Broncos getting beat due to terrible toxic differential in last three games

Teddy Bridgewater threw three interceptions on Sunday. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.
Teddy Bridgewater threw three interceptions on Sunday. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

Sunday seemed like a new low for the 2021 Denver Broncos.

And maybe, a new low for the Vic Fangio era.

But more on the head coach later. The team has fallen to 3-3 after their perfect 3-0 start to the season. Part of the reason the Broncos have lost three straight and are really reeling after losing to the head coach-less Raiders in Week 6 is Denver started their season against probably the worst three teams in the league.

And part of the reason is the Broncos were enjoying more big plays than their opponents in the first three weeks, but they’ve given up more than they’ve enjoyed in the three losses.

Over the last three weeks, the Broncos have enjoyed their fair share of big plays, but they’ve given up six more than they’ve had on offense. In other words, they’re a -6 in explosive plays during their losses.

On top of that, Fangio’s Broncos have turned the ball over far too much in their losses, while they protected it near-perfectly early in the season. In Weeks 4-6, the Broncos are a -5 in the turnover differential department, and that includes an even 1-1 game against the Steelers.

They were a -1 against the Ravens and an embarrassingly bad -4 in turnovers on Sunday against Las Vegas.

So, adding the two together gives one the toxic differential, and the result isn’t great. In fact, it’s a -11 in their three losses.

That’s a stark difference from their first three weeks, when the team was a +9 in toxic differential and went 3-0 in the win-loss column.

As Cover 1 showed on this graphic, toxic differential correlates directly to winning as evidenced by the 2020 season:

Those teams up in the top right of the chart were in the playoffs last year, and the rest weren’t. Save the Bears, who were outside of that elite realm.

Still, we’ve known for years that turnover differential is a great indicator of who will win a game. A team who wins the turnover differential in a game wins 69.6 percent of the time, while winning the turnover margin by two or more means a winning percentage of 83.9.

And explosive plays are important, too. The Broncos averaged five explosive plays per game in their winning streak and the offense has done a bit worse, at four per game on average in the losses. They’re also giving up double (6-to-3) explosive plays per game in their losses than the wins.

The issues are near endless for the Broncos, and they’ve been exposed during this losing streak.

Teddy Bridgewater and the offense seemed to flow effortlessly early in the season, with big plays coming all the time. He also spread the ball around well, keeping defenses guessing who the ball would go to.

But then Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler were injured. The receiving corps has had to lean on Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick, as well as backups like Eric Saubert and Kendall Hinton. Add on top of that the offensive line’s injuries as well as their struggles in blocking for Bridgewater, who’s been hit relentlessly the last three weeks and, well, the offense can’t do much attacking.

Simply, the Ravens bullied the Broncos and exposed them. In the copycat league of the NFL, the Steelers and the Raiders followed suit. The Broncos offensive line is a complete and total weak point for the team this year, and opponents know it.

Beyond that, the incredibly expensive secondary has allowed far too many deep, big, gutting touchdowns this year. And the front four haven’t gotten much pressure, especially during this current losing streak.

Sunday’s loss was one of the most difficult for Denver during the Fangio era. After starting 3-0 — easily the best start since he’s been head coach — the Broncos have fallen to earth at 3-3. That, after Von Miller called it a must-win this week.

A 34-24 throttling by the Raiders who lost Jon Gruden this week when he resigned due to being a racist, homophobe and misogynist. It’s laughably bad.

The Raiders didn’t have a head coach, and yet the Broncos did and seemed more lost than did Las Vegas. Those Raiders took a 17-7 lead into the locker room at halftime due to Denver’s floundering offense, and then pushed the lead to 34-17 as the Broncos were out-played in all three phases.

To make matters worse, Fangio made two big-time blunders during the game. Down 10-7 early and in his own territory, he went for it on 4th and 1 and Pat Shurmur elected to pass it, which was picked off. Fangio was bailed out of that because Las Vegas’ kicker doinked the ball off the right upright.

In the fourth quarter, Noah Fant caught a ball in the back of the end zone but it was clear he stepped out of bounds. Still, Fangio challenged and lost, losing a time out while down multiple scores.

His defense has been one of the best all around this year, and strong in the red zone for the last three years. But Fangio’s seat officially started getting hot on Sunday afternoon.

While the Broncos played great football to start the season, lately they’ve been awful in terms of protecting the ball and in explosive differential, too. If they want to get back to winning, Fangio and the Broncos have to improve their toxic differential immediately.

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