I don’t think anyone has to tell Broncos fans just how bad Sunday’s game was. Anytime you lose 43-16 in what was the biggest game of Denver’s season, it’s rarely ever one thing that was the cause.
If Denver holding Mahomes to 200 yards on 15 completed passes and going 0-8 on 3rd down and still losing 43 - 16 doesn't solidify that you have to beat the Chiefs on offense, not defense, I don't know what else does. https://t.co/Ngptxkyvrd— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) October 26, 2020
However, aside from special teams play and fumbles/bad pitches by Melvin Gordon, the biggest culprit everyone (myself included) is looking at after this disaster of a game is Denver’s passing game, and particularly the quarterback play.
Joe Rowles and I discussed Drew Lock and his play at length on this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos, so check it out above to hear our conversation on it.
For today’s Tale of the Tape installment, I wanted to break down a few elements from Lock’s game against Kansas City that I noticed upon re-watching the tape, and what we need to see from him moving forward.
Before jumping in, I do want to caveat that this one game is not Drew Lock’s entire body of work. My take on him as a quarterback has been and will continue to be that he should be given every opportunity to prove he can be “the guy” and the Broncos should evaluate his body of work at the end of the season.
I’m not going to pull any punches or make excuses for bad play when reviewing the tape, but we also have to keep in mind that this is just Lock’s 3rd game in a brand new offense full of young players in a year without a preseason.
Now, none of that is a good enough excuse to spend a whole other season on Lock if he doesn’t improve in key areas, but it’s way too early to make that judgement right now.
Right now, the goal is to dissect what Lock is struggling with, and what he’s doing well, to hopefully understand the areas he needs to grow in most over the next few games.
To be clear on this tweet. This isn't about dunking on Lock or making any statement on "he sucks/he doesn't suck".— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) October 28, 2020
He's 3 games into a new offense.
Goal is to find out what he does well and have him do more of that, and what he doesn't do well and how can he improve that. https://t.co/c4VcYYkWu9
This is one area that I thought Lock had really turned a corner on at the end of last year. Joe Rowles and I talked at length about this on Cover 2 Broncos this offseason that last year’s Lions and Raiders games were some of Lock’s best games from a process standpoint, because he was seeing the field well, going through progressions, and making good decisions.
It’s probably not a coincidence that those came at the end of the season after he had played a few games in Scangarello’s offense.
While we hope there’s a similar adjustment period and trajectory this year with Lock, last week seemed like a major regression in this area, and is probably the most concerning when watching Lock’s Kansas City tape.
There’s a couple things I look at when an offense is struggling in the passing game. 1) Are guys getting open (coordinator/weapon problem)? 2) Is the QB not seeing them (processing/decision making problem)? 3) Is the QB seeing them, but not hitting them (protection or accuracy problem)?
The last two were happening a lot on Sunday. Guys were routinely getting open, but Lock was either not seeing them, throwing late, or misfiring on the throw.
Let’s start with a positive play first. As I alluded to on Twitter in the stats embedded above, Drew Lock has been much more successful under center and off of play action than he has been in shotgun or non-play action.
Below is a classic boot action concept with Lock getting a deep crosser or a flat route to read between.
Lock rightly recognizes that the safety is crowding the short routes, and Patrick is coming open deep.
The flat route actually is pretty open at the time of the throw, but I have no problem with Lock’s throw here. It’s aggressive and a tight window, but these are the kind of throw you want to see him making. Great play here.
The issue throughout the game became, that Lock kept looking for the big play, and struggled to find the open shallow routes consistently.
The play below is the most egregious example. Lock loads up for the deep post, but it is completely covered, and misses a wide open Fant coming across the field.
Lock needs to be able to read the defenders here to know that the bailing safety is taking away the post, so he needs to shift his eyes to his next read. If he had, he would have seen the below image.
Instead, he stays locked on to the deep ball and misses a potential first down.
