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A look at the Broncos red zone turnovers

Some silver linings from the grey clouds that followed the Broncos home from Seattle.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers are happening with decreasing frequency every year in the NFL.

So teams that can avoid them on offense (which the Broncos didn’t) and create them on defense (which the Broncos did somewhat) have a much better chance of winning.

On offense, the Denver Broncos turned the ball over with fumbles twice inside the 1. If you listened to the broadcast, the last time a team did that was 1990. But let’s look at how often any turnover happened in 2021 when the offense had the ball inside the opponent’s five. There were only 26 instances during the regular season last year where an offense turned the ball over from inside the opponent’s five last season. Twelve were interceptions and 14 were fumbles.

If the situation seemed eerily familiar, it’s because the Broncos were on the “giving” end of three of those turnovers last season. The fumble by Javonte Williams against the Jets (play began at the 1), the game-ending interception by Drew Lock against the Ravens (play began at the 5) and the pick tossed by Teddy Bridgewater against the Steelers (play began at the 3). The three turnovers inside the 5 last season was the most by any team.

If we expand it to the 10 yard line, it gets worse. The Broncos had an additional three turnovers. With the six turnovers inside the opponent’s 10 in 2021, the Broncos had double the second place team (Chicago). Those three additional turnovers were on a fumble by Albert Okwuegbunam against the Giants, a fumble by Drew Lock against the Bengals and the infamous fumble by Melvin Gordon in the final game of the season against the Chiefs.

Over the last 18 regular season games the Broncos have turned the ball over eight times inside the opponent’s 10. There were seven teams that have zero turnovers inside the opponent’s 10 during this time. There are another eight teams that have done it only once in the past 18 regular season games.

For whatever reason, this has been a problem for the Broncos for some time. If we expand the time window back to 2019, the Broncos have 11 turnovers from inside the opponent 10. The Chargers have the second most with 9, but it’s interesting to note that the Broncos have 8 in the past 18 regular season games, but had only 3 in the previous 32 regular season games. Every team has at least one turnover inside the opponent’s 10 from 2019-2022, but Washington and New Orleans both have only one.

Defensively it was great to see the Broncos forcing three fumbles on Monday night. The Bronco defense was credited with only six forced fumbles during the 2021 season. To get half of that in one game, even if only one was recovered by the Broncos, is definitely a good thing. The Broncos defense recovered six fumbles in 2021.

From a league rank perspective the Broncos were 26th in the league at recovering fumbles on defense. There were only 266 turnovers by fumble during the 272 regular season games last year. Only two teams had fewer defensive recovered fumbles than the Broncos in 2021. The Eagles had four and the Jaguars had two. The Jags defense forced a total of nine turnovers in 2021 - seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries. That was the second fewest turnovers ever forced in an NFL regular season (tied with the 2020 Texans). Only the 2018 48ers forced fewer with seven.

There have only been ten teams in the history of the NFL to force fewer than 12 turnovers in a regular season and all but one did it this century. That one that happened prior to 2001 was from the strike-shortened 1982 season, so I don’t think it should count. The 1982 Colts forced 11 turnovers in 9 games which is good by modern standards when you remember that the 2021 Jags forced 9 in 17 games.

Offensively, Russell Wilson got away with two throws that should have been picked (the one that hit Jamal Adams in the helmet and the one that went through the CB’s hands in the endzone). This was worrisome to me since Wilson’s career interception rate is quite low. He is tied (unless you go to three sig figs) with Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick for fifth best all-time. His interception rate is 1.82 percent, meaning that fewer than one in fifty of his passes is picked off. Aaron Rodgers is the career leader at 1.3 percent and his a step above to the next best two (Patrick Mahomes and Tyrod Taylor).