There’s no question that our offense has been struggling. We lead the league in 3 and outs, have a very inconsistent running game, and our quarterback’s completion percentage has been in a free fall since week 4.
There has been a lot of talk about who is responsible: coaches, scheme, play calling, QB, TEs, running game, O-line. So I wanted to dig into the film to see what was going on.
Specifically, this week I looked at the first three drives of the game against the Raiders, which was the whole first quarter. I plan to do some more digging over the bye week, but this provides us a good start.
Denver is in 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) and Oakland is in some version of a zone/man mix. The corners playing DT and Emmanuel are in man, but everyone else is in zone as indicated above.
This is a quick hit play designed to just get some positive yardage and get the offense into a rhythm.
I’m going to try not to arm chair QB this too much, but some of it is inevitable. Siemian immediately locks onto Virgil Green, his eventual target, and every defender’s eyes are locked onto Siemian, so everyone knows where the ball is going.
I made it a specific point to check the O-line on every play for pass protection holes as they have been getting roasted lately (some of it warranted). Later in the game, they began to give up more pressures as we were forced to pass constantly, but early on, the protection was pretty good.
Looks like there’s enough of a hole in the zone for Trevor to fit it in, but he attempts to lead Green away from the linebacker, which is good, but there is a corner closing on the other side. So it looks a bit like a miscommunication/a slight overthrow.
Next play. Same personnel; different alignment. Raiders are playing straight man coverage with one deep safety, and the MLB is going to blitz.
Now here’s a couple things pre-snap to look at. On the right side of the formation, AJ Derby is going to run an out route, and his LB covering him is way inside and back. So unless the DE drops into a surprise zone, Derby is going to be open.
Secondly, Virgil Green on the left side is man covered by a safety who is 10 yards away from him. Unless it is zone coverage and the corner doesn’t run with Sanders, Green will be wide open.
If the MLB blitzes, and the other LB runs with Derby outside, the middle of the field will be wide open.
Now we’re post-snap, and all of those things are true. Derby has his man beat, Virgil Green is 10 yards from his man, and the MLB is blitzing, which has left a huge void in the middle of the field. Now go back to the routes, who is coming over the middle of the field on a dig route 1v1?
Literally the only person covered right before the throw is Sanders on his out route, because the corner was playing outside leverage, and pressed him at the line. Yet, Sanders is the person who Trevor Siemian locked onto from the moment the ball was snapped.
Now I said I’m going to try to not arm chair QB too much because there are things we just can’t know, like how he’s coached, what the call was, etc. and things always look easier in slow-mo seeing the whole field.
But this is absolutely inexcusable from the QB. There were two easy pre-snap reads, and another pretty easy post snap read with the MLB blitzing.
To me, the minute Siemian saw that MLB blitzing, he should have known he had DT over the middle for an easy completion with a chance for some serious YAC.
Literally the only person who was covered on that route was who the QB decided to go to with the ball.
Now I don’t know if he’s being coached not to look at the field, but he is not seeing the field and reading the coverage at all.
So here we are with the first 3rd down of the game.
Now I’m not a huge fan of this play call as it only sends two receivers past the sticks and one is a lame comeback route on the left.
The concept here is that Green will clear out space for DT to come underneath from the slot and be set up for some YAC and have guys in front blocking to hopefully pick up a first. It’s also a low risk throw in the shadow of your goal line.
The problem is, this guy.
The strong safety playing robber, which is just lurking in a zone over the middle. So instead of this being a nice man coverage beater (look how much separation DT has from the slot corner) the slot corner just signals to the SS to pick up DT.
Now the SS playing robber to the left isn’t new. He has been in the box on the left the last two plays and he stayed there most of the night. Presumably due to the fact that our passing charts favor the left side about 70/30. If the coaches had flipped the play to run DT across to the right, it might have worked, but that’s impossible to know.
The result is DT getting absolutely flattened. Even if he would have caught it, he would have gained 2 yards on a 3rd and 10.
Drive 1 analysis:
Three straight passes is what people came away from the game talking about, but I’m okay with the call if we would have been able to execute. The problem I saw on this drive is Trevor Siemian did not read the defense or recognize coverages and what that meant for his receivers. He locked onto targets and threw regardless of what else was happening.
Second drive, and we come out with some staple Kubiak play action bootleg off the stretch zone.
The linebackers suck up for the run, leaving the middle of the field open, which is exactly what you want. Mack initially follows the run, but is so quick in recovery, he begins to chase Trevor Siemian.
Siemian doesn’t have a lot of time to set up for this throw with Mack bearing down, but both TEs have some separation. Derby is the most open, and that’s who Trevor goes to....and he drops it.
