The Denver Broncos have an atrocious third-down efficiency as an offense. Denver's offense has plenty of issues heading into the bye week ranking 27th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate.
The Broncos are converting just 34.56% of their third-down attempts. There's a lot of blame falling on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater subsequently, and rightfully so, but the blame stretches far beyond him.
What ails this team's third-down offense? Let's dive in.
First, let's look at ALEX, which represents Air Less Expected on third-downs. This is the average difference between the length of a quarterback's throw and the distance needed for a new set of downs. This only includes third-down passing and does not adjust for throwaways or batted passes.
Compared to 33 other quarterbacks, Bridgewater ranks 23rd with a 0.07 ALEX metric. That isn't great by any means, but that means he is throwing beyond the sticks, though only barely. It isn't a great number but it also isn't helped by the situations the Broncos find themselves in on third down.
Third Down Distance
This table shows the number of Denver's third-down attempts per the distance required to move the chains. The Broncos have produced more third-down attempts coming from negative yardage (11-p) than they have on short or medium.
Denver's attempts from 'long' distances equal more than 'short' and 'medium' combined. The quarterback's execution becomes less the issue, when the Broncos are facing third-and-long so consistently, as those distances can be problematic to overcome regardless.
The Broncos are not gaining enough yards on first and second down, or the offense is getting hit with a loss of yards, either from a negative play, a sack, or a penalty (which was the most common reason).
Predictable play-calling can lead to negative plays in the running or passing game which is a significant complaint about offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and his scheme.
First/Second Down Success Rates
For the next part, we'll talk a lot about success rates. Success rates are calculated based on yards gained per down. On first down, teams need 40% of the total yards, 60% on second down, and on third down, the offense has to convert to move the chains.
Now, on first down, Shurmur has a pretty even split of run/pass, having 132 runs to 141 passes. This issue is, Denver is -9.8% in rushing success rate on first down compared to the 38.7% success rate average of the NFL.
So when the Broncos do run on first down, they're not having the requisite success to put them ahead of schedule, meaning they have to make up for it on second down and the offense simply isn't doing it.
As for second down, the Broncos have 117 passing attempts to 86 runs. They're better running on second down, as Denver boasts a higher than the average success rate on second down (5.4%). The Broncos' success rate rushing on second-down is 55%, putting them in a decent position on third down.
But there is another element: passing.
The Broncos have a 55% success rate passing on the first down, but on second down, it drops to 44%. I'll dive more into the passing game when the focus shifts to the quarterback.
So between their first-down rushing and second-down passing, the Broncos are getting behind on third down and getting stuck with a high number of third-and-long and super-long situations. So again, penalties play a significant factor in the Broncos getting behind with early-down false starts and holding penalties.
The Broncos have been hit with 13 false starts, and 10 holding calls, with 31 total penalties against the offense. Of those 31 total penalties on the offense, 23 have come on first or second down and have cost Denver 183 total yards (none of which were declined or offsetting). That is an average of eight yards lost, without including any loss from the play itself.
There are many issues leading to the Broncos' offensive problems on third down, beyond the play of the quarterback. However, it is time to focus on Bridgewater and his performance on third down. It's a problem and deserves to be scrutinized.
When it comes to third down, Bridgewater has a high completion percentage but a low conversion rate. He's completing 67% of his passes on third down while converting just 32.6% of his attempts. That simply isn't good enough, and the issue is quite apparent.
Bridgewater trusts his playmakers to catch the ball short of the sticks and make a play to pick up the first down. When the Broncos have faced 30 third-down situations of 11-plus yards to go, that is typically what you'd expect to see because of a common defensive mindset. Defenses will let the Broncos complete passes short of the sticks, and take away everything beyond the post routes, so that they can swarm up and make the tackle.
Trusting in his playmakers and getting completions isn't exactly a bad thing for Teddy. However, it can quickly become a detriment just as it has with Bridgewater. When Denver's playmakers are consistently struggling to make those plays on third down when Teddy has thrown short of the sticks, that means he needs to push the ball more and make a completion beyond the marker.
Additionally, while Bridgewater produced a good success rate on first down, his play on second down has to improve. This would help put the Bronocs in a better position on third down. However, penalties and pressure play a factor here as well.
When it comes to third down, especially on seven-plus yards to go situations, defenses will bring a ton of pressure to help force the dump-off throw. That is often happening with the Broncos.
As expected, the Broncos have faced the highest pressure rate on third down with almost 60%. Second down isn't far behind, checking in at just under 50%. That's the percentage of dropbacks Bridgewater is facing pressure on the downs question.
The second-down pressure rate isn't good, but still doesn't fully explain Bridgewater's issues when it comes to second-down passing. On third down, however, it adds a lot of needed context.
When defenses can play tight coverage at the first-down marker and beyond, and get pressure on the quarterback, you will see a dump-off throw. Unfortunately, when you are in many situations of needing seven-plus yards on third down, you run routes that are longer-developing, so if the pressure gets there, you end up having to bail, buy time or take a sack.
Bridgewater often bails for the dump-off but also has been sacked seven times in those situations, and has scrambled multiple times as well. Four of those seven sacks came with seven-plus yards to go, which concerns the three sacks coming when the Broncos have faced six yards to go.
Denver's offensive line has had its fair share of issues this year, leading up to and on third down so the fault partially falls on the unit as well.
It's always easy to latch onto one thing or another as the main issue vexing the Broncos on third down, however, for the team's third-down offense, and all that leads up to it, the blame has to be spread around. Of course, Bridgewater is part of the problem, but the playcalling, execution, and penalties are also significant factors that can't be ignored.
Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.
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