Week 2 of the NFL Preseason saw the Denver Broncos
whoop the crap out of battle the San Francisco 49ers, and for the second straight week, I have left this game with more questions than I had going in. Not only did our defense show signs of being mortal, but our quarterback situation became even more muddled. Week two left me with one basic question: "Is this team allergic to progress?"
Now onto my takeaways:
Once again, our starting defense was suffocating. I have to make the distinction between starting defense and backup defense because one group looks every bit the dominating force while the other group looks like a Jack Del Rio defense, i.e. not good but not horrible.
When we have the starters on the field, nobody is doing anything against us. Heck, we still aren't at full speed with full participation (Talib and Ware were out). But man oh man is our starting group lethal. Will we pitch shutouts all season? Of course not (in theory anyways), but its really going to take a team not only catching us on an off week, but also playing the game of their careers to beat us, and that's factoring in our inconsistencies on offense.
For the second straight week, I'm leaving the game knowing that our starting defense will get it done. Unlike last week though, our backups came crashing down to earth. How in the world do you get steamrolled by the San Francisco 49ers? How? Blaine Gabbert? Christian Ponder? Really?
First impression: If you catch a ball with your back foot dangerously close to being out of the back of the endzone, DO NOT RUN IT OUT! I know that a coach might have said "run everything out because we want to get a look at you", but I can only assume that whatever coach told you that assumed that your head was good for something other than a hat rack and that you wouldn't attempt a return from 9.999999999 yards deep!
Second impression: Ronnie Hillman needs to never be on special teams again. He can't return and he sure as hell can't block. If Ronnie can't play special teams, he's very likely on the roster bubble because your #3 or #4 running back MUST play special teams, and Hillman is to special teams what milk is to a belly full of alcohol: bad!
Virgil Green is legit as a pass catcher. Quite a few of us at MHR (staff and members all) have known that Green is more than simply a blocking tight end. Well, for the second week in a row, he proved us all correct. With Pey Pey gone, Virgil Green is proving to be a big time pass catcher. Sure, he isn't as big as a few other tight ends, but it just doesn't matter. Green can block, he can catch, and he can get separation on his routes. We are about to see the next really good Broncos tight end emerge this year. All I can really say is "It's about time coaching staff!"
For the second game in a row, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have been lights out. These two are already in midseason form. DT is signed up, and I really hope Elway gets a deal done with Sanders, because this cat is dynamic!
Once again, everybody's favorite topic: Quarterbacks. Was this the week that an "ah ha" moment happened? Was this the week that a quarterback showed "it"? We saw Mark Sanchez start week 1, and Siemian (by design) start week 2. Remember that I wrote last week that All Three Quarterbacks should get game time with the first team? Well, not much has changed after this second week except for the order that I want this to shake out.
Trevor Siemian got the start and ran with the 1's. On the opening drive, I saw amazing things out of Siemian. After the first drive culminated in a touchdown, I said that based off of that opening drive, I'd be comfortable moving forward with Siemian for the next decade. What did I see to make me say such outlandish things?
I saw a QB who was poised under pressure. That naked boot that the defender spied perfectly and crashed would have been a 10+ yard sack had that been Sanchez standing back there. Instead, it was a 20 yard completion to Virgil Green. That heads up play and "cool under pressure" moment is what had me so pumped up about Trevor. Outside of that play, we saw many fantastic passes with zip on them to DT and Sanders. We saw more to Green, and you really began to see a quarterback that is knocking on the starter's door.
And then a horrible pick six happened and Trevor just went into the tank. It's as if he couldn't brush that mistake off and it really affected his play. Sure, he still had an amazing completion percentage (71.4%), but post pick-six, all he did was dump off pass after pass. I'm sorry, but like cornerbacks in the NFL, quarterbacks MUST shake off bad plays and have an incredibly short memory. It was clear that Siemian was incapable of shrugging off that singular zit on his performance. If you can't shake that off and instead crawl into a hole with dink and dunk passes, defenses will start jumping routes and the race will be on; In an incredibly bad way that is.
Another area that I really wanted to see improvement on but just didn't is Siemian staring down his target. This absolutely will lead to horrible interceptions each and every game. He has to be able to look off the coverage and come back to his intended receiver. If Trevor keeps staring at his target from pre-snap all the way through his arm moving forward and throwing the ball, he'll get feasted upon and chants for whatever backup we have will soon ring throughout the entire stadium. NFL quarterbacks can not stare receivers down. Cornerbacks are simply too damn talented at this level for that amateur type of play to work.
Mark Sanchez was the next quarterback to get an opportunity. Again, the script was flipped from the week before, so we saw Sanchez running with the backups. Well, he immediately went vertical and really pushed the ball down the field. I really liked this aspect of his game. It's exactly what I wanted Siemian to do after he threw the pick 6. Shrug it all off and attack. Well, Sanchez attacked, but he was also being attacked. That offensive line did him no favors, and once again, we saw Sanchez "being Sanchez" and panicking under pressure. Two fumbles in 20-something seconds later, and I had seen enough. Yes, Sanchez throws a good ball and yes, he seems to have plenty of attributes that you want in your starting quarterback, but he simply can't be trusted with the football.
There's a reason I hold my breath and feel my anxiety level skyrocket each time the ball is snapped with Sanchez under center: It's because you simply don't k now if this will be a good play, a mediocre play, or a horrible play, and while you can say that about every quarterback in the NFL, the thing with Mark is that he is more likely to make a bad play than good play, and his back to back fumbles is clear evidence of this.
