The Morning After: Broncos and Advanced Metrics

So after 12 games, how do advanced metrics measure how the Broncos have performed? Let’s examine a few numbers.

We’ll start with Pro Football Reference’s Expected Points. I’ve gone over this previously when examining Super Bowl winning teams, in which I’ve used the following scale for evaluating PFR’s Expected Points and what they mean for each area.

Positive double digits: Great performance
Positive single digits above 2: Good performance
Between +2 and -2: Average performance
Negative single digits below -2: Mediocre performance
Negative double digits: Bad performance

Here’s is PFR’s page for the 2015 Denver Broncos and how I would view each area in each game.

Week 1 vs. Baltimore: Bad offense, great defense, average special teams
Week 2 vs. Kansas City: Mediocre offense, good defense, good special teams
Week 3 vs. Detroit: Good offense, good defense, average special teams
Week 4 vs. Minnesota: Good offense, average defense, good special teams
Week 5 vs. Oakland: Mediocre offense, good defense, good special teams
Week 6 vs. Cleveland: Bad offense, great defense, mediocre special teams
Week 7: Bye week
Week 8 vs. Green Bay: Great offense, good defense, mediocre special teams
Week 9 vs. Indianapolis: Good offense, bad defense, average special teams
Week 10 vs. Kansas City: Bad offense, good defense, mediocre special teams
Week 11 vs. Chicago: Good offense, average defense, average special teams
Week 12 vs. New England: Good offense, good defense, average special teams
Week 13 vs. San Diego: Average offense, great defense, mediocre special teams

Thus far, the defense has done the bulk of the heavy lifting, but the offense has been at least average ever since Brock Osweiler took over as quarterback. As long as the defense keeps playing at a high level (either good or great), the offense only needs to be average to ensure the Broncos can make a deep playoff run. While the Broncos got away with four subpar outings prior to the bye week, if that happens again, it will make a Super Bowl trip harder to come by.

Do the past three weeks indicate that Osweiler should take over for the rest of the season? Not necessarily. At the same time, if Peyton Manning is going to start again, the Broncos don’t want to rush him back. Personally, I think the best thing to do is have Peyton sit out for the next two weeks. That allows you to do a few things.

* It ensures that Peyton is healthy. The Broncos could have easily put DeMarcus Ware in the lineup Sunday but chose not to. Even with other injuries, I think the Broncos were wise to play it safe. Having Peyton sit out the Pittsburgh game, along with the Oakland game (which we already knew he would miss because of his rehab) ensures he will be healthy.

* It allows you five games to evaluate Osweiler overall — two games against bona fide playoff contenders — and determine if he should keep the job for the remainder of the season, or if the Broncos need to go back to Peyton.

Osweiler wasn’t as sharp against San Diego as he was against Chicago and New England, but perhaps some of it was because of injuries to Vernon Davis and C.J. Anderson. Regardless, we need to see Osweiler improve against Oakland, then let him play against Pittsburgh so Peyton can get to full strength and the Broncos can see how Osweiler handles another tough opponent. Once the Pittsburgh game is done, the Broncos can make their decision.

Back to advanced metrics, I wanted to go over the Football Outsiders DYAR for certain players to see how far they have come. Keep in mind these numbers do not take into account the San Diego game. I will try to include the updated numbers once the Not So Scientific Rankings are out.

When I talked about how the Broncos could still win the Super Bowl with a top defense, even if their offense wasn’t that strong, I mentioned DYAR for individual players through 10 games.

At that time, Ronnie Hillman was 11 to rank 22nd out of 36 running backs, while C.J. Anderson was -55 to rank 35th. After the New England game, Hillman improve to 43 DYAR to rank 18th out of 38 RBs, while C.J. Anderson improved to 22 to rank 25th. The Patriots game was one in which Hillman and Anderson shined. While the numbers may come down slightly after the San Diego game (although there’s a good chance Anderson will get a slight bump), it’s still good to see the RBs trend in the right direction.

At wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas fell to 3 DYAR to rank 55th out of 65 receivers, but that number should increase thanks to a solid outing against San Diego (before the NE game, DT was 43rd out of 62 receivers at 38 DYAR). Emmanuel Sanders was 25 to rank 49th out of 62 receivers before the NE game, then improve to 44 after to rank 46th out of 62.

Tight end was where Owen Daniels saw noticeable improvement following the Patriots game. Before that game, he was -24 to rank 29th out of 40 tight ends. After that game, he improved to a positive number, 17, and ranked 22nd out of 42 tight ends. Daniels may get a slight bump after the San Diego game.

The biggest issue for the Broncos is to hope that Anderson and tight end Vernon Davis get healthy soon, so Anderson, Hillman and Daniels can continue the positive trends they showed during the New England game. Hopefully Thomas put that bad outing against New England behind him, too.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.