After bye, Broncos focus on ‘one or two plays’ in turning losses into wins
Seven of the Broncos’ first eight games were decided by one score. And the other was a 9-point defeat that featured — effectively — a single-play, 9-point swing when a Melvin Gordon fumble in field-goal range turned into a Las Vegas scoop-and-score.
So, when Nathaniel Hackett refers to “one or two plays” being the difference, he has a point.
“These past games that we haven’t won, we’ve been right there,” he said Monday as the Broncos returned to practice following their Week 9 bye week. “It’s one or two plays.
“And if we can just correct those one or two plays, we’ll have a different outcome, and if we start correcting even more of those things and getting better at those, it’ll be an even better output.”
It’s not hard to find plays that back up his assertion.
- Week 1, Seattle: Two fumbles at the 1-yard line by Gordon and Javonte Williams
- Week 4, Las Vegas: The afore-mentioned scoop-and-score
- Week 5, Indianapolis: Third-and-4 interception with a 9-6 lead near the end of regulation
- Week 6, Los Angeles Chargers: A collision leading to a fumbled punt return in overtime
- Week 7, New York Jets: A 62-yard Breece Hall touchdown run, a fourth-down attempt to Courtland Sutton when trailing 16-9 inside of the two-minute warning
And when it comes to point differential, the Broncos are above average as far as 3-5 teams go. The average 3-5 team has a point differential of minus-28 — or minus 3.4 points per game. Denver’s point differential is minus-11 — or minus 1.4 points per game. This puts the Broncos in the top third of 3-5 teams all-time.
It’s small consolation, no doubt.
Yes, the Broncos are close. This is often a losing lament in the NFL, where teams are closely compressed. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a telescope to see that these plays could swing in the Broncos’ direction going forward.
But doing so could be not just about those afore-mentioned big plays and turnovers, but about third downs.
“Number one, most important thing is third down. I think that has been a major Achilles heel for us,” Hackett said.
Indeed, the Broncos rank 31st in the league in overall third-down success rate, converting just 29 of 112 chances. Their 29.2-percent success rate exceeds only the Carolina Panthers (28-of-105, 26.4 percent).
“We’ve had some decent drives, and then those three-and-outs all of a sudden show up, and it’s because we haven’t been able to convert on those manageable situations,” Hackett said.
And the Broncos have been among the league’s worst on third-and-short.
Per data compiled by SportRadar.com, the Broncos, 50-percent success rate on third-downs of 3 or fewer yards ranks 30th in the league. Only the New York Jets (42.4 percent) and Las Vegas (39.1 percent) are worse.
Denver has failed to convert 16 of its 32 non-kneeldown third-down plays of 3 or fewer yards. Simply being average in that situation would have given the Broncos three more first downs from third-and-short.
Even the Denver defense could stand to improve on third-and-short, too. The Broncos rank 19th, allowing conversions on 63.2 percent of third downs of 3 or fewer yards.
Which is why even though it’s the offense that largely bogs the Broncos down, the defense knows it can do more, too.
“We can’t buy into this, ‘You’re playing good enough, you’re doing this, you’re doing that,'” safety Justin Simmons said, “because even the games where you play well enough to win, you don’t win.
“So, you’re part of the problem of you not winning those games, as it’s a team game. And that’s what I’m focused on.”
One would think the Broncos are due to have some breaks go their way. To have the isolated plays that prove to be the difference go in their favor. But it’s a matter of turning statistical hope into reality — before it’s too late.