clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Broncos’ performance on 3rd and 4th down in 2023

Would it surprise you to see that Jarrett Stidham was better than Russell Wilson when passing on 3rd or 4th down?

Las Vegas Raiders vs. Denver Broncos during week 18 of NFL season Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Denver Broncos finished 21st in 3rd down conversion rate in 2023. They converted on 81 of 220 (36.8%). The best in the league was the Bills at 49.8% and the worst was the Jets at a woeful 26.0%. The Jets were a step below every other team in the league with the next worst being at 30.2%.

Rk Tm 3DAtt 3DConv 3D% 4DAtt 4DConv 4D% RZAtt RZTD RZPct
1 Buffalo Bills 219 109 49.80% 16 9 56.30% 65 41 63.10%
2 Dallas Cowboys 230 111 48.30% 23 13 56.50% 71 40 56.30%
3 Philadelphia Eagles 225 108 48.00% 26 19 73.10% 60 36 60.00%
4 San Francisco 49ers 179 85 47.50% 13 7 53.80% 67 45 67.20%
5 Green Bay Packers 223 105 47.10% 24 12 50.00% 64 33 51.60%
6 Kansas City Chiefs 220 96 43.60% 20 10 50.00% 61 33 54.10%
7 Miami Dolphins 202 85 42.10% 25 11 44.00% 58 38 65.50%
8 Los Angeles Rams 226 95 42.00% 21 13 61.90% 55 35 63.60%
9 Baltimore Ravens 207 87 42.00% 14 8 57.10% 68 42 61.80%
10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 236 98 41.50% 18 12 66.70% 49 22 44.90%
11 Detroit Lions 224 93 41.50% 40 21 52.50% 64 41 64.10%
12 Chicago Bears 238 98 41.20% 26 13 50.00% 49 28 57.10%
13 Atlanta Falcons 225 90 40.00% 19 8 42.10% 47 22 46.80%
14 Arizona Cardinals 225 88 39.10% 34 15 44.10% 44 27 61.40%
15 New Orleans Saints 235 91 38.70% 19 9 47.40% 60 32 53.30%
16 Los Angeles Chargers 237 91 38.40% 32 15 46.90% 47 27 57.40%
17 Jacksonville Jaguars 228 87 38.20% 29 13 44.80% 52 26 50.00%
18 Minnesota Vikings 223 85 38.10% 29 17 58.60% 51 24 47.10%
19 Houston Texans 232 88 37.90% 21 8 38.10% 53 29 54.70%
20 Cincinnati Bengals 218 82 37.60% 20 9 45.00% 52 31 59.60%
21 Denver Broncos 220 81 36.80% 20 13 65.00% 58 30 51.70%
22 Pittsburgh Steelers 232 85 36.60% 19 9 47.40% 42 20 47.60%
23 Seattle Seahawks 207 75 36.20% 16 6 37.50% 54 26 48.10%
24 Las Vegas Raiders 216 77 35.60% 23 14 60.90% 47 23 48.90%
25 Washington Commanders 216 77 35.60% 29 16 55.20% 49 31 63.30%
26 Indianapolis Colts 232 82 35.30% 32 16 50.00% 57 28 49.10%
27 Carolina Panthers 249 85 34.10% 48 23 47.90% 36 18 50.00%
28 Tennessee Titans 212 71 33.50% 20 11 55.00% 48 23 47.90%
29 Cleveland Browns 253 80 31.60% 32 18 56.30% 50 28 56.00%
30 New York Giants 248 75 30.20% 37 18 48.60% 43 19 44.20%
31 New England Patriots 222 67 30.20% 25 9 36.00% 36 21 58.30%
32 New York Jets 235 61 26.00% 29 17 58.60% 37 12 32.40%

The Broncos were actually the 3rd best team in the league at converting on 4th down, converting on 13 of 20 attempts. The Panthers had the most 4th down attempts with a whopping 48 this season (almost three per game) while the 49ers only went for it 13 times on fourth down. The Patriots were the worst team when going for it on 4th down, converting on only 36.0% of their attempts.

The other nugget of information in the table able is red zone TD percentage. The Broncos finished the season 19th in RZTD%. Scoring TDs on 30 of 58 red zone possessions (51.7%). The best team in the league was the 49ers who scored TD on 67.2% while the Jets only scored TDs on a woeful 32.4%, again a step below the rest of the league. The Giants were the second worst and they scored on 44.2%. But let’s get back to the Broncos.

