ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The leaves are changing, the temperature is dropping, and football is in full swing. That means winter is coming.
And with winter, comes turnovers. At least that’s what the Denver Broncos hope.
“Now we are taking that run away, [opposing teams] are going to have to have way more [pass] attempts,” Broncos’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said as he recapped where the defense was before heading off for the team’s Week 4 bye week. “Now, turnovers are going to start to skyrocket.”
After quickly jumping from the fifth-worst run defense in the league last year—giving up 130.1 rushing yards per game—to the best in the first quarter of 2017—only giving up 50.75 yards per game—Broncos’ opponents have quickly had to change the way they attack Denver’s defense. Last year, teams averaged 34.5 pass attempts per game against the Broncos to 30.1 running plays (third most in the league).
This year, however, is a different story. Although opposing teams are averaging nearly eight fewer plays per game against the Broncos this year compared to last year, they are actually attempting more pass plays this year (36) compared to last year (34.5). The reason for this is they are running drastically less—only 21 rushing plays per game compared to 30.1 last season.
With that, comes opportunity in another form: turnovers.
While Denver’s defense has been stellar to start 2017—leading the league in yards against (262.5 per game) and sixth-best in points per game (18.5)—they have just been average at creating turnovers. In four games, the Broncos have just four turnovers. Their one turnover per game average falls short of their 1.7 turnovers per game last year.
Denver’s best chance of creating more turnovers is through the air, as all four of their turnovers have come in the form of interceptions. And since teams have been forced to throw against the Broncos more because of their rejuvenated run defense, that bodes well for the prospect of more takeaways.
“They can’t run the football anymore so now they get more passing attempts,” Harris Jr. explained. “We are getting up on teams so now they have to play two-minute offense.”
In a two minute offense, not only are teams forced to throw the ball nearly every play, defenses know that they are going to throw it, thus giving them an advantage. Of Denver’s four interceptions, two have come with less than two minutes left in the game in these obvious pass situations.
The first was Aqib Talib’s pick-six against the Dallas Cowboys with less than a minute on the clock. The second was Justin Simmons’ game-clinching interception against the Oakland Raiders with 1:56 left in the game.
Already established as one of the best defenses in the league, Harris Jr. believes the Broncos’ defenses ceiling is “high,” thanks in large part to a relatively untapped turnover well that the Broncos may soon discover.