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Tale of the Tape: Trevor Siemian struggles against the New York Giants

The Broncos offense put up their lowest point total of the season, and even scored some points for the other team. We’ll look at the film to see what went wrong.

New York Giants v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

We’re back for this week’s film study, and I’ve got to warn you, it’s not pretty ... but you knew that if you watched the game on Sunday night.

There are a lot of aspects that could be covered and a lot that went wrong that I won’t be able to get into.

A quick diversion into my process before we get into the tape. While watching the game I’ll usually make notes of things that stick out on the broadcast or things I’m noticing that I want to dig into more, so I have a pretty good idea of what I’m looking to write about going in.

But sometimes, I’ll just sit down with the tape and watch through while asking myself, “what the hell went wrong?” This was one of those times.

Quick Observations

  • The defense is fine. The New York Giants didn’t find some magical formula to beat them with. They schemed well and got a few big runs, but were shut down for the most part outside of that. The biggest cause for concern, if any, is one Sadaraine mentioned in his No Bull Review: lack of pass rush. Hopefully getting Shane Ray back into the rotation will help with that.

Otherwise, don’t panic. Denver still has one of the most talented defenses in the league who had a slight off night against a brand new play-caller who it had not seen before.

  • The running game has execution problems galore. Missed blocks, and bad reads by the running backs (mainly C.J. Anderson) have caused the run game to grind to a halt. When you can’t punch it in from one yard out on the goal line, you have problems.

Denver ran on five of its first nine first downs for 1, 1, 2, -2, and 0 yards. The answer isn’t calling more runs, as some have suggested. Denver needs to execute the runs that are called first. I hope to dig more into the run game in a future post.

  • The offensive line played better on tape than I remembered from the broadcast. Right tackle and left guard are still embarrassingly bad at times. While Menelik Watson’s injury is unfortunate, forcing Denver to try something different at right tackle may not be a bad thing.

This leaves what jumped off the film to me as the main meat of the breakdown today, the quarterback play.

I wrote a post at the beginning of the season about how Trevor Siemian had turned a corner and taken the next step in his development. This week, however, brought me flashbacks of the Oakland Raiders game I broke down last year, in which I stated:

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.

I saw the same things now that I did then when I put on the tape of this last Sunday.

3rd Down and Red Zone

One of my favorite interviews I’ve listened to is one Peter King did with David Shaw, head football coach at Stanford, last year. In it, Shaw was talking about the difference in the college game and the NFL and made this remark about playing QB in the NFL.

“It’s 3rd down and it’s red zone. That’s their whole world. It’s 3rd down and red zone when it comes to quarterback play in the NFL.

The way he said it stuck with me and is very applicable to our conversation here.

Denver has converted 34% of third downs over the last three games, which is 23rd in the league over that same time frame. They converted 29% on Sunday night. Additionally, both interceptions came on third-down plays.

The red zone is worse. Denver ranks dead last in the league over the last three games converting 18% of its red zone trips into touchdowns. Denver is averaging four trips to the red zone per game, but is only scoring touchdowns about once every five trips.

So with that, let’s dive in. We’ll go through each play chronologically as I did when first looking at it, and the above theme of third down and red zone struggles immediately become evident.

Missed opportunities

Play #1

This first play was on Denver’s second drive of the game. The Broncos miss a golden opportunity for a big play, possibly a touchdown.

The Giants ran a lot of Cover-2 throughout the game; especially in obvious passing situations. This is what they’re in on this play.

With this coverage, the corner is going to carry Demaryius Thomas, on the streak route at the bottom of the screen, through the flat then release him to the safety. The problem is, the safety bites up and let’s Thomas get behind him.

Check this out. Absolute blown coverage by New York. Siemian needs to see this and lob this one up to DT for what could easily be a long touchdown.

The problem is, I don’t think Siemian sees it, or if he does he doesn’t throw it in time. The ball needs to be out now, as soon as Siemian sees the safety bite up.

Siemian never gets the opportunity to hit this big play, however, because the offensive line breaks down. Watson let’s Jason Pierre Paul get to the quarterback on a three-man rush and JPP strip sacks Siemian.

