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What our advanced analytics say about the Broncos in 2018

Andre Simone Avatar
September 8, 2018

The newest addition to the BSN Analytics department will launch next week with our Denver Broncos advanced stats, game logs, player profiles, and of course, our dynamic player rating for each position group.

Before we launch all of that following Week 1 with fresh 2018 stats, here’s a taste of what we’ll be offering in our 2018 season preview, using some of those stats we’ve collected and a lot more.

The theme of the upcoming Denver Broncos season is improving on offense while maximizing new quarterback Case Keenum’s skills. While on defense, it’s all about exalting one star’s talents while trying to forget another. 

That said, here are some of our biggest statistical takeaways from 2017 and what they mean to the outlook of the 2018 season.

Offense

Case Keenum: fluke or winner?

Efficiency is the name of the game with Keenum, who was about average in yards thrown, yards per attempt and yards per game back in 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings. 

Where Keenum excelled was in areas of the field that directly correlate to winning, like his touchdown to interception ratio which was among the best in the NFL a year ago. His third down conversion percentage was also one of the five best in the league, despite having the second most attempts with 147 in 2017.

Across the board, whether it was QB rating or his 67-percent completion percentage, second only to Drew Brees, Keenum was a top-five performer at his position. Yes, in only one season of high-end play, we have a small sample size but those numbers are very encouraging, especially considering we’ve already seen Keenum do similar things this offseason both in camp and in the preseason.

Here’s how Keenum stacked up against the top-10 QBs in the NFL from 2017.

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Where Keenum really shined was in third-and-short and third-and-medium situations, as well as in the red zone. Mind you, Keenum’s third and short figures are especially impressive as he led the league in thrid and short attempts in 2017, demonstrating that; for starters, the Vikings trusted him a lot, and that he can make short gains occur off play actions on the move and thanks to his natural timing and accuracy. 

In Denver, Keenum’s shown similar traits, especially his ability to avoid turnovers in camp and during the preseason. The Broncos coaching staff has shown similar trust in Keenum on third down already, another encouraging sign.

The key for No. 4 and the Broncos offense, like most teams, is avoiding third and long situations, where Keenum isn’t at his best. Do that, and Denver’s new QB has all the necessary skills to be a good chain mover who can really improve Denver’s offense in key areas like short down-and-distance, the red zone, and avoiding turnovers, all of which were major problems for the offense back in 2017. 

Receiving core getting over a down year

Of course, many will point to the Vikings offense being much better than the Broncos, though going into 2018, Denver’s attack isn’t all that different from Minnesota’s offense going into 2017.

It all starts with the receiving core, where close to nobody thought the Vikings duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs would break out the way they did last season. 

By comparison, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have been much more productive over the course of their careers than Minnesota’s dynamic duo, but they’re coming off down years, leading many to believe they’re doomed to repeat their 2017 production.

Look at Sanders and Thomas’ stats compared to Theilen and Diggs’ from a year ago and it’s clear to see the difference.

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What’s interesting here is how the reception percentage and yards per target were much lower for the Broncos’ two WRs than for Minnesota’s. Those averages are directly correlated to Keenum’s 67-percent accuracy, compared to the Broncos quarterbacks from a year ago, who only completed 58 percent of their throws. 

If the Broncos receivers didn’t have a reception percentage below 60, and instead caught closer to 64 percent of their targets—which is what Diggs and Thielen did—their numbers would’ve increased significantly, even if they produced the same yards per reception figures they had a year ago.

With those projections, Sanders would’ve had 724 receiving yards in the 12 games he played in, and Thomas would’ve gone over a thousand yards with 1,003. That’s just with an increase in accuracy from their QB mind you, without accounting for improved health or having other receivers like Courtland Sutton taking attention off of them.

That’s to say, with Keenum, and assuming full health, the Broncos two veteran receivers should be poised for some significant statistical improvements, which could go a long way for Denver’s offense. 

Major upgrades in the trenches

Of course, the receiving core isn’t the only thing that matters, Keenum will need to be protected, even if he was one of the best signal-callers under pressure a year ago. 