Here is another one where Lock attempts to force a deep ball into coverage.
He needs to see this linebacker bailing into the path of the crosser and find his shallow outlet who is open.
Now Lock likely received some in game coaching on this, because he came out later and went straight to his shallow route that was open, and it paid off with a large gain.
So those are examples of the tendency I saw from Lock on Sunday to just flat out miss open receivers because he was too focused on his first read.
The other part of processing and decision-making that Lock struggled with was being late on throws that should be easy reads. Pat Shurmur’s offense excels at the quick passing game that gives the quarterback easy reads to get the ball out quickly to playmakers on the edge.
Every offense needs an element of these plays in order to stay on schedule and be efficient. Drew Lock and the Broncos offense has struggled mightily in this area so far, as evidenced by Lock’s 55% completion rate on the season. You have to be in rhythm and on time with these throws, which will allow you to take deep shots but not only be a boom or bust type of thrower.
This is a Shurmur staple, and really a staple of any NFL offense, the slant/flat combo. This is a 3rd and 2 so they don’t need much. Given the pre-snap alignment, Lock should pretty well know that he has man coverage on the outside, and the nickel corner’s leverage should indicate that Jeudy is going to have no problem beating him outside.
As long as the nickel and outside corner don’t “banjo” this, switching responsibilities, then Lock should be clear to rip this one out to Jeudy for the first down.
It plays out exactly like you draw it up. KC doesn’t switch this so the nickel corner has to come over the rub route from the slant. Denver completes this pass and gets the first down since Jeudy is so wide open, but Lock was really late with this throw.
The ball needs to be out right here so Jeudy can catch it out of his break and turn up field. As soon as Lock has confirmation that the outside corner isn’t going to break off and jump this to the outside, he needs to trust his eyes and let it fly.
It may seem nitpicky to criticize Lock for a first down throw, but that tendency to throw late to the outside had devastating results a few plays later.
Denver isn’t running a slant/flat, but they do have another route breaking to the outside.
This time Jeudy will clear out the corner on a go route, while Fant breaks underneath it on the out.
Again, a pre-snap look will tell you that you’re in man coverage, and also that the defense is probably blitzing. With the cushion this safety is giving Fant, Lock needs to identify this as a prime place to go with the ball in the event of a blitz.
If everything plays out post-snap like we think, Lock needs to immediately snap this ball and get it to Fant. The ball should be out of his hands right here.
Instead, Lock stares it down before releasing the ball, giving the safety time to drive on it.
If you’re going to throw it late, at least throw it outside and away from the potential defender. Lock not only was late with the throw, but was inaccurate with the placement which led to a house call.
Which leads us to the next big issue that popped up on Lock’s film from last week. Poor accuracy and ball placement. This is 3) on the list of questions I posed at the beginning. When Lock was finding open guys and making the right reads, he was missing them, routinely and badly.
The misses ranged from a routine checkdown like below.
To crossers over the middle.
To the worst one of the day on an open corner route to Fant, that left the second year tight end visibly frustrated after the play.
Against New England, the numbers were bad but there were several dropped balls that should have been big plays, and Lock was generally on point with his throws. This week, however, I place the blame squarely on Drew Lock’s shoulders. Pat Shurmur is getting guys open, and Lock is either not finding them or missing the throws.
Whether it was due to the snow, or just getting the yips against KC, or Spagnuolo’s defense giving him a little more trouble than the straightforward single high looks from Belichick, Lock just did not play well.
Like I said at the outset, this doesn’t mean anyone should be ready to give up on him, and isn’t an indictment on his whole body of work.....yet.
Right now, Lock isn’t doing the basic things you need an NFL quarterback to do. It’s as simple as that. We know he’s capable of better than what we saw last week, so hopefully we’ll see that come through in this upcoming game against the Chargers.
Here’s to hoping next week is a breakdown of Lock showing improvement in all these areas.