Demaryius Thomas seems to have become Public Enemy #1. Each week the grumbling gets louder; however, there's more going on than meets the eye.
I went over several statistics over the last five years and they boil down to: DT isn't being used as a traditional wideout that Bronco fans want this year, but the result isn't as bad as you think.
Sporting Charts says DT has four drops from "good" passes. The passes that are considered catchable and within the norm of what is expected from a wideout. He's dropped four out of 37. He's had two fumbles, one of which wasn't his fault. He had two defenders hit him and one speared the ball.
It's important to note that the role of slot and wideout receivers aren't the same.
Slot Receivers (the Y) are predominately thrown passes into coverage in the middle area of the field; therefore, they get hit hard, a lot, causing more dropped passes. Their routes are typically more comeback. Meaning, not hit in stride. They're turning around towards the ball. There are many types of these routes, but for simplicity’s sake, just going to call any route that requires the receiver to turn towards the ball while still moving/stopping/running, a comeback.
Slots are typically quick guys off the line with great short bursts of speed, but smaller and sturdier than a wideout. These guys take hits. Repeating: A lot of them. They have great hips and the ability to stop, start, spin quickly. They usually need to see the ball to catch it and have smaller hands. These are the guys you target inside ten yards. Short yardage guys. Tanks for their size. Because a slot is showing the QB more of his torso since he's turned towards him, balls thrown to them don't need to be as accurate. They have a bigger target area and the slot is looking at the ball coming at him. This makes him invaluable to a rushed or new QB.
Wideouts typically run routes that only their head moves and a shoulder. The ball comes to them while they're running....from behind. Often catching balls, blind. These guys have big hands meant to grab passes out of the air, over their shoulder and use their big bodies to shield it from a defender. These are fast, long stride guys. Hit these guys in stride and...he gone. Gone like a freight train because they're matched up against DBs who are typically smaller than bruising linebackers.
Most wideouts are fast, but not quick. Hitting a 6'3" wideout while he's on a "comeback" route, then expecting him to turn around quickly and have a burst of speed is tough. These guys aren't the ones winning the 110 sprints, they're winning the 220. They're not usually going to beat a CB off the line, but they will beat them downfield once they get those long legs moving.
Why have I gone into depth on this? Because wideouts are the guys you target down the field. Where ball placement needs to be very accurate. So does timing. In the long run, asking a wideout to act like a slot isn't a recipe for success. Physically and game wise.
First, because they're big guys. Getting them off the line, running five yards out, swiveling their big bodies around to turn towards the QB to make the catch and then take off without both a DB and a LB there is difficult. If you're going to do that, a screen is a better choice because it gives the wideout more space to get up to speed and therefore a better chance at getting more yardage, out running defenders.
Second, the very nature of turning back towards the ball often means you're no longer along the sideline. The closer to the middle of the field, the more defenders to hit you. That means less break out runs. The giddy, dizzy ones we've grown accustomed to expect from our wideouts. That beautiful one against Cincinnati. Plus, tall guys have more area to hit.
Crossing routes, picks, rubs, whatever, work with wideouts even though they're in the middle of the field because while more of their body is turned towards the QB, they're still moving, shedding their defender. Often, the underneath guy, the one more in line with the linebacker, is the slot. I call him the sacrificial lamb. If the QB can't throw through the traffic to the top wideout, he hits the slot who is now the meat in a linebacker sandwich. He's the safety net. The security blanket. The guy who gets concussed. Another play we’re seeing very little of.
So, what does this have to do with DT? He may be lining up as a wideout, but he's being used as a slot way too often. He's ranked 27th for YAC, showing he’s helping his QB out, but it's because he's getting the short, not long ball. Very few wideouts are listed above him. Catching RBs, TEs, slots (usually because of bubble screens) are normally up there. He's not being hit in stride because he's not running routes meant to hit him in stride. Why is this occurring? It's two-fold.
We don't have a good wide receiver slot or a slot TE. The guy who can catch in the middle of the field, spin quickly and get YAC because he's either so big/strong and hard to take down, or he's quick like a greased pig. Think NE* Yes, they run a spread, but they have Gronk and Edelman/Amendola (we had Julius Thomas and Wes Welker) who are top of the game. Without having either one of these, DT is having to fill in the space.