The Broncos attempted to throw the ball 157 times on 3rd or 4th down this past season. 31 of those dropbacks resulted in sacks (26 on Russell Wilson and five on Jarrett Stidham). Below is a table comparing the passing of both Bronco QBs on 3rd and 4th down this season.

Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Sk Yds Y/A 1D Rate
Russell Wilson 71 109 65.1 795 10 2 26 -158 7.3 43 109.7
Jarrett Stidham 10 17 58.8 179 1 0 5 -33 10.5 8 114.6

Note that while Russ had a better completion percentage, only 43 of 71 his completions (60.6%) went for first downs or touchdowns. Compare that to Stidham who only completed 10 of 17 throws, but eight of those ten resulted in a 1D or a TD.

If we focus on just 4th down throws, both QBs were mostly comparable with Russ completing two of four throws (both conversions) while taking two sacks. Stidham completed one of two throws (converted) and did not take a sack on his other throw.

We also have to look at how often Russ converted on third or fourth down with his legs. Almost half of the Bronco 4th down conversions in 2023 came via Russ’ legs (he had 7 carries for 33 yards and six first downs when he ran on 4th down. Stidham did not run on fourth down. When the Broncos ran the ball on 4th down with a running back, Javonte Williams converted on three of four and Samaje Perine converted his lone attempt. The average yardage to convert on 4th down when the Broncos chose to go for it in 2023 was 3.0 yards, but that’s a little skewed by three plays where the Broncos went for it on 4th and 9, 10 and 15 yards to go. The only one of those to convert was the completion by Stidham to Brandon Johnson for 21 yards on 4th and 15 in the final game of the season.

Russell Wilson also ran the ball 32 times for 151 yards on 3rd down with 19 first downs. While Stidham ran the ball four times for four yards and only one first down on third down.

The Broncos ran the ball 73 times on 3rd down in 2023, but about two thirds of those were on third and short while the other third was what I can “give up” rans on 3rd and long.

47/73 were on 3rd and 1-3 needed (26/47 runs converted)

8/73 on 3rd and 4-6 (6/8 converted - this is surprising)

8/73 on 3rd and 7-10 (2/8 converted)

10/73 on 3rd and 11 or more (0/10 converted)

The Broncos were actually better at converting on on runs on 3rd and medium (75%) than they were on 3rd and short (55%). Three of those conversions on third and medium were Russ running, two were Perine and one was Jaleel McLaughlin.

Before we leave this discussion let’s look at what elite QBs do on 3rd down when they throw the ball. Across the NFL in 2023, 76 players threw the ball on 3rd down completing 60.4% of their throws. When their throws were completed on third down they converted on 65% of those throws. Leaving out QBs with fewer than 20 throws on 3rd down, the top 10 in the league were

  1. Justin Herbert (79%)
  2. Jordan Love (78%)
  3. Brock Purdy (78%)
  4. Tyson Bagent (76%) - on only 44 throws
  5. Taylor Heinecke (75%) - on only 41 throws
  6. Josh Allen (73%)
  7. Tua Tagovailoa (72%)
  8. Jimmy Garoppolo (72%) - on only 42 throws
  9. Mitch Trubisky (71%) - on only 31 throws
  10. Lamar Jackson (70%)

So the top three were all starters and all converted on better than 75% of the time when they completed passes on 3rd down. Russell Wilson’s 59% was closer to the bottom than the top. The worst starter for conversion on 3rd down completions was Bryce Young. He completed 83/142 passes on 3rd down, but only 44 of those converted. Converted on less than 50% of your third down completions is sign that you will never be a long-term starter at QB in the NFL. The list of QBs who had that dubious distinction in 2023 is below

  • Dorian Thompson-Robinson
  • Trevor Siemian
  • P.J. Walker
  • Bailey Zappe
  • Tommy DeVito
  • Tim Boyle

The QB with the most 3rd down conversions by run in 2023 was Josh Allen with 32. Eleven QBs had 10 or more rushing conversions on third down in 2023. Russ had the fourth most with 19, but none of his went for TDs. Table of best 3rd down running QBs in 2023 is below.