With Siemian, you have the potential for growth. With Lynch, you have the potential for growth. With Sanchez, that potential simply isn't there. While I will agree with everyone 100% that he can cut down turnovers in certain situations, he's simply incapable of cutting down on turnovers in other situations. When he panics, he does bad things. He can schematically limit turnovers, but he can't impromptu eliminate turnovers, and again, with the talent level of defenses in the NFL being what it is, he can't afford to freak out and forget everything he's learned. That is my beef with Sanchez, but again, like Siemian, there is still hope in the form of "Sanchez won't be asked to throw the ball 50+ times a game which is his current pace in preseason!"
So if you take that into consideration, then you can quickly see that Sanchez won't be thrust into situations to freak out and make a bad play. Kubiak is simply having all the quarterbacks air it out to see what they have. This is preseason for you, not regular season. Regular season won't have him throwing nearly as much, so by design, his turnovers should go down, but again, that's by design, that doesn't take into account him forgetting how to play.
Paxton Lynch looked pretty good for the second straight week. He definitely has the raw ability, but he, like Siemian, tends to stare down his receivers, and his footwork isn't the best. He has amazing escapability, but again, I can see where good defenses will simply eat him alive. There was a 3 play stretch there where he got sacked and then sacked some more. He looked confused, lost, and incapable of reading an NFL defense. I thought "ugh, this is why you don't start a rookie!" But then he also settled down and started stringing plays together.
Overall, Lynch had a 57% completion rate which isn't all that impressive. I'm not here to qualify or disqualify anything, so 57% is 57%. Did his receivers do him no favors? Sure, but he was also against a defense that definitely did him some favors. So it all washes out. Paxton threw an interception, but unlike Siemian, he seemed to be able to shrug it off and go back into attack mode, and lets not forget him shrugging off not one, but two would-be sacks on the same play to then gallop for 7-8 yards. That's the type of resiliency that I love. Siemian gets sacked, Sanchez either gets sacked or throws a "should be" interception as he goes into the fetal position. Lynch? Nope, he tries to escape and make things happen.
Here's what I left the game with. I left the game actually saying "why not throw Lynch out to start week 3 to see what he can do?" Again, I'm not saying start him week 1, but here's the thing: Sanchez had an opening drive TD with the starters and then kinda turned invisible/mistake prone. Siemian had an opening drive touchdown with the starters and then turned invisible and mistake prone. So why not see what Lynch can do with the starters on the opening drive(s) of week 3? What do we have to lose?
Look, if you are a vet (Sanchez) or an inexperienced second year player (Siemian) and you can't legitimately beat out a rookie (Lynch), then you have issues. Me deciding that I want to see Paxton start week 3 isn't because I think Lynch will do great, its simply because if we are going to see rookie mistakes on the field, then dammit, they should be by an actual rookie. The longer Mark and Trevor keep this competition open, the more I think I'll want to see Pax get his shot.
It's well documented that I wanted some form of a veteran presence to open the season. I've said many times that "you don't start a rookie QB on the defending champ team", and I still stand by that. However, if neither of the vets on this team are actually better than the rookie, then why not take the game coming up in preseason to see what the rookie can do? What if he opens up the game with a touchdown like the other quarterbacks? What if he does equal to the others? Do you roll with the upside and development with the rookie?
Make no mistakes about it, Lynch will make horrible rookie mistakes throughout the season. He'll have us all shaking our head thinking "Kubiak really messed up", but the thing is, is that so will Sanchez and Siemian. I legitimately left this game with more questions than I had going into it.
In Game 1 I really wanted to see Sanchez dominate: he didn't.
In Game 2 I really wanted to see Siemian dominate: he didn't.
In Game 3 I really want to see what Lynch has. Does he have "it"? Did that "ah ha" moment come already? Not in "Ah Ha, Lynch can play", but instead "ah ha, we have no QB so we kinda have to play the kid!" ? Is that the moment Kubiak and Elway saw?
I still think that it's too early to bury anyone, but I don't think it's too early to give the kid a show with the starters. Before games actually matter, the coaching staff owes it not only to the team, but their fans, you know, the ones who pay their paychecks. They owe it to us to run the gamut before they decide who to roll with. Well, part of that process is starting Lynch in game 3. I never thought I'd say that, but that's what I want to see.
I've all but given up on Sanchez. I'm not hoping off the Siemian train yet because he's still so young and undeveloped. But given both of those facts, I really want to see what Lynch can do? What's the worst that can happen? Is it that you finally have tangible proof that he's too raw and needs much more cooking? He's gone from Raw to Rare. All he needs to do is cook a tad bit longer to get to medium rare, which is perfectly fine for most. Siemian is rare, Sanchez is burnt. So lets see if we can get Pax into the edible range for most. If Lynch looks inept with the starters, then simply turn to Siemian. But if he doesn't, and if he leads the Broncos to a touchdown or two, then I'm afraid that the unthinkable would have to be done; You almost would have to start Paxton Lynch Week 1 of the regular season.
While I still think all 3 QBs could lead this team to the playoffs, I'm definitely starting to see the cream rise to the top. That cream is both Lynch and potentially Siemian. Both are raw, both are young, and both have little experience at the NFL level. Siemian had his show with the starters Saturday. He threw a pick 6. So lets give Lynch his show with the starters to see what he can do with it? If this competition is truly a competition, then all stones must be overturned, and Lynch is the natural stone that needs to be looked at. Sanchez had game 1. Siemian had game 2. Lets give Lynch game 3 just to see. If he's horrible, then we have our answer. But if he looks good, well, then we once again might end up leaving the game with more questions than we have answers.
What I don't like is that as I wrote this, Kubiak announced that Trevor Siemian will start week 3. I think that's a mistake. For as much of a benefit of the doubt I give Kubiak, I think he'll do the team and Paxton Lynch a disservice to not see what he has with the starters. That is, unless Kubiak is going to have Siemian start and have Lynch also play with the starters? Could that be part of his plan?