Red Zone futility
On Sunday, the Broncos got into the Texan’s five-yard line twice and failed to get a touchdown on either drive. The Broncos now have five drives that went into the opposing five-yard line and have nine points total on those five drives. For comparison, the Chiefs have had eight such drives and seven touchdowns (and one field goal) in two games. Their 52 points on trips within the opposing five leads the league (with four teams yet to play this week as I write this).
If you look at this by points per drive, the Broncos (with 9 points on five drives that went into the opp 5) get 1.8 points per drive on those drives. That’s the second worst in the league at this point. Only the Seahawks are worse. You have two drives within your opponent’s five and have zero points for those two drives. Every NFL team has had at least one drive played within the opposing five this season.
There are currently seven teams that have received a TD on each and every one of these drives (Arizona, Washington, New Orleans, Dolphins, Bills, Panthers, and Cowboys), but some of those teams have only had two such drives (Bills, Panthers, and Cowboys), while Arizona had seven.
The scary thing is this is nothing new to the Broncos. In this century, the Broncos have 18 drives in their first two games in which they got into the opposing five and didn’t score a touchdown. The second most team is the Panthers at 15. If you expand that to 10, the Broncos are only third worst with 33 drives in the first two games where offense got into the opposing 10 and didn’t get a TD . The Chargers (38) and Patriots (35) have more such drives in the first two weeks.
The good thing is that the Broncos’ offense is literally inches away from three of those drives ending in touchdowns this season (Melvin Gordon nearly breaks the plane, Eric Tomlinson and Courtland Sutton are both about an inch out of bounds) . SO that should change for the better soon.
Kick or not kick
3 minutes down with 4:21 in the 3rd, on the 3rd and 1 of +35, Denver executed a TE/FB options sweep and lost 1 yard. Apparently this game was the result of misunderstandings and that’s it not what should be driven. Then, on the 4th and 2nd of +36, Nathaniel Hackett, who asked Brandon McManus to kick a 64-yarder Monday, was unsure whether to try or try the 53-yard FG. This uncertainty resulted in a delay in the game penalty as the ball was snatched just after the game clock reached zero. This pushed the try back to a 58/59-yard try, which we know McManus can do in Denver, but instead of trying to tie the game with a long FG try, Nathaniel Hackett sent the punting team out.
I think the calculus was that the defense was playing well and it was better not to possibly return the ball to the Texans near midfield.
McManus’ accuracy on kicks longer than 56 may also have factored into the decision (see above). The 32-yard punt (by design) forced the Texans to start their drive off the nine, and they went three and out. Their punter, who had a career day, then boomed another punt from over 60 yards, which Montrell Washington returned twelve yards and put the Broncos up on the -38. Cameron Johnston’s punt was so good that Lovie Smith decided not to repeat the punt, although Andrew Beck was flagged for running into the kicker (which luckily would not have given them a first down as it was 4th and 6th). were).
Cameron Johnston punted five times for a 53.6 net, but his gross distance (from the LOS) was 64, 48, 64, 61, and 31. The 31-yarder was short by nature as the Texans punt from the Denver 45. That was caught by Washington at the 14 fair. Johnston was the better punter on Sunday. Let’s hope this isn’t a trend.
The thing that got lost in the calculus was how effective Russell Wilson was in his career as he converted in 4th place and was close in plus territory. On 43 plays he required three yards or less in plus territory in 4th place, Wilson converted on 27 (62.8%). Seven of those games resulted in touchdowns, four in sacks, and just one in a turnover. In case you’re wondering, a lot of those were in the 2020 season, so it’s not like the young Russ could do that, but the “old” Russ couldn’t. Granted he only converted on three out of seven in 2020 and was fired twice and selected once on three of the four failed 4th place attempts. However, two of the three conversions were touchdowns.
The Broncos have now forced five fumbles through two games. The defense forced six in seventeen regular-season games last season. With two forced fumbles, free agent Randy Gregory leads the team, but the other three guys who have one are defensemen who were with the Broncos last season (Ronald Darby, Dre’Mont Jones and Bradley Chubb). Granted, Chubb (fifteen games) and Darby (six games) both missed a lot of time in 2021, making them feel like “new” defenders in some ways compared to last season.
I hope this is a product of the more aggressive mentality Ejiro Evero instilled in the 2022 defense compared to last year’s defense which was more passive/reactive. The Chiefs, Colts and Cardinals defense all went level at the top with fourteen forced fumbles in 2021. Obviously the pace the Broncos’ defense is at (for 42 forced fumbles) is unsustainable, but it’s nice to see the defense causing it. Giving our offense some short fields to work with will help as we need to score 16+ goals per game to compete in the AFC West.
In 17 games in 2021, Denver’s defense forced six fumbles. In 2 games in 2022, the Denver defense has forced 5.
— Joe Mahoney (@ndjomo76) September 19, 2022
It shouldn’t have escaped people that without Josey Jewell (starting ILB), Justin Simmons (for three more games) and Patrick Surtain (missing half of the last game) the defense is playing pretty well (admittedly against “weak” attacks). . Allowing a total of 26 points through two games is pretty good, but not sustainable. The Buccaneers have only 13 points allowed and the Bills have 17. The Broncos are currently fourth in points allowed with the 49ers we play next week.
Yes, our defense has yet to face a real test, but if they can do so largely in the absence of our top two defenders (Simmons and Surtain), one has to hope that defense doesn’t fall nearly as badly as many feared in the season coming. In the three seasons with our “defensive genius” as head coach, the Broncos finished 10th, 25th, and 3rd in points allowed.
The two starting QBs the Broncos have faced this season will most likely not be starters in 2023. The same goes for the QB the Broncos will face on Sunday, Jimmy Garoppolo. If you were to bet money on Geno Smith, Davis Mills and Jimmy G all being their teams’ primary quarterbacks in 2023, you would lose that money (and I’d laugh at you for being stupid with your money).