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Just one great game, or a glimpse of things to come for Drew Lock?

One great game, or a glimpse of things to come for Drew Lock.

Denver Broncos v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Since the start of the 2015 season, Broncos QBs have only had 13 great games (defined as having a passer rating of 100 or better). Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning and Brandon Allen own one of those apiece. Brock Osweiler owns three of those. Trevor Siemian owns five and now Drew Lock owns two. So in three games shy of six full NFL seasons, the Broncos have gotten stellar play at QB in 13 out of 77 games - 17 percent of the time.

Drew Lock’s two games are his start against Houston in 2019 and yesterday. Lock had a passer rating of 149.5 yesterday, which is amazing, and had a passer rating of 136.0 against Houston in 2019, which is also really good.

So I’ll start with the bad news. Trevor Siemian looked really good in five of his 24 starts for us in 2016 and 2017. In the game against CIN, Siemian completed 23 of 35 passes for 312 yards, 4 TDs and 0 interceptions. I distinctly remember that game. They didn’t think that Trevor had the arm to throw deep so they were leaving their CBs on islands against our receivers. Siemian burned them with a 41-yard bomb to Emmanuel Sanders and a 55-yard dime he dropped on Demaryius Thomas. Siemian had a passer rating of 132.1 in this game.

In Siemian’s other great game, he dissected the Cowboys defense in 2017. The Cowboys defense in 2017 was actually decent, finishing 13th in points allowed. The Broncos used the running game to set up the pass in the 42-17 blow out of the Cowboys. CJ Anderson and Jamaal Charles combined for 164 yards rushing. Trevor only threw for 231 yards (completing 22 of 32 throws), but he threw 4 TDs and only 1 pick in this game - which was good for a passer rating of 116.0.

The problem with Siemian and every QB that has been our starter since 2016 is that they exposed their weaknesses to opposing defensive coordinators and were never able to overcome them. This has led the rash of poor QB performances we have gotten. Note that this tweet is about a month old right now, so I need to update the chart, but you can see 12 of 13 great games fairly clearly here.

So now the good news. Sometimes QBs just “get it” after a certain number of NFL games. The game slows down for them. Reading the field gets easier. Reading defenses gets easier. Finding the open man gets easier. Generally if this is going to happen, it happens during or after the quarterback’s second season as an NFL starter.

Unfortunately, no inexperience QB who has finished as the worst starting QB in the league this century, has ever gone on to be a “good” NFL QB. FWIW, Drew Lock is no longer the worst starting QB in the league. His performance on Sunday moved him ahead of Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold. His passer rating jumped all the way up to 74.8. Lock is now within striking distance of Daniel Jones (78.2) and Cam Newton (78.9).

That being said, two guys who finished near the bottom of the barrel have gotten significantly better: Drew Brees and Josh Allen. So let’s talk about both.

Drew Brees was one of the first college QBs to be wildly successful in the spread offense. He was a three-year starter for the Boilermakers completing 61.1 percent of his college passes (which was really good for the late 90s, not so much now), for 11792 yards, 90 TDs and only 45 picks. His 2:1 TD:INT was also quite good at that time (it’s not very good in modern BCS college football). Brees was projected to be a mid-to-late first round pick but he fell to the first pick in the second round (actually the 32nd pick because one team lost a first round pick) because of concerns about his arm strength, he height and his “inflated” college stats.

Charger rookie quarterback and first round draft pick Drew Brees watches the action from the sidelin Photo by Vince Compagnone/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Brees only appeared in one game as a rookie. He was the backup to Doug Flutie who was near the end of his career and whose skills had dramatically declined. Flutie led the Chargers to a 5-11 record in 2001 throwing 15 TDs and 18 INTs. This would be Flutie’s final season as a regular starter at QB. The Chargers would give the job to Brees in 2002.

Drew Brees would be the 24th of 32 qualifying QBs in his first season as a starter (passer rating of 76.9). He would start 16 games and complete 60.8 percent of his passes for 3284 yards, 17 TDs and 16 INTs. That Chargers would go 8-8 in his first season as a starter. Drew would actually play worse in his second season as starter. He would only start 11 games and a shoulder injury in game eight against the Bears would severely limit his effectiveness. Brees would only complete 57.6 percent of his passes for 2108 yards, throwing 11 TDs and 15 picks. Brees would finish that season 28th out of 32 starting QBs in passer rating.

Brees’ struggles would lead the Chargers to use fourth overall pick on the Philip Rivers. The Chargers were worried about whether Brees would ever turn into their franchise QB. Brees’ first two seasons as a starter really did not give the Chargers much to hope that he would someday be an all-time great NFL QB.

For whatever reason, Drew Brees made a huge jump in performance in his third season as an NFL starter. In his first 27 NFL starts, he had a passer rating of 73.1, he completed 59.5% of his passes and he threw 28 TDs and 31 INTs. He had three games in his first 27 where he had a passer rating of 100 or better and one of them was his first career start where he had his best game in his first two seasons completing 15 of 19 throws for two touchdowns and no interceptions (passer rating of 136.8).

In his third year as a starter he completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 3159 yards 27 TDs and only 7 INTs. His passer rating for the season was 104.8 which was 3rd best in the league, behind Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper. Brees had eight games with a passer rating of 100 or better in 2004. So he went from 3 great games in his first 27 starts to 8 great games in his next fifteen starts. He only started 15 games for the Chargers as 11-4 Chargers would be able to sit him for game 16 (Flutie started, but Rivers played some).

