt. The Broncos have 64 field goal attempts from 22 or shorter this century (all were good).

The Broncos have gone for it on fourth down from the opponent five or better 33 times this century. So our head coaches have chosen to kick the field goal about twice as often as they have chosen to go for it. On those 33 plays, we converted sixteen times (thirteen touchdowns and three first downs). Remember that a touchdown is generally seven points, meaning that you only need to succeed on 50 percent of these fourth down attempts to score more points than you would by kicking the field goal. In other words, the analytics say that you should go for it on 4th and goal (or 4th and short) from near the goal line.

The best that any team has done this century in terms of fourth down conversion rate is 88.9 percent (2016 Cowboys and 2013 Broncos). Both of those teams converted on eight of nine fourth down attempts. The most fourth down conversions that any team has had this century was the 2002 Jaguars who converted on eighteen of 26 fourth down tries. The most fourth down attempts by any team this century was the 2020 Eagles who went for it an astounding 35 times during the season.

Year max 4th dn conv % max conv max attempts
2020 77.8% 17 35
2019 73.3% 15 31
2018 87.5% 15 25
2017 80.0% 17 28
2016 88.9% 13 27
2015 80.0% 12 24
2014 75.0% 13 28
2013 88.9% 14 31
2012 87.5% 14 26
2011 71.4% 10 23
2010 75.0% 15 25
2009 75.0% 16 28
2008 77.3% 17 24
2007 85.7% 19 33
2006 80.0% 16 22
2005 87.5% 14 32
2004 73.7% 14 27
2003 65.2% 15 26
2002 80.0% 18 30
2001 75.0% 12 25

We are only two games into the season, but given Fangio’s willingness to trust his offense on 4th and short, I would expect us to end the season with both a high conversion rate and a high total number of attempts and conversions. I doubt we will get to more than eighteen conversions on fourth down, but it’s not unthinkable given our current pace.

Poll

How many fourth down conversions will we have by the end of the regular season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    5-8
    (15 votes)
  • 20%
    9-12
    (94 votes)
  • 38%
    13-16
    (179 votes)
  • 37%
    17 or more
    (174 votes)
462 votes total Vote Now