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Tale of the Tape: How did Paxton Lynch fare in his first game of 2017?

While it wasn’t a pretty at times, there are some positive takeaways from Lynch’s film from Sunday.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, Paxton Lynch saw the field for the first time since August after nursing a shoulder injury most of the season. While the stat line was downright ugly at 9 /14 for 41 yards and an interception, the tape isn’t as bad as the statistics show.

Let’s dig in and see what we can learn from Sunday’s game.

Play #1

Lynch’s first pass of the year had the potential to be a touchdown. On 3rd and 6, Denver lines both Sanders and Thomas in the slot forcing the two safeties to pay attention to the middle of the field.

Oakland brackets both Sander and Thomas leaving both outside receivers one-on-one.

Fowler does a nice job winning off the line, and Lynch looks off the safety on that side of the field, who wasn’t really in position to make a play, anyway. It’s a footrace at this point.

Lynch does everything right up until this point. Looks off the safety, makes the correct read. Everything is setup perfectly; all he has to do is make the throw.

Here we see some of the same struggles Lynch showed in his rookie year against Jacksonville (not particularly surprising given that was his last NFL start). I broke it down then, and we saw how it was a footwork/mechanics issue.

Same problem here, except he overthrows instead of underthrows the route. He doesn’t fully set his feet, and relies too heavily on his arm to lay it out there, which limits his ability to control the pass.

Play 1 - Week 12

This is one he’d like to have back. Keeping perspective, though, this is his first NFL pass in over 3 months. He makes all the right reads, just needs to rep this more and clean up the throw. The good news, is he had another very similar throw a few series’ later and he nailed the throw, so it’s possible.

“I thought Paxton early in the football game made good decisions for us,” Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. “The first third down of the game, they were playing bracket coverages. It’s an unscouted look. He found the one on one and missed the throw. Simple as that, but it was a great read.”

Play #2

This next one showed me some good decision-making and pocket awareness from Lynch.

One of the biggest things we’ve talked about with our quarterbacks this season is the inability to come off their first read.

Here Lynch does a nice job stepping up in the pocket (could probably stand to climb the pocket even more to avoid the rushers) surveys the field, and checks it down after seeing his two main receivers covered.

Janovich does a nice job after the catch, and this one should have gone for 20 yards. Unfortunately, it was called back on a Barbre holding penalty. This won’t show up on the stat sheet, but it showed some positive developments for the young quarterback.

Play 2  - Week 12

Play #3

This is one that will drive the coaches absolutely bonkers. It is a bootleg to the offense’s left, and Lynch has three options. DT on the crosser, Sanders on the deep post backside, or take off and run.

Lynch comes out of the run fake determined to run instead of pulling up to look downfield. The safety and far side corner are both keying on DT and the QB, and Sanders is about to break back and come wide open.

If Lynch pulls up to throw right here (above), he has a touchdown.

Even if he stops and throws it here (above), he can likely hit Emmanuel before the defense can catch up. DT looks open, but by the time Lynch can square his body and deliver the throw, the corner at the 25 yard line likely closes in.

Here’s another angle. Would this be a big throw? Absolutely. But not at all an impossible one. Given how wide open he is, you could lob it in the general direction and have him just go get it.

Denver has two or three of these kind of plays nearly every week that should score. Watching the tape on this team is infuriating, because there are plays to be made; they just aren’t making them.

Play 3 - Week 12

While he picks up a first down, there was a much bigger play to be had, if he just looks up and sees it.

A good example of this happening correctly can be seen from Aaron Rodgers here.

Play #4

There’s a lot to like about this play. First, I love that Denver is using Booker more as a receiver as he excels in that role.

Second, we just saw where Lynch missed a very similar throw earlier to Bennie Fowler up the sideline, so to see him come back and hit Booker perfectly in stride should be a good confidence builder for Lynch, and Broncos Country.

Third, great play design here as DT is going to essentially pick the linebacker covering Booker, and attract the attention of the safety as well.

Play 4 - Week 12

This one was half a step away from being a touchdown. Nicely done on all fronts, Lynch dropped this one in the bucket.

Play #5

This one is a tough break. I like the play-call as it is a run-pass option for Lynch. It is a play action bootleg and Max Garcia is going to lead out in the flat for the QB run. At the same time, Virgil Green will leak out for the pass.

Oakland plays this pretty well as the defensive end recognizes it and begins chasing the QB. However, the corner and safety see the run and key on Garcia, allowing Green to get behind them.

I like the decision to pull up and throw here as the running lane was cut off. It’s just a tough throw in a tight window, while rolling against your throwing arm.

Lynch likely should have thrown it away, or tried to place it off of Green’s right shoulder.

The fact that this was an interception is not at all on the quarterback, in my opinion. A freak tip and excellent play by Bowman really turned the game as this would have put Denver on top 7-0 or at least 3-0.

Instead, they come away with no points after a strip sack by the defense, and the defense subsequently gives up two touchdown drives, putting the game out of reach.

Week 12
Week 12

Play #6

This last one is another play that should be encouraging to Broncos Country, as Lynch showed good coverage recognition and made the correct read.

It’s a slant/flat combo with Booker being motioned out of the backfield. The linebacker follows him, so we know it’s man coverage. Lynch recognizes this as well, which is the first step.

If DT’s man follows him and the linebacker circled stays home, that means Booker is one-on-one in the flat against a linebacker, and you throw the flat route. If DT comes open due to the corner taking the flat, or the linebacker dropping out of the middle, then you throw the slant.

Linebacker stays home, so you throw the flat. The one issue with this, is the ball needs to be coming out right now. Lynch has hit the top of his three-step drop, and needs to release now so Booker has some room to outrun the linebacker and turn up field.

Instead, he waits a beat or two where Booker doesn’t catch the ball until he is outside the numbers. That split second is the difference between a 3 yard gain and potentially a much bigger gain and a first down.

Week 12

While it may sound trivial or remedial to be encouraged that the quarterback is correctly reading man coverage and the route combos, I have seen our quarterbacks struggle with that all of last year and this year. So to see any type of improvement in that area is a plus.

Two wrap-up thoughts

After sitting down and digging through this game’s tape, here are my closing opinions.

  1. Musgraves put together a nice gameplan for a young QB. The plan was simple and focused on getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers. I saw some really nice route combinations, and concepts that I want to see more of. I really hope he gets the coordinator role in 2018, as I think he has potential to really help our offense.
  2. Anyone that came away from this game thinking Paxton Lynch is a bust, you’re crazy. The kid was starting his third NFL game in an 18 month span. There were obviously going to be mistakes and jitters to be worked out, but he read the field better than I’ve seen our other quarterbacks do with literally five times the experience.

What this means for next year, who knows. Do I think he’s the answer at quarterback? who knows.

I do know this, after watching the tape, I’m encouraged by Paxton Lynch rather than discouraged, and certainly am not going to write him off this early based on some box-score scouting.

His coaches apparently agree with me, too:

“Paxton hasn’t played football since August versus Green Bay [in the preseason]. I think we all expected, and I tried to prep him too, that you’re going to have some rust. You’re not going to be used to the speed of the game. But to his credit, he came out and had a nice couple of throws and one got called back because of holding. He had a nice touchdown pass called back to ‘Book’. To play so well so early was surprising to me and then we just want to build on that the next time we get Paxton on the field. It’s a shame that he hurt his ankle there in the third quarter.

- Bill Musgrave

Let’s talk about what you saw from Sunday’s game and discuss in the comments!