Numbers matter. Yes, the game is played out on the field — not on paper — but a quick look at the statistical profile of a team can show tendencies, strengths and weaknesses that shine some light on what can be expected when the teams take the field. This series is an examination of how the Broncos can gain an advantage against their opponent from a statistical perspective.
Here are the numbers that matter in this Week 6 matchup against the Rams.
323 and 8.5
The Broncos surrendered 323 rushing yards against the Jets — the fifth-most allowed in franchise history — on 8.5 yards per carry. Denver was one of the league’s best run defenses by any metric coming in; now it ranks as one of the worst — 30th in both yards allowed and yards per carry. It’s something that must improve, especially with Rams running back Todd Gurley coming to town.
“We’ve got to tackle better at corner and obviously keep the ball inside the defense,” Head Coach Vance Joseph said Monday. “We can help those guys schematically also. At the end of the day, one-on-one with a halfback in this league, you’ve got to tackle him.”
As the defense showed in the first three weeks of the season, it is certainly a group capable of stopping the run. Executing the game plan against one of the league’s top offenses will be a key priority, though. The Rams average 131.2 rushing yards per game, seventh-best in the NFL, and 4.6 yards per carry, which is ninth-best in the league. Stopping the run is the most important first step in limiting the Rams’ offense, because when they get the ground game going, that opens up play-action, too. Quarterback Jared Goff led the league in play-action passing yards last year.
While the Broncos’ run defense has struggled in recent weeks, the Rams’ can be exploited, too. Los Angeles allows 5.0 yards per carry — which ranks 29th in the NFL — and has given up five runs of 20 yards or more, which is tied for the fourth-most.
One reason the Rams have been so successful is that their generous run defense doesn’t face that many attempts: Opponents only average 21.4 attempts per game, fifth-fewest in the NFL. Often, opponents fall behind and are forced to throw in their comeback effort. So a fast start to keep up with the Rams’ explosive offense is very important. In the Rams’ closest call — a 33-31 win at Seattle last week — the Seahawks pounded out 190 yards on 32 carries. The Broncos have the running backs to take advantage.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with [Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman],” Rams head coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. “I think they complement each other really well.”
Goff has a 16-4 record as a starter since McVay took over as head coach at the beginning of last season. All four losses have a common thread, though: Goff completed under 63 percent of his passes. The team is undefeated when he is over that number.
The Broncos’ defense sits squarely in the middle — tied for 15th — in opponent completion percentage (64.5), but it is trending in the right direction. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold completed just 45.5 percent of his throws last weekend, and Patrick Mahomes just 62.2 the week before. Still, Goff presents a tough challenge: He is second in the NFL with a 72.3 completion percentage this year. Presenting him with a variety of different looks and blitzes from different angles will be an important part of slowing him down.
“When you look at the entire body of work with this defense, this is certainly something that you can never take lightly,” McVay said. “There’s All-Pro caliber guys all over. It’s a sound, tough system that really makes you earn every single yard, and we’ve got to be at our best and got to be ready to go if we expect to have any sort of success against what we know is a great defense, a lot of great players and a very tough, well-coached unit.”
19.0 and 14.6
The Rams offense averages 19.0 points in the first half, second-best in the league, and the Broncos allow an average of 14.6 points in the first half, 26th in the league. Joseph has stressed fast starts on the road, but a fast start at home may be crucial in this contest. The Rams don’t let off the gas pedal while ahead, either, producing 7.2 yards per play while ahead. The league-wide average is just 6.4. Defensively, the Rams create havoc when leading as well. Three of the team’s four interceptions and seven of the team’s 10 sacks have come while protecting a lead. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips isn’t one to play conservatively with a lead.
A solid start for the Broncos is vital because it helps maintains offensive balance. Even after a disappointing effort in New York, the Broncos are first in the NFL in yards per carry (5.6). But against the Jets, they only ran the ball 17 times while throwing it 51. Going against a defense that has allowed significant yardage on the ground, the Broncos can’t be playing catch-up and relying too heavily on Case Keenum’s arm on Sunday.