Anderson doesn’t give any help with a chip, and Watson shows horrendous technique in fending off the rush.

Take a look at each tackle’s form here. Rookie Garett Bolles is rolling his hips into the block to stand up his rusher, while Watson is caught with his center of gravity off and no leverage because his footwork was poor coming out of his stance.

For those keeping score at home, I chalk this up to equal parts Watson and Siemian. Siemian has to see that and throw the ball. When looking at the replay, even as he is strip sacked, it is not clear whether he sees the opening as he never brought his arm up to throw.

The ball should have been out before JPP got there, but the fact that JPP got there on a three-man rush is absolutely embarrassing and highlights just how broken Denver’s right-tackle situation is. Denver has to get this fixed.

Play #2

This next one is slightly ticky-tack as the play resulted in a 33-yard gain for Emmanuel Sanders, but there was still a missed opportunity for something even bigger.

The single-high safety is going to bite up again, and Isaiah McKenzie is going to be wide open on the deep post.

Siemian stays locked onto Sanders on the corner route, which isn’t a bad decision by any means, but in a game where touchdowns are at a premium, it sure hurts to see McKenzie streaking down the field just waiting to take it to the house.

Red Zone

Play #3

That play from Sanders puts Denver at the 23. It won’t count as an official red zone trip on the stat sheet, but it’s close enough to pay attention to.

Both of these next two plays are tough because nearly everything goes right, and the play is there to be made. Siemian does a nice job on the boot, and makes the right read, but the throw is just a little off.

That’s a chance for a goal line trip if the ball is a little bit closer to the numbers. Not a huge deal, but in a tough game where a lot went wrong, these things add up and start to snowball.

Play #4

Same thing here. I love this play call by offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Spread the defense out and create a favorable matchup by splitting Devonate Booker out wide on a linebacker.

Booker runs a nice route, the play is there, but Siemian puts it a little too far.

Now, I will call out Bolles on this one who was late getting over to pick up a blitz. This allows the defender to get pressure right as the ball is being thrown to affect the throw.

It just illustrates how the NFL is a game of inches and little things going right with everyone doing their jobs to be successful. This is the third touchdown that could have happened, and this is still the first quarter.

3rd Down

Play #5

Here’s where things begin to get a little ugly. New York is in a Cover-2 as it is third-and-10 and this is how it played most third and longs.

(Forgive the drawings, I was in the car for some of this.)

I like the route combo on the wide side of the field, especially for Cover-2. It creates a hi-lo situation for the corner and Bennie Fowler gets open on the corner route.

What McCoy is doing here on the left side is a great way to attack Cover-2. Notice the corner at the 25-yard line forced to pick up the receiver coming right at him. Now, Fowler will slip in behind him in the gap between the safety and the corner.

However, Siemian is locked on Thomas from the start on the right side running the deep dig route.

Siemian has no business making this throw. The linebacker has good position in front of the route, and the safety is lurking over the top. He’s double covered and there just isn’t much room here.

Even though it’s third-and-10, Siemian has to check this down to the wide open Jamaal Charles circled above. He may not make the first, but you give your kicker a shot and protect the ball.

It’s too late to turn and find Fowler open at the 20, because he already committed to the right side of the field by staring down Thomas it’s not feasible to turn and find another receiver besides Charles at this point in the play.

I just don’t like the throw here. Even if it wasn’t overthrown, that still a tough, risky throw with not a lot of room.

Red Zone

Play #6

The Broncos are back in the red zone now. Siemian has just hit Thomas on a big 40+ yard pass where Thomas made a great catch between two defenders. Now it’s time to capitalize on it.

This is a staple play Denver likes to run, and is often very successful. Suck the linebackers up on play action, and sneak a receiver in behind them on the slant.

In my breakdown of the Buffalo game, I cautioned that defenses were beginning to key on this and that Siemian needed to be careful, because he almost had one picked against the Bills.

Same thing here.

This one could have worked if the ball is out right now. Notice Thomas’ foot planting to make his cut. This is when the ball needs to be released to arrive on time in DT’s chest as he’s coming out of his break.

