Denver Broncos’ most dominant stat: Third downs

The Denver Broncos have been deadly defensively on third down for good reason. We take a deep-dive look at why that is.

The Vikings are going to be facing one of the league’s most formidable defenses on Sunday when they face the Denver Broncos. The Broncos have the NFL’s top-rated defense and, in what may be the most important statistic of all for a defense – third-down efficiency – Denver is without peer.

Through three games, Denver has allowed teams to convert on just 6 of 32 third-down situations – an impressive 18.8 percent. The Vikings have seen film on the Broncos and know that third down is the time when Denver shines the brightest.

“When they’ve had people in third-down situations, they’ve been getting off the field,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “It’s our job to change that by getting good gains on first and second down and, if we need to convert on third down, it will be manageable.”

That has been a problem for Denver opponents and nobody has converted better than 33 percent of their third-down opportunities. The Broncos have been able to get opponents into third-and-long situations – commonly viewed as 6 yards or more and almost always passes. Not only are the Broncos forcing teams into third-down situations, the majority of them are third-and-long plays

In the regular season opener against Baltimore, the Ravens converted on just two third downs – one of 5 yards and another of 2. They didn’t convert on their other 11 opportunities. Of those, one was from 2 yards, one from 3, two from 6, three from 7, two from 9 and one each from 10 and 12 yards. Of their 13 third-down plays, nine of them were from 6 yards or more and none of the nine were successfully converted.

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Their most dominant performance came in a game many believe they should have lost at Kansas City. But the Broncos delivered five turnovers and, as with their season opener, they were oppressive on third down. The Chiefs didn’t convert a single third down, going 0-for-7. The primary reason once again was the distance the Chiefs had to cover in order to convert. Their seven third-down chances came from 5, 6, 9, 10, 10, 12 and 24 yards. Through two games, the Broncos had allowed just 2 of 20 third downs to be converted

The first team to have any semblance of success was Detroit and they only completed 33 percent of their chances (4 of 12). As has become a trend, the Lions were facing their third downs with a long way to go to convert. Of the four they converted, the distance needed was 1, 3, 6 and 7 yards. Of the eight the Lions didn’t convert, they were of distances of 5 yards twice and 9, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 18 yards. When the Lions had a chance to convert manageable third downs, they converted half of them. When they were in third-and-long situations, they converted just 2 of 8 chances.

Denver is 3-0 for a reason. Most will proclaim that the primary reason is big plays in big spots by Peyton Manning. The reality of Denver’s 3-0 record can be found in the league’s top-rated defense and its pass defense in particular.

When teams are forced into unmanageable third-down situations, they tend to struggle. When the do it against Denver, it’s a football death sentence.

Will the Vikings reverse the trend of Denver’s defense dominating on third down? It would appear that will depend on what they do on first and second downs.

Oh, and for the record, the Broncos are also allowing a league-leading 3.72 yards on first down.


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