Brees would play well in 2005, just not as well as he did in 2004. He would move to 10th in passer rating (89.2) throwing 24 TDs and 15 INTs. A shoulder injury in the final game of the season (a loss to the Broncos) would end his stint as the starter for the Chargers. The Chargers would trade him to New Orleans in the off-season. Despite regressing some in 2005 relative to 2004, Brees would still have six games in 2005 where he had a passer rating of 100 or better.

I was unable to find documentation of what changed for Brees between 2003 and 2004. It’s possible that Lock could make the same kind of quantum leap, but Brees is an exception. The vast majority of guys who start for two seasons and are in the bottom of the league as NFL starting QBs don’t make quantum leaps and become elite. Most don’t even become good.

Josh Allen is another exception, although his arc is different from Brees. Allen was taken with the 7th overall draft pick in the 2018 draft (so yes, Denver could have drafted him). Allen was not a very accurate passer in college (similar to Lock) completing only 56.2 percent of his passes while at Wyoming. Allen was also only a two year starter. He played in one of the weakest conferences in the BCS and he was a “project” QB by most people’s reckoning.

Many of his peers at the college level were completing 65-70 percent of their passes. For those who haven’t been beaten over the head with this stat yet, Tim Tebow completed 66.4 percent of his passes in college. Five BCS QBs completed 70 percent or better of their throws in 2019 - Joe Burrow, Tyler Huntley, Kedon Slovis, Anthony Gordon and Ty Storey. Josh Allen was tied for 77th in completion percentage his final season at Wyoming. He was worse than Lock (57.8), Gardner Minshew (57.2) and Daniel Jones (56.7).

In Allen’s best college season he completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 16 TDs and 6 INTs. He also ran for five TDs that season.

Josh Allen did not begin the season as the starting QB for the Bills in 2018, but he did play in the first game when Nathan Peterman had one of the worst games ever for a starting NFL QB. Peterman completed 5 of 13 passes for 24 yards and 2 picks. The Bills lost 47-3. Allen came in and completed 6 of 15 for 74 yards. He also ran for 26 yards. Allen would start games 2-6 for the Bills before getting injured and missing the next four games. He would start games 11-16. He would have two great games in his first 11 starts. The first would be against the Vikings where he would have a passer rating of 111.2 - completing 15 of 22 for 196 and one touchdown. He would also run the ball 10 times for 39 yards and two TDs. His other great game as a rookie would come in week 17 against MIA. Allen would complete 17 of 26 for 224 and three TDs with one pick. He would also run nine times for 95 yards and two TDs in the 42-17 rout of the Phins. He would have a passer rating of 114.9 in this game.

That being said, Allen would have some really bad starts in his first 11. He would finish with a passer rating of 67.9 (29th of 30) and a QBR of 49.8 (25th of 30). Among qualifying starting QBs his completion percentage of 52.8 would be dead last. He had four starts with a passer rating of 53 or less.

What Allen did, and what many guys who are bad QBs as rookies do, is he improved marginally in his second season. Allen improved his completion percentage from 52.8 to 58.8, his TD:INT ratio from 10:12 to 20:9, and his passer rating from 67.9 to 85.3. Interestingly enough his QBR actually went down from 49.8 to 47.9 - go figure.

This allowed Allen to go from 29th of 30 starting QBs as a rookie to 24th of 32 in 2019. What’s interesting is that his QBR rank among starting QBs was the same (25th of 32). In terms of QBR he was better than Minshew, Sam Darnold, Case Keenum, Mitch Trubisky, Andy Dalton and Mason Rudolph. Of those, only Darnold has been the main starting QB for his team this season.

Josh Allen started sixteen games for the Bills in 2019 and had six starts where he had a passer rating of 100 or better. What has been astounding about Josh Allen is his year over year improvement between his second year as a starter and this season. He currently has a passer rating of 103.3 which is 7th best in the league. In terms of QBR he is currently 6th. He has only had one game this season with a passer rating below 70 (Lock has had four, not counting the PIT game). In Allen’s worst game this season he still competed 11 of 18 throws for 154 yards with one pick. He also ran for a TD in that game (a 24-21 win over the Patriots).

Josh Allen’s accuracy has gotten better each year. He had a bad throw percentage of 25.7 as a rookie, 20.3 last season and that has gone down to 12.9 percent this season. What’s interesting is that his on target percentage is the same this year (73.2 percent) as it was last year, according to PFR. It should also be noted that Josh Allen has had the same offensive coordinator for all three NFL seasons, Brian Daboll.

So what, if anything, does this tell us about Drew Lock, who played his most complete game on Sunday against the Panthers. Lock has actually regressed this year from a bad throw perspective with only 17.8 percent of his throws being classified as bad throws in 2019 and 23.7 of his throws being “bad” this season so far.

However, I don’t remember one “bad throw” against the Panthers. This is a sign of growth (Lock was taking the short throws again and again). Lock was doing something that he has done very little of in his previous 15 starts, he was taking the lay-ups and not trying for three pointers. This is great until opposing defensive coordinators start having their DBs sit on the short routes. When this happens, limited QBs like Trevor Siemian are toast. Thankfully, Drew Lock has the arm to make deep throws and the speed in his receivers to really hurt opposing defenses that overplay the short routes.

Lock goes from facing one of the worst secondaries in the league (26th in passer rating allowed) to one of the better ones in BUF (14th in passer rating allowed). He also goes from facing a pass rush that is 27th in league at generating pressure to one that is slightly better. The Bills are currently 23rd at pressuring the opposing QB. The Bills are currently 15th in points allowed. The Panthers are 21st after Sunday. So yes, the Bills present more a challenge than the Panthers did, but they are a defense that Drew Lock can beat with his arm if he plays within himself like he did on Sunday.