Instead, Siemian holds the ball, releases after he breaks, and the linebackers have keyed on the quarterback’s eyes at this point.

Siemian again has no business throwing this ball when he did. Either throw it on time, or don’t throw it because this is an extremely dangerous throw.

This should have been pick No. 3 and would have cost the team three points.

Play #7

Two plays later, it’s third down in the red zone.

This is one that will drive you crazy. Fowler in the slot is coming on a short drag route, that by design is supposed to pull defenders down to free up the post route by the tight end.

The only time this ball should go to Fowler is if it is straight man coverage and he is wide open, because he’s five yards outside of the end zone, and in this case he is covered by the lurking linebacker.

Yet, the quarterback locks on to him from the start and proceeds to throw to a covered receiver short of the sticks, when he had time in the pocket. That’s not only a recipe to get your pass jumped, but also get your receiver killed.

Meanwhile, A.J. Derby makes a beautiful move at the top of his route to come free on the post. Again, if the ball is released on time and arrives as Derby is coming out of his break, it’s a touchdown.

Even thrown late, that’s likely a touchdown if Siemian puts it on a rope straight down the hash up high for Derby to go get it.

We’re now up to four potential touchdowns for the offense.

3rd Down

Play #8

This last one takes the cake.

Denver is running another hi-lo concept like we saw a few plays ago. Again, the quarterback’s job here is to read the corner. He can’t cover both routes so you see which one he bites on, and throw to the opposite.

If he carries the receiver up the field, you throw the flat, if he jumps on the flat, you throw the corner route.

Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins talked about this play after the game:

“Basically, we were playing ‘Cleo’ coverage and they ran a high-low route," Jenkins said after the game. "He threw it to the flat and I broke on the ball. We were talking about it on the sideline that he was going to lock on and stare down the receiver. I told my coach what they were attacking us and he told me to one time sit on it and just take it.”

Giants safety Landon Collins said post-game. "We watched a lot of film. He was just holding it too long and not letting it go.”

Cleo coverage is essentially a Cover-2 that the corner disguises as a Cover-4 look at the beginning of the play.

Jenkins bails with the receiver at the line to give the impression he has deep responsibility, but breaks it off at the 45 and drives towards the flat.

See how in the image above he takes the receiver 10 yards up field?

However, as soon as he sees Siemian begin to look at the flat, he breaks off. At this point, Siemian hasn’t even brought the ball up to throw and is still sitting in an extremely clean pocket. As soon as he sees Jenkins foot plant and him break off his coverage of the deep receiver, he needs to throw the corner route.

The ball still hasn’t been brought up to throw and the corner is clearly breaking on the flat.

As Collins said, Siemian continues to stare down his target and throw late, without looking at the corner.

Meanwhile, the correct read is wide open.

Lastly, the offensive line is a huge liability at times, and contributes to the majority of this offense’s problems. This play was not one of them.

Perfectly clean pocket to make this throw. Now, as the Twitter warriors were quick to point out, I obviously realize this is a three-man rush so there shouldn’t be any pressure (looking at you Watson).

The three-man rush isn’t the point. The point is that everyone did their jobs and there were zero mitigating factors that one can point to that would cause this bad play. Nothing other than the fact that the quarterback is not doing basic quarterback stuff.

I pulled this angle to specifically show Siemian’s eyes and movements to illustrate what Collins was talking about. You see him stare, hitch, stare, pat the ball, stare and then throw.

Closing thoughts

That is not sustainable in the NFL. No amount of scheme or running game can hide that if it is not fixed.

All throughout this game, regardless of pressure or no pressure, Siemian consistently stared down his targets, locked on from the snap, failed to read the defense, and threw it anyway.

And these are just the plays I was able to highlight in one post. There’s at least three others I could have added where he missed a wide open checkdown and took a sack instead because his first read was covered.

You can fix the line, you can fix the running game (both need it, by the way), but even with both of those things in place, Denver cannot consistently win until this is fixed.

The coaches and Siemian need to sit down and figure this out. He is 19 games into his career, he should be able to go through a progression.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and sorry for the delay in getting this up. Hope ya’ll enjoyed!