Of all the dubious stats and head-scratching plays made by the Broncos over the last six weeks, there are two that simply don’t add up. One is impressive, the other is forgettable and together, well, they’re an odd pairing.
During the Broncos’ six-game losing streak, their defense has allowed a league-high 14 passing touchdowns, but an average of only 189.5 passing yards, sixth-fewest in the league in that span.
When asked about it, Denver coaches shake their head in disbelief, knowing full well they exist and need to be corrected, but often struggling to comprehend them.
“Very frustrating. That really doesn’t make sense,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. “Really, the last two weeks have been very hard, just in terms of the games and the amount of points we let up. It’s really hard to describe what’s happening, but I think it’s us not executing and playing our best defense on some of the situations in the games that happen. We just have to stay strong, get off the field and do the best we can.”
Dig a little deeper and the numbers paint a clearer picture of what’s been happening to Denver’s defense for much of the season.
Of those 14 passing touchdowns, nine were scored by tight ends or running backs, positional groups that have given Denver fits this season.
Nine of those touchdowns were for 10 yards or more.
Nine were attempted in the Broncos’ red zone.
Eight were thrown on third downs and, of those, five were in the red zone.
Against the Bengals last Sunday, quarterback Andy Dalton connected with tight end Tyler Kroft for a 1-yard score in the opening quarter.
“Touchdown passes come from being in the high red zone and giving up a 20-yard play or giving up a 3-yard play,” Coach Vance Joseph said. “Last week it was a 1-yard, so you can say touchdown passes, but there have been a lot of short ones in the red zone also.”
In the fourth quarter, Dalton found wide receivers Alex Erickson and A.J. Green deep along the left sideline for 29- and 18-yard touchdowns, respectively, against cornerback Bradley Roby in coverage. All three touchdowns were on third downs.
“I think it happens — like last week it was really three third downs,” Joseph said. “We’re trying to apply pressure and trying to keep them out of field goal range a lot of times when it’s in the high red zone. We’re playing cover one (zone), it’s a matter of winning more one-on-one battles. That’s what it comes down to. We’ve been in games where we’ve been trailing and every point matters. We’ve been aggressive on defense and that comes down to winning one-on-ones — rushers and cover guys.”
The question the Broncos are still trying to balance those numbers, how to go back to limiting passing yards but also passing touchdowns.
“We haven’t played to our level. I tell those guys that we have to have a ‘blade of grass’ mentality,” Woods said. “We stop them, we get back out there and we’re on the one-yard line. If we’re on the one-yard line, we have one yard and we have to defend it. This year, just in terms of inconsistent technique, putting them in tough calls at times, we haven’t been successful. I talked to the whole defense about that. I showed them a slide this morning when we met. We have to be better in that area because we’re giving up way too many touchdowns.”
During their six-game losing streak, the Broncos have allowed an NFL-high 14 passing touchdowns but an average of only 189.5 passing yards, the sixth-fewest in the NFL in that span. A breakdown of those 14 touchdowns provides insight into how opponents are attacking Denver’s defense.
WEEK 6 – GIANTS
TE Evan Engram – 5 yards (third-and-2 DEN 5)
WEEK 7 – CHARGERS
RB Austin Ekeler – 1 yard (first-and-1 DEN 1)
WR Travis Benjamin – 42 yards (third-and-11 DEN 42)
WEEK 8 – CHIEFS
TE Travis Kelce – 29 yards (first-and-10 DEN 29)
WEEK 9 – EAGLES
WR Alshon Jeffery – 32 yards (first-and-10 DEN 32)
RB Corey Clement – 15 yards (third-and-10 DEN 15)
TE Trey Burton – 27 yards (first-and-10 DEN 27)
WR Alshon Jeffery – 4 yards (third-and-3 DEN 4)
WEEK 10 – PATRIOTS
RB Rex Burkhead – 14 yards (first-and-10 DEN 14)
TE Dwayne Allen – 11 yards (second-and-10 DEN 11)
RB James White – 6 yards (third-and-4 DEN 6)
WEEK 11 – BENGALS
TE Tyler Kroft – 1 yard (third-and-1 DEN 1)
WR Alex Erickson – 29 yards (third-and-4 DEN 29)
WR A.J. Green – 18 yards (third-and-2 DEN 18)