The second reason is Trevor Siemian's average air yards. Whether by Kubiak design or QB issues, the ball isn't thrown far. To put this in perspective, below is a table comparing 2015 Peyton Manning and Siemian. This is a good comparison because of the games 18 missed and playing for the same HC, with more of a WCO scheme. 18 had an average 224 passing yards a game, Trevor has 201.
|QB||Comp per Game||Comp%||Attempts per Game||Passing Yards per Attempt||Passing 1st Downs||More Air Yards to YAC|
|Peyton Manning 2015||19.8||59.8||33.1||6.79||33.2||7.65|
|Trevor Siemian 2016||18.7||63.6||29.3||6.88||33.5||5.87|
Trevor is basically 2015 Peyton, but with less interceptions and knowledge. The last number shows how much of their passes were due to distance in the air compared to YAC. A higher number means more air yards.
Both having low numbers, is either based on constrictive game plan by Kubiak or neither have/had the arm to consistency do more. Maybe a little of both. Either way, it's effecting both DT and Emmanuel Sanders having the giddy plays we demand.
If fans want the DT he was for three and half years, then we need a QB who can throw him deep, target and use him as a wideout and toss him some bubble screens. Don't hold your breath. Repetition causes perfection and under a traditional old school West Coast Offense (WCO), there aren't going to be many because it's built on the dink and dunk. It's not a wideout's best friend.
The style of WCO we're seeing is a RB's friend, a slot TE friend. Going to make an assumption on why the bubble to DT isn't being deployed more. It's a pupu platter.
It may be that our OL on the left isn't gelled enough to pull it off. Remember, ZBS guys are smaller than Spread OL, Big Boy Mamajamas, they rely more on technique. It also takes a QB who has finesse and can sell it. Not only does he need touch and guile, but the speed to react if a defender does burst through and be able to toss it over his head.
Two of the interceptions that Siemian threw were on screens. It seems that the game plan this year is cautious. Incompletions are ok, short passes are ok as long as the ball isn't turned over. On the few occasion he's been thrown the ball behind ten yards, he seems unprepared for it.
One wonders how much time has he and Siemian spent working on go routes, fades, etc.? The same goes for Emmanuel Sanders. There is an issue on passes to the right, the area E normally handles.
Speaking of which, it may be as simple as Siemian going to his first read. Where do teams put their best receiver? On the left. High School, College and the Pros. Want to dump the ball out quickly? Hit the guy who's on the left. That's your comfort zone. The easy throw. Looking and throwing to the right requires a QB to ignore his #1 and scan more of the field. Chances are, these are passes you're not as comfortable with and have less experience with.
In a game plan that is based on short passes processed quickly, it could mean Siemian is doing this. If Siemian has the ability to go through progressions, but it’s up to a play call or, as he's said, no open guys, then we should see improvement in this area.
Right now, his passes to the left are completed 87% of the time (wow) for an average of 9.87 yards. To the left sideline, it drops to 65.4 and 8.75. Right side passes he's 57% 3.62, right sideline passes he's 57 completed with an average yardage of 5 yards. Up the middle, 60 and 6.5. So, based on this, it appears this may be the case.
His natural inclination is to drop back, look far left, left, then center, then right. The right sideline passes are from him throwing on the run heading in that direction. Or are in the Red Zone. Are they connecting in practice, but losing it in games? If so, do we have a problem with our scout team defense? Or is it the QB? The scheme?
If Siemian is averaging under 10 yards on passes to the left and DT is averaging 20, he's clearly doing his job. On passes to the right, he's averaging 10 and Trevor less than five, telling us that DT isn’t the problem. He has 189 YAC, with an average of 12.32 per catch. Trevor is throwing an average of 6.88. DT is our most recognized receiver, but he's not the only one out there. All our WRs have seen time on a rotating basis.
While our OL has been the target of derision, they've really only had one putrid game and that was Atlanta. Some of which can be attributed to second stringers playing a rookie's first start and an ill play caller. Siemian often has plenty of time to throw. 5, 6 seconds.
Back to DT. He's the wrong guy for our team, in this scheme, with the current play calling and with this QB, IF you want to see dizzy numbers. I dare say if he was playing for Atlanta or San Diego, he'd be having a record year. Not even Megatron would be seeing great numbers for us.
We are no longer an aerial attack team. This means DT is almost learning a new position. Instead of getting off his mark, running a good route to shake his defender and catch a ball in stride, he's become a glorified slot that requires a skill set outside his wheelhouse.
Until, or unless Kubiak changes his game plan which requires more from Siemian, what we're seeing is most likely it. Three passes over ten yards each game. One a catch, one a drop and one a flag (these last two WILL get fixed—shaking my rah rah pom poms). We won five games on this, so crack open an Orange Crush Soda, grab some pop corn and focus on these kinds of wins... It got us some SB50 bling, baybee.