One of the best parts of a shocking 38-24 win over a Super Bowl contender is that there’s no shortage of things to nerd out about. I’m juggling finals week this time around, so my apologies if this isn’t as in depth as I’d like for Lock’s second start. The hope here is to share a few observations I had while watching the offensive All-22 yesterday.
1. The Texans are who I thought they were
I mentioned in my things to watch before the game:
Houston’s been one of the worst defenses in the league at stopping tight ends most of the season and really struggle to defend the middle of the field.
It was pretty awesome to see Rich Scangarello go after both of these issues early and often.
The best opening play of the #Broncos season.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 10, 2019
13 personnel with Motion to a PA Flood Concept. Clean footwork and poise under pressure leads to great placement on the throw by Drew Lock. pic.twitter.com/H2k1gD3i8C
The play above worked because Rich Scangarello dialed up a great play to attack what looks like 2 Read or Palms coverage. You can get into the nitty gritty here, but the basic gist is that the outside receiver’s vertical route brought both the safety and corner deep, and the cornerback had to come up on Fant’s out route underneath. When Drew Lock threw the ball to the inside, it gave his receiver the opportunity to box out the defender and make the catch.
Lock followed it up with another big play to Andrew Beck off play action across the middle that was wide open by NFL standards.
The play starts off with a run fake to Phillip Lindsay, which causes Houston’s linebackers to bite, giving Andrew Beck time to sneak out of the backfield and into his route with Jeff Heuerman staying in to block the Texans’ defender to rush Lock. The play is made when Denver’s rookie quarterback makes a throw, falling away from pressure to the open receiver.
2. Lock had some impressive throws, but see #1
One of the big things coming out of the game is the hype that John Elway found the heir to Peyton Manning. It’s understandable. 31 points in a half is nothing to sneeze at, and 309 yards and 3 touchdown passes in a quarterback’s second career game is really impressive.
Even with all that in mind, it’s important to keep the competition in perspective. Without J.J. Watt, the Texans’ defense is even more dependent on Romeo Crennel to scheme pressure than the Broncos are on Vic Fangio. A decent chunk of the Broncos offense was simply taking advantage of an overmatched situation.
These are the kind of plays that come to mind when people say "opponents don't matter, they get paid too!"— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 10, 2019
I'd be concerned if Lock did not hit this throw to Devontae Booker. pic.twitter.com/6jFDDSR8OA
Here’s the thing to keep in mind with that: it’s okay. The Broncos are a 5-8 unit that hasn’t had anything remotely close to competent quarterback play for three seasons now. Just because they didn’t torch the New England Patriots or San Francisco 49ers doesn’t mean Lock wasn’t impressive. I promise you, some of the throws I saw re-watching the game left my jaw on the floor.
3. Lock still needs to improve.
It’s pretty easy to look at the final result of this game and come away with a ton of faith that Drew Lock is “the guy” and that the sky is the limit. While the stats are impressive and I’d much rather Denver win his second start 38-24 than lose it, the rookie wasn’t close to the perfect player some want to spin him as. He got lucky on a few plays, and the most glaring example is this throw to Tim Patrick near the end of the first half:
One thing I hope Lock improves on in time is throwing guys open. He has the arm talent to get away with being late, but the #Broncos will be better off if he doesn't rely on it. pic.twitter.com/wBQh7MEy3F— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 10, 2019
Going back and watching the throw a few different times, there’s a distinct possibility it could have been intercepted by the Texans. Lock knew where he was going to go with the ball early and his eyes never left Patrick after the play fake. Locking in like this for as long as the rookie did is going to key the defense in on where you plan to go with the ball, but he could have made the pass if he’d gotten rid of it sooner.
As Lock completes his drop, Patrick is just about to make his break and get open. The rookie isn’t under pressure and waits because it isn’t clear his receiver is open just yet, but his eyes never leave 81.
Lock should be getting rid of the ball right here if he’s going to try to squeeze it to Patrick. With his arm strength, he could fit it into the window and get it to Patrick before the bailing Texan makes it.
There are other instances of Lock’s process not quite keeping up with his production in this game, just like last week. The interception is another really obvious “locked in” play where the rookie made a pretty baffling decision. He still needs to improve at reading the field and winning with his eyes and mind, or he’ll wind up over-reliant on his arm to get him out of trouble like Joe Flacco did for much of his career.
One more time, it’s important to mention that it’s okay to recognize this. As I mentioned way back before he was drafted, Lock was always going to be a bit of a mixed bag early on with a high ceiling, and low floor. The fact that he’s performed as well as he has is really, really encouraging. I’m not trying to take away from that, but the highs don’t erase what could be problematic issues as the league catches up to him.
My point isn’t to rain on the parade, but to prove there’s still a lot of room to grow.
4. The offense is evolving around Lock.
There’s been a vocal segment of Broncos Country that has criticized and even called for Rich Scangarello’s head for awhile now. It’s always been a bit confusing because, going all the way back to training camp, the offense was always going to have a slew of issues this season: Joe Flacco was hopefully going to turn the clock back five years, Courtland Sutton and the young receivers were hopefully going to make a jump, Noah Fant was hopefully going to hit the ground running, the offensive line was hopefully going to gel, etc.
Even with all of those issues and Joe Flacco eventually turning into Brandon Allen, there were hints at what the offense could eventually be. Denver’s been one of the best offenses in the league in the early drives all year, and even with a quarterback worse than Case Keenum, and minus Emmanuel Sanders, the running game didn’t grind to a halt.
Two weeks into the Drew Lock era, it’s obvious that every aspect of the offense is growing around the young core.
Rich Scangarello isn't a great OC, they said. Doesn't give the #Broncos offense enough adjustments, they said... pic.twitter.com/WeET5Q6Nc7— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 10, 2019
The play above is what’s called an Alert. If you’ve played Madden 20, you already know what that means, but for those of you who haven’t suffered through EA Sports’ latest NFL game, it means that there are essentially two different ways for the offense to attack the defense on the play above.
In this instance, the Broncos have a stretch run called for Royce Freeman to the right. Motion by DaeSean Hamilton reveals that the Texans defense is in man coverage and Courtland Sutton will have leverage on his slant route, so upon the snap, Lock turns and fires the ball to him.
The Broncos’ first year coordinator has toyed around with these kind of plays in small doses all season. After all, it’s a staple of the Shanahan offense and one of the more difficult strategies for defenses to defend. Houston represented the most I’ve seen of it in one game, and it looks like those packages are growing.
It also wasn’t the only way Scangarello put the offense into a position to succeed.
Touchdown #3 is great design by the #Broncos coaching staff. Motion by Diontae Spencer reveals man coverage, play fake suckers the D while Sutton gets behind them. Fant occupies two in coverage.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 10, 2019
Lock had two wide open receivers. pic.twitter.com/XAXvQvz6KM
Lock is farther ahead of where I expected him to be at this point, especially when you stop and consider that he missed a large chunk of practice reps due to his injury in the preseason. He isn’t a finished product by any means, but with a first year coordinator building a scheme around his talents and a young nucleus to grow with him, it’s definitely an exciting time to be a Broncos fan.
There was a moment a couple weeks ago when I said he'd have to play out of his mind to really sell me on him for 2020.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 9, 2019
He's off to a good start. https://t.co/bshFxXJR2O