It’s the down where quarterbacks make their money. Where running backs deserve the reputation of being able to move the sticks. And true, this Sunday night in Kansas City, the Broncos have to repent to keep the ball out of the hands of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
It’s in third place, which is also an Achilles heel of the Denver attack this year. The Broncos are in 30th place in third-down conversions with 36.1%, are in second to last place with 30 three-and-outs, and are accordingly in 25th place in average possession time.
Things must change, and change quickly, if the Broncos plan to stay with the Chiefs as an underdog with two touchdowns.
“We all know it’s crunch time when it comes to third place,” said Broncos quarterback Drew Lock. “It has to be high intensity and high focus to perform those plays. It has to be a high focus, high intensity this week in our third layer periods. That’s something I’ve repeated to the guys to keep this thing rolling in a positive way. “
Unlike the Broncos’ fight on “crunch time” downs, Kansas City has dominated. The Chiefs rank first in 50.3% to third place conversions, and unsurprisingly, they also lead the NFL in average possession time. It certainly helps that Mahomes has an unlimited number of players who can move the sticks, including the tight Travis Kelce (54 first downs this year), Tyreek Hill (47) and the receding Clyde Edwards-Helaire (44).
Denver Noah Fant’s tight ending is well aware of the Mahomes-to-Kelce connection that has become a third-down staple for Kansas City.
“Especially in that third-and-six series, those are the best tight end areas to run routes and get open,” said Fant. So I think (I have to) just keep moving forward. That’s all I can say is try to keep getting better, try to come up with our playcalling and stuff like that (improved) and see how I fit into that … We sure need some improvement there. “
Coach Vic Fangio lamented that the problems of the offense on third downs – no doubt exacerbated by having to start four different quarterbacks this year – “affects the whole team.” So does the red zone incapacity, as the Broncos’ offense is 30th in the 48.2% touchdown rate.
“There are definitely two areas that we need to improve, and we’ve had moments when we’ve been good at it, but we’ve not been consistent enough,” said Fangio.
In just one of the 11 games, the Broncos posted a third conversion rate of at least 50% (6 of 12 in the October 1 win against the Jets). Third and long situations were particularly problematic, as the Broncos converted 57% of the time with three or less yards to go, but faced four to seven yards 45% of the time and only 22% of the time with eight or more yards .
“We get in trouble when we’re in that third and long time, and it starts in first and second place – being better and more efficient there,” Lock said. “We can get through those downs better to make it easier for us on the third downs.”