BRONCOS

Three numbers that tell the story of Broncos-49ers

Sep 26, 2022, 3:08 PM | Updated: 3:53 pm
Kareem Jackson...
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

DENVER — It’s not just that the Broncos defense has dominated long stretches of games after giving up 17 points in the first half at Seattle. It’s that in the moments that matter most, it’s been a highly-fortified, impregnable wall.

In Seattle, the Broncos forced a three-and-out in the “four-minute drill,” giving the offense the football quickly. What happened from there won’t be forgotten, but the defense did its job, giving the offense an opportunity.

Seven days later against Houston, Denver’s defense clamped down on Houston three times after taking a fourth-quarter lead, forcing a punt and two turnovers on downs. Needing a touchdown, Houston never got closer than the Denver 32-yard line — at which point Randy Gregory sacked Davis Mills.

And finally, against San Francisco on Sunday night, two potential game-winning drives for the 49ers ended in Broncos takeaways in the final 2:10 of the 11-10 win.

But there’s another number that shows the defense’s dominance:

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6

That’s the number of points allowed by the Broncos in the second half of their first three games this season. The Broncos are the first team in 14 years to allow fewer than seven second-half points in games 1-3. The last team to do this was the 2008 Titans, who won the AFC’s top seed — but then lost at home in the divisional round.

But for the Broncos, the last time they allowed so few second-half points in Weeks 1-3 was in 1977. That was the year the Orange Crush hit its zenith. That defense also allowed just 6 second-half points in the season’s first three games.

But the 2022 Broncos D did something even the Orange Crush didn’t: It didn’t allow a second-half touchdown in Weeks 1-3. The only second-half points surrendered by the 1977 Broncos in their first three games came on a 43-yard Steve Largent touchdown catch. But Seattle kicker John Leypoldt missed the extra point.

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9

That’s the number of three-and-outs the Broncos had against the 49ers. That is the most for the Broncos in their last 88 games. And yes, that includes the infamous Kendall Hinton game of 2020. During that 31-3 shellacking by the Saints, the Broncos actually moved the chains on 5 of their 12 series.

The last time the Broncos had at least nine three-and-outs was on Dec. 4, 2016, when a whopping nine of 14 non-kneeldown drives ended that way.

The quarterback that day? Paxton Lynch.

Denver averaged a meager 15.4 net yards and 0.71 first downs per possession in a 20-10 win that day. Against the 49ers, the Broncos averaged 16.7 net yards and 1.0 first downs per series.

The Broncos’ three-and-out percentage was actually worse Sunday — a not-so-nice 69 percent of 13 non-kneeldown possessions. The percentage six years ago in Jacksonville was 64.3 percent.

But the bottom line is this: Anytime you’re talking about the Broncos offense doing something that hadn’t been done since the woebegone Lynch started, you’ve got glitches to fix.

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6

Why 6 again?

First, “6 is good,” as Jerry Seinfeld once said.

But more relevant is this: 6 the number of punts Corliss Waitman dropped inside the 20-yard line on Sunday. The most unexpectedly busy Bronco had an exquisite day with some help from the coverage team, allowing him an inside-the-20 percentage of 60.0 with no touchbacks. His net average for the game of 43.6 yards earned him one of three game balls from NBC’s Sunday Night Football crew. (Russell Wilson and Jonas Griffith corralled the others.)

Three days earlier, Waitman noted the capricious bounces that can tell the tale for a punter, leading to what was, after two weeks, the league’s lowest net punting average. That is no longer the case. But like an even-keeled baseball player accustomed to the highs and lows, he took Sunday’s fortunate bounces with little fanfare. It’s the life of the punter.

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Also:

10.0

Per Pro Football Focus, that is the percentage of catchable passes dropped by Russell Wilson’s receiving targets: 7 of 70. Only Detroit’s Jared Goff and Houston’s Davis Mills have had a higher percentage of passes dropped in the season’s first three weeks (among 32 QBs with at least 40 attempts).

Sunday night, the Broncos had four dropped passes: one each by Mike Boone, Melvin Gordon, Courtland Sutton and Javonte Williams. Seven different pass-catchers have at least one drop not wiped out by a penalty so far this season.

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Three numbers that tell the story of Broncos-49ers