AJ, I have a little message for you. I realize the circumstances weren’t the greatest for the catch because it was thrown behind, but that’s because your QB was running for his life and made a big time, NFL throw to get the ball to you and give you a chance at it, and you drop it?! You come from the Patriots who’s mantra is “do your job” well do your job and catch dang ball!
Seriously though, I know I gave Trevor some grief last drive, but was a great play by him to avoid pressure and sling that ball in there, and the guy drops it. You can’t do stuff like that and expect to be successful on offense.
So we’re on to 3rd down again after a false start and a three yard run on 2nd down that was pretty uneventful.
Here you have some better 3rd down routes as far as depth.
I’m not thrilled with Virgil’s route running here. The defense is in Cover-3 again and the LB is way too shallow, which creates some nice space over the middle, but Green hooks his route up well short of the sticks.
What’s worse, is he, like Derby, drops the ball! Even with the short route, he likely could have fallen back for a first down.
Drive 2 analysis:
Our TEs need to go spend a few hours on the juggs machine. My gosh. That’s how you kill drives and leave your defense hanging out to dry.
So this drive we actually ran the ball on first down and picked up three yards, which puts us at a 2nd and 7.
This play call is baffling to me. We have Heuerman and Booker staying in to block on a quick hit passing play. Only three guys go out into a patter and they are all covered.
There’s not a lot Trevor can do with this one. This is just an ugly play call, in my book.
So now we’re back to another 3rd and long.
Alright. Let’s camp here awhile because this one drives me nuts. You’ll notice Booker at the bottom of the image above. He was motioned out of the backfield, and now the Raiders are running around checking coverages and trying to get lined up.
The fact that the linebacker didn’t follow him out wide indicates that they checked to a zone. Well it indicates to ME that they checked to a zone. Our QB didn’t get the memo apparently.
So the defense is still running around a little confused when we snap the ball. Let’s start in the middle. I’m not sure what Green is doing, but he’s occupying two linebackers. Sanders is running the out in the slot, and that’s where Trevor looked first, but that’s completely covered up because the defense knows he likes to go left so there’s guys covering it.
These two outside routes are where things get fun (sarcasm). You have one corner covering two players with Fowler in the slot about to break outside.
Now Siemian sees Fowler break open to the outside and throws immediately. What he should have know, however, is that the corner is in a zone, not man due to what we discussed earlier with the pre-snap motion.
Since it is not man, the corner doesn’t run with Booker, which would have left Fowler open. Instead he stays home and drills Fowler after a 4 yard catch on 3rd and 7. Booker on the other hand, was absolutely wide open on the in route.
Meanwhile, DT is at the top of the screen single covered with zero safety help due to the confusion in coverage by the Raiders.
He’s going to run a double move and be more wide open than Booker for a deep ball. Notice the corner scrambling to get over there and chase him when he realizes it.
3rd & 7. DT comes wide open on a sick double move with zero safety help, and Trevor throws 3 yards short of the sticks into coverage. pic.twitter.com/zP4fEKD9oF— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) November 11, 2016
Again, this is 3rd and 7. The Raiders sent a 3-man rush, blew a coverage, and left the #1 WR wide open for a deep ball with zero safety help. That is literally the perfect scenario you could hope for on a 3rd and long if you’re the Broncos.
And yet, we threw a 4 yard route that wasn’t even the right throw based on the coverage.
I said I wouldn’t arm chair QB too much, but I just couldn’t help it while watching this tape. I went into it thinking we had a coaching/scheme problem, and came out realizing we have an execution problem, and not on the offensive line which is an easy scapegoat at times.
Our receivers dropped two likely first downs, one on a key 3rd down. That is unacceptable.
But, we’re fooling ourselves if we watch this tape and don’t realize that we have a QB problem. Our QB is missing simple reads and coverages. It’s not necessarily his ability physically to get the ball in the spots, although we’ve seen him struggle with accuracy at times, but he is just not seeing it.
He too often locked onto one target regardless of what else was going on and telegraphs to the defense his intentions.
I don’t know if this is the way he is coached or if they have him on a leash, or if he is just not seeing it, but we cannot expect to be successful with this level of QB play.
The numbers may look the same or better than Manning so it may fool us into thinking that the level of QB play is the same, but it’s not. Manning knew where to get the ball and could decipher the coverages, he just often struggled to get it there due to physical limitations. Our QB play right now is not at an NFL level in terms of the reads and diagnosing coverages that a QB should be able to make at the next level.
Now, one film session isn’t the be all, end all, so I’m going to dig in some more and see if it changes my mind, but right now, I just do not like what I am seeing on tape.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!