Player Att Yds Y/A TD 1D
Josh Allen 43 219 5.09 3 32
Jalen Hurts 48 199 4.15 3 32
Justin Fields 30 295 9.83 1 20
Russell Wilson 32 151 4.72 0 19
Kyren Williams 26 137 5.27 3 16
Joshua Dobbs 23 142 6.17 2 15
Lamar Jackson 31 220 7.1 1 14
Dak Prescott 21 120 5.71 1 14
Sam Howell 19 144 7.58 2 12
Baker Mayfield 21 115 5.48 0 12
Bryce Young 16 125 7.81 0 11

The QB who was the best overall at converting on 3rd down (by pass or run) was Jalen Hurts. Russ’ 43.8% was a little above average. See the table below this includes passing and rushing attempts on 3rd down. Notice that only three QBs were at 50% or above - Hurts, Dak Prescott and Brock Purdy. It should surprise no one that all three QBs got their respective teams to the playoffs. The guys on bottom of the list will almost certainly NOT be starting QBs in 2024.

Player Total 3rd down attemps Total 3rd down Conversions Total 3rd down conversion rate
Jalen Hurts 174 90 51.7%
Dak Prescott 166 84 50.6%
Brock Purdy 116 58 50.0%
Josh Allen 176 87 49.4%
Jake Browning 67 33 49.3%
Jordan Love 177 83 46.9%
Tyson Bagent 47 22 46.8%
Baker Mayfield 189 86 45.5%
Jimmy Garoppolo 49 22 44.9%
Joshua Dobbs 139 62 44.6%
Tua Tagovailoa 166 74 44.6%
Jared Goff 149 66 44.3%
Daniel Jones 52 23 44.2%
Justin Herbert 136 60 44.1%
Patrick Mahomes 159 70 44.0%
Desmond Ridder 116 51 44.0%
Kirk Cousins 89 39 43.8%
Russell Wilson 137 60 43.8%
Matthew Stafford 136 59 43.4%
Justin Fields 138 59 42.8%
Mason Rudolph 33 14 42.4%
Trevor Lawrence 151 64 42.4%
C.J. Stroud 169 71 42.0%
Lamar Jackson 142 59 41.5%
Joe Burrow 94 39 41.5%
Derek Carr 160 66 41.3%
Kyler Murray 80 33 41.3%
Taylor Heinicke 47 19 40.4%
Sam Howell 159 63 39.6%
Nick Mullens 41 16 39.0%
Deshaun Watson 59 23 39.0%
Geno Smith 148 57 38.5%
Mitchell Trubisky 34 13 38.2%
Tyrod Taylor 67 25 37.3%
Kenny Pickett 125 46 36.8%
Ryan Tannehill 69 25 36.2%
Anthony Richardson 25 9 36.0%
Easton Stick 50 18 36.0%
Aidan O'Connell 99 35 35.4%
Mac Jones 102 36 35.3%
Gardner Minshew II 135 47 34.8%
Bryce Young 158 55 34.8%
Joe Flacco 53 18 34.0%
Drew Lock 21 7 33.3%
Will Levis 81 27 33.3%
Zach Wilson 112 35 31.3%
P.J. Walker 30 9 30.0%
Tim Boyle 25 7 28.0%
Trevor Siemian 44 11 25.0%
Tommy DeVito 66 16 24.2%
Dorian Thompson-Robinson 38 9 23.7%
Bailey Zappe 65 15 23.1%

Suffice it to say that the Denver Broncos ability to convert on 3rd down in 2023 was nowhere close to where Sean Payton wanted it to be. Part of this was the inability to stay “ahead of the chains”. Too often the Broncos were running the ball for little or no gain on first down and this led to more third and long situations than he wanted. That being said, the Broncos average to gain on 3rd down in 2023 was only 6.7 yards which was 11th best in the league. The Raiders were the best at 6.2 while the Jets (again) were the worst at 8.2.

League-wide this is the distance needed percentage breakdown on 3rd down with Denver % in parentheses

  • 1-3 — 28% (33%)
  • 4-6 — 25% (23%)
  • 7-10 — 29% (26%)
  • 11+ — 18% (19%)

I was surprised to see that the Broncos did a good job of getting in 3rd and short this season, much better than league average. It didn’t feel like that during the season.