Denver Broncos: Has the Offense Become Too Conservative with a Lead?

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Denver Broncos: Has the Offense Become Too Conservative with a Lead?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos are 10-2, sitting atop not only the AFC West, but the entire conference. They control their own destiny, and if they win their next four games, will enter the playoffs as the top seed in the AFC.

They have played the last four games with interim head coach Jack Del Rio leading the way, going 3-1 during the “third quarter” of the season, with three of those games on the road.

During that four-game stretch, the Broncos played with at least a seven-point lead on 25 drives. There are some Broncos fans who felt their team started to play too conservatively with the lead.

The Broncos let the Patriots come back after building a 24-0 lead. Denver also managed to let the Chiefs hang around in both games, and the Chargers scored a couple of late touchdowns to make the final score closer in their game.

Perhaps Denver fans were on to something? Watching this team over the last four games, there were times I’ve felt that its offensive execution wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be.

Some fans will say the offense was too conservative because of Del Rio’s guidance. That will be put to the test when the Broncos got head coach John Fox back on Monday.

With Fox back at Dove Valley it’s all smiles right now:

Perhaps the team will play more inspired when it has a lead now that Fox is back. The Broncos will get a good test against the Tennessee Titans in Week 14.

The Titans have the seventh-best pass defense in the league. They only allow an average of 212.6 yards passing per game.

Considering the caliber of the Tennessee offense, pushing for more points is only natural.

The Broncos rank first in the NFL in yards per game (458.5), yards per play (6.3), first downs per game (27.0), third-down conversion rate (49 percent), red-zone efficiency (80 percent) and average points (38.7).

If the Broncos get ahead by a touchdown or more, it will be interesting to see if they keep their foot on the gas.

 

Fan Reaction on Twitter

On Tuesday, I asked Broncos fans on Twitter whether the Broncos play too conservatively when they have a lead.

Some of the answers might surprise you:

Not all fans, however, felt the Broncos have played too conservatively with a lead:

One very-informed non-Broncos fan chimed in on this topic as well:

As you can see, the fan base is somewhat split on this topic. Let’s examine this more closely.

 

What the Numbers Say

With the fans' reaction duly noted, here is a look at what the numbers say over the last four games. Is this perceived conservatism a matter of play-calling or offensive execution?

Week 10 at San Diego Chargers

Score

Time Left

Quarter

Run Plays

Yards

Yards After Contact

Pass Plays

Yards

Yards After Catch

Result

14-6

1:38

2nd

0

0

0

9

73

16

TD

21-6

15:00

3rd

4

29

17

4

49

51

TD

28-6

10:09

3rd

1

2

1

0

0

0

Fumble

28-13

8:38

3rd

3

11

4

3

4

0

Punt

28-13

1:09

3rd

0

0

0

3

6

5

Punt

28-20

10:42

4th

5

15

10

2

7

0

Punt

28-20

3:26

4th

4

19

4

2

21

12

End

Totals

17

76

36

23

160

84

 

                   

Week 11 versus Kansas City Chiefs

Score

Time Left

Quarter

Run Plays

Yards

Yards After Contact

Pass Plays

Yards

Yards After Catch

Result

17-10

2:55

2nd

3

10

3

6

36

23

FG Missed

17-10

15:00

3rd

1

1

0

2

0

0

Punt

17-10

12:51

3rd

3

14

4

2

0

0

Punt

17-10

8:06

3rd

2

5

1

3

9

3

Punt

17-10

5:24

3rd

3

19

7

3

46

35

TD

24-10

11:48

4th

3

5

2

6

57

25

FG

27-17

4:56

4th

3

8

5

3

9

4

Punt

27-17

2:50

4th

3

5

4

0

0

0

Punt

Totals

21

67

26

25

151

87

 

                   

Week 12 at New England Patriots

Score

Time Left

Quarter

Run Plays

Yards

Yards After Contact

Pass Plays

Yards

Yards After Catch

Result

7-0

9:22

1st

2

10

3

0

0

0

TD

14-0

7:26

1st

8

45

14

0

0

0

FG

17-0

1:18

1st

4

26

11

3

1

0

Punt

17-0

10:38

2nd

5

34

13

6

46

36

TD

24-0

3:34

2nd

3

11

5

2

6

4

Punt

24-7

11:21

3rd

5

29

6

1

-9

0

Fumble

24-14

5:40

3rd

3

6

4

2

21

11

Punt

Totals

30

161

56

14

65

51

 

                   

Week 13 at Kansas City Chiefs

Score

Time Left

Quarter

Run Plays

Yards

Yards After Contact

Pass Plays

Yards

Yards After Catch

Result

28-21

5:01

3rd

5

51

46

5

23

4

TD

35-28

6:32

4th

4

-1

1

4

49

32

Punt

35-28

1:42

4th

1

28

9

0

0

0

End

Totals

10

78

56

9

72

36

 

 

Over this four-game stretch, the Broncos have run the ball 78 times when they lead by at least seven points, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and totaling 382 yards rushing. Those totals are slightly skewed by the fact that the Broncos were incredibly dedicated to running the ball against the Patriots.

The Broncos passed 71 times when leading by at least seven points over the last four games. They totaled 448 yards passing and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. Again, the Patriots game threw that number off a bit.

A seven-play difference over four games in run/pass ratio does not make the Broncos a conservative offense with the lead. It just appears to be more conservative compared to what they are doing on average.

The Broncos are known as a pass-happy team that like to use tempo as a weapon. However, they are a bit more balanced this season than some think at 483 passing attempts and 371 rushing attempts so far.

They have totaled a league-high 869 snaps and have a higher rush percentage (41.1) than the league average (38.4). Meanwhile, they have a lower dropback percentage (58.9) than the league average (61.6).

The numbers indicate that it seems like this is more of a problem of execution. Penalties and turnovers are not helping the Broncos who have surrendered the ball 25 times (16 lost fumbles, nine interceptions) through 12 games. They have also committed 88 penalties for 774 yards.

 

Summary

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Broncos are putting up historic offensive numbers this season. By the end of the season, Manning may have more passing yards and touchdowns than any other quarterback in NFL history. The Denver offense may also be able to break the record for number of points scored in a season.

If the Broncos want to look less conservative with a lead then they need sustained drives and better execution when they’re up by a touchdown or more.

The Broncos also have to stop turning the ball over at the wrong time. Turnovers can kill their playoff hopes. That problem is much more important than any sort of misconceptions about offensive conservatism.

Denver also must keep from getting stupid penalties when an opponent is trying to make a comeback. It comes down to composure, both offensively and defensively. Keeping an opponent’s drive alive with a bad penalty could prove to be Denver's death knell in the playoffs.

Having Fox back running the show may give the offense a bit of a different look over the final month of the regular season. The team has not run away with games like it did earlier this season. Perhaps having Fox back will be the difference.

The Broncos don’t need to play perfectly when they build a lead. However, they must be more efficient and effective in order to not allow opponents to come back like the Patriots did in Week 12.

The road to the Super Bowl could go through the Mile High City, just so long as the Broncos don’t get too conservative on offense over the final month of the season.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Records/statistical information provided by the Denver Broncos.

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