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Tale of the Tape: How did Drew Lock engineer the thrilling comeback against the Chargers?

Going under the hood to break down the tape to see how the offense sparked the big comeback on Sunday.

On Sunday, we finally saw the offense we were all hoping to see from this young team, even if it took a few quarters to get there.

The Broncos completely turned the game around after being down 24-3 in the 3rd quarter, pulling off the best comeback since Peyton Manning’s 2012 comeback against the Chargers.

A big reason for this, was quarterback Drew Lock and the passing offense finally coming alive, after struggling for six and a half quarters, going back to the Kansas City game.

However, one of the biggest questions that has accompanied the win is “how did they do it?” Did Pat Shurmur finally start calling good plays? Did the offensive line finally start protecting? Did Drew Lock just have an epiphany?

That’s what we’re here to answer, as we dig into the tape from Sunday. Let’s do this.

Before we fully dive in, I can’t mention the comeback with shouting out Philip Lindsay, who played phenomenal on Sunday. So much so, that we’ll have a whole separate post on him. For now, we’ll be looking at Lock and the passing game.

Bottom Line

We’ll start with the bottom line at the outset. After watching the tape a couple times through, my grand assessment of how Denver was able turn things around after a terrible start is simply this - Drew Lock played better.

Now, there was a raising of all boats from an execution standpoint across the offense, the receivers made plays after the catch, made big catches, the offensive line protected well, and Pat Shurmur called a good game, as he has been doing all this season, in my opinion.

But, Lock simply just elevated his play, it seemed to click for him, and that made the biggest difference. We broke down last week some of the things that Lock wasn’t doing that he needed to if he wanted to be an NFL quarterback, and this week we saw a reversal in those areas in the 4th quarter.

The first thing that stuck out to me was Lock’s footwork and his pocket presence. He stayed in the pocket, stood tall, and didn’t flush out too early like we have seen from him this season.

The tweet above has a whole thread of clips you can check out, where Lock stayed in the pocket, didn’t drift, and stepped into his throw. The difference when he has clean mechanics as opposed to when he’s throwing off his back foot or drifting in the pocket is night and day.

Second, he was reading the defense and finding check-downs and outlets when the play wasn’t there. This is where I want to be clear, Pat Shurmur didn’t change his approach to the game or to Lock in the 4th quarter.

The offense dialed in a little better on how to attack the Chargers defense, but Shurmur has been feeding Lock open receivers all season and they have either been not seen or missed on the throw, as we looked at last week.

It just seemed that Lock was finally picking up what Shurmur was putting down, they had a clear plan on how to attack the Chargers, and Lock was seeing it on the field and executing it. It really was a thing of beauty.

Middle of the field

The big area that they were able to find and exploit against LA was the intermediate middle of the field. The Chargers were in Cover 3 for most of the game, which means they had a deep shell on the outside and deep middle, with four underneath defenders squatting short. The area to attack Cover 3 is up the seams and in the deep intermediate middle of the field.

Here’s an example.

Denver runs Fant on the underneath hook to draw the underneath defenders, and Hamilton runs a post behind it. Shurmur is giving Lock a simple ‘if/then’ read. If the defenders bite down on Fant, throw the post. If they bail to cover the post, check it down to Fant.

The defenders did indeed bite down, as you can see above. This left plenty of green grass over the middle for Hamilton, as the corner was playing outside leverage based on the tighter splits Denver aligned in.

You can clearly see Lock immediately throw the post as soon as the underneath defenders bite on Fant’s route. Nice job recognizing where he needed to go with the ball, and getting it there.

On this play, it was a 3rd and 16, so you knew the underneath defenders were going to be playing deep. So Shurmur had to draw it up a little different to stretch them out vertically and come over the middle behind it.

Jeudy is going to run a deep dig route underneath the two inside receivers clearing out the defense over the top.

Lock’s job is to find the hole between the two underneath defenders, and he does an excellent job ripping it into not a very big window downfield.

The other part of attacking Cover 3 is up the seams.

Remember this play from two weeks ago against New England?

Everything was there for the touchdown, but Albert Okwuegbunam couldn’t haul it in.

This time, they dial up the exact same concept, with the outside receiver creating space for Albert O to work over the middle.

He nods to the out route, and then turns up the seam. Lock fires a perfect ball in through traffic, and Albert O comes down with his first NFL touchdown. Credit to Shurmur for coming back to something that should have worked a few weeks ago, and for Lock and Okwuegbunam to finish it this time around.

Final Play

I saved the best for last. That last play was impressive for a couple of reasons. You are on the goal line for the final play of the game, so you need your best play. Hard to argue with Shurmur’s choice here.

He first draws upon a jet motion run action that Denver had just run earlier in the drive, and also on Lindsay’s big touchdown, so the tendency was there for the defense to pick up on.

So, they have Hamler, the fastest player on the field taking off at the snap, to the pylon, forcing his defender to run through traffic to get to him.

Lock is on a sprint out right with three different options, ultimately and does a great job extending the play enough to force the flat defender to commit to him, freeing up Hamler for the score.

Excellent play, and excellent execution.

Final Thoughts

In my estimation, the difference in this game and for this offense is that Lock seemed to be picking up what Shurmur was putting down. The execution was better across the board, and the offensive line stepped up big time, but Drew Lock improving was really what sparked this offense.

This should be very exciting for Broncos fans, as this is what we have been wanting to see from Lock all year. Hopefully they can build on this momentum and stay hot against a bad Falcons defense this week.

I want to see it happen for a second week in a row, but it seems as though Lock is beginning to ‘get it’ in this offense, which is fun to see.

Let me know your thoughts or any questions you have below!