Keenum’s ability to get the ball out quickly was huge for the Vikings, as ho-hum tackles like Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers had very efficient seasons in pass protection, only allowing 5.5 sacks between the two of them in career years.

Even if Case has done it before with mediocre tackles, the play we saw in 2017 by the bookends will have to drastically improve. Last year’s offensive tackle play from the Broncos was absolutely putrid, with both Menelik Watson and Garett Bolles allowing 11.5 sacks each, and Watson did so while playing less than 40-percent of the snaps. Those are staggering numbers.

Add the 10 holding penalties that Bolles conceded, and the line really struggled, setting the offense back reguarly, and that doesn’t even account for the run stops allowed but the rest of the group.

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In a down year without very good quarterback play himself, new right tackle Jared Veldheer was at least better than that, and early signs from the veteran lineman suggest he should have a good season—Veldheer was the only Broncos lineman to not allow a sack or a penalty in the preseason.

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If Veldheer can play up to the level he was in Arizona, the Broncos should see some drastic improvements up front on offense, which will play a big part in going from being in the NFL’s bottom 10 in points scored to potentially becoming a top-15 unit.

Bolles, too, will have to take a big step in his second year, as he can’t allow another double-digit sack season with an additional 10 holds and two strip sacks. With a veteran quarterback who gets the ball out in a hurry, the left tackle should be able to cut those numbers in half. 

Defense

Freeing Von

An obvious focus this offseason has been to get Von Miller more help in the form of the fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb, who added to Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray should form a dangerous foursome.

Not just the depth out on the edge but the scheme versatility should make a big difference too—as we highlighted in our analysis of the NASCAR formations being used in the third preseason game, which freed up Miller for some one-on-one opportunities. 

Beyond that, a factor that hasn’t been talked about enough is winning and being in close games. When you’re behind, pass rushers are the ones who get hurt the most, and with the Broncos’ 11 losses coming by an average margin of 14.7 points per game, Miller’s impact was greatly lessened in the fourth quarter, which is his time to go hunt the QB.

Unsurprisingly, our average grade for Von in losses was a B+ while his average grade in wins was a full A. To boot, he almost averaged a full extra QB pressure—which is QB hits, plus sacks, plus QB hurries—in wins than he did in losses.

Below is Miller’s full stat line from last season.

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Miller’s stats from a year ago were still extraordinary, but he could go from good to great with all the added factors that go into 2018. With Von making that presumed leap, the Broncos should benefit greatly, which in turn will open up room for the other edge rushers to do damage and instantly make the defense a whole lot more dangerous.

Replacing Talib

Aqib Talib was the highest rated player on the Broncos from our game grade averages last season, as he was the only one to garner an A grade with 10 or more starts, both on offense or defense.

Interestingly enough, the man who’ll be tasked with replacing Talib, Bradley Roby, also averaged an A, though Roby did so in only one start—we didn’t give a grade to Roby for his other appearances, even though he was on the field for 68 percent of Denver’s defensive snaps.

Roby did very well when starting last season but his stats overall don’t match up with Talib’s. 

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As you can see, in 76 fewer snaps, Roby was targeted 28 times more than Talib, allowing 253 more yards, and an additional 16 receptions. Talib was the epitome of a lockdown corner, which forced teams to target Chris Harris, Jr. and Roby more often than they did the former Kansas standout.

That should have a significant trickle-down effect for the Broncos, who will be searching for a reliable third cornerback in 2018.

Adam Jones promises to be good if he can play as well as he did in limited time with the Bengals last season. The big unknown will be Tramaine Brock who was featured so little in Minnesota a year ago that we don’t even have reliable stats to go off of, as he appeared in only five percent of the defensive snaps.

A part of Talib’s game that the Broncos won’t have to replace will be his interceptions, an area in which the defense needs to greatly improve this season.

With the additional pressure brought on by Miller and co. and a decrease in turnovers by Keenum’s quarterbacking, the secondary will be expected to keep a positive turnover ratio, which in turn, should greatly improve the Broncos record. Simply put, a -17 turnover ratio from a year ago—which was second worst in the league to only the Cleveland Browns—won’t cut it. 

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