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Broncos quarterbacks throwing deep in 2019 and 2020

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You need deep threat receivers, a QB with a strong arm and an OL that is decent to effectively throw deep in the NFL. Here’s how the Denver Broncos fared in the 2019 season.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

From NFL game reports, a deep pass is counted as a pass that travels 15 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. There are four things necessary in the NFL in order to be able to use the deep pass as a weapon:

  1. Receivers with the speed and the ability to catch deep passes - which are generally lower percentage options than short or medium depth passes.
  2. A QB that has the arm to get the ball down the field.
  3. An offensive line capable of giving the QB enough time for the deeper routes to develop.
  4. An offensive coordinator and head coach willing to call plays that will take shots down the field

For whatever reason, the Broncos did not do No. 4 - take shots down the field. The Broncos ranked 30th in deep pass percentage (deep passes/total dropbacks). Data comes from www.pro-football-reference.com.

Rank Team Plays 1st% TD 1D Int Dropbacks Deep %
1 TAM 152 44.1% 12 67 10 708 21.5%
2 LAC 128 41.4% 5 53 12 637 20.1%
3 DET 129 45.0% 10 58 12 642 20.1%
4 GNB 127 37.0% 10 47 1 635 20.0%
5 KAN 125 46.4% 16 58 2 625 20.0%
6 CLE 116 41.4% 7 48 9 597 19.4%
7 BUF 112 35.7% 6 40 5 596 18.8%
8 NYJ 106 34.9% 5 37 7 581 18.2%
9 SEA 110 40.9% 10 45 3 610 18.0%
10 DAL 115 46.1% 11 53 6 640 18.0%
11 PIT 98 28.6% 6 28 12 561 17.5%
12 BAL 86 39.5% 12 34 3 508 16.9%
13 CAR 120 29.2% 2 35 10 716 16.8%
14 CHI 108 40.7% 6 44 7 648 16.7%
15 MIN 83 44.6% 8 37 4 503 16.5%
16 IND 95 35.8% 4 34 4 580 16.4%
17 HOU 101 40.6% 9 41 6 632 16.0%
18 LAR 106 38.7% 1 41 5 664 16.0%
19 MIA 113 39.8% 8 45 6 713 15.8%
20 ARI 100 42.0% 6 42 6 634 15.8%
21 NYG 106 37.7% 12 40 9 678 15.6%
22 PHI 106 35.8% 6 38 6 678 15.6%
23 TEN 82 42.7% 4 35 2 532 15.4%
24 NWE 99 43.4% 7 43 2 651 15.2%
25 ATL 110 46.4% 6 51 6 755 14.6%
26 OAK 81 48.1% 5 39 2 566 14.3%
27 WAS 77 36.4% 3 28 6 546 14.1%
28 JAX 95 44.2% 8 42 3 682 13.9%
29 CIN 94 37.2% 6 35 7 680 13.8%
30 DEN 77 39.0% 3 30 3 566 13.6%
31 NOR 75 53.3% 9 40 3 620 12.1%
32 SFO 62 56.5% 8 35 5 526 11.8%

It is interesting to note that of the teams in the top five for deep ball frequency, only KC and Green Bay were good at it (in terms of TD:INT). Aaron Rodgers had 10 TDs and only one INT on deep passes in 2019. Pat Mahomes had 13 TDs and only two INTs (Matt Moore threw the other three deep TDs for KC). The first down percentage is essentially the completion percentage which averaged 41.0 percent on deep passes in 2019. Comparing the four teams who threw deep the least often, you see that the Broncos and Bengals were very different from the 49ers and the Saints. The Broncos and Bengals didn’t throw deep because neither team was very good at it. The 49ers and the Saints were very successful when they tried it (best completion percentages in the league), but they chose to pick their spots very judiciously. Note that this does not factor in defensive pass interference calls that teams “forced” on deep passes. PFF has that data if you have a subscription and want to dig into that.

So why did the Broncos not throw deep much in 2019? The first reason is that Elijah Wilkinson is not very good at pass blocking. Opposing defensive coordinators know this and they took advantage of him. Beyond him, Garett Bolles was also inconsistent. So none of our three starting QBs had the luxury of clean pocket very often for deep routes that take longer to develop. For QBs with a minimum 50 dropbacks, our three QBs were pressured at different rates (total times pressured/dropbacks).

Rk Quarterback Drpbks pressures Pressure%
1 Matt Barkley 53 5 9.4%
2 Drew Brees* 390 55 14.1%
3 Matt Schaub 69 10 14.5%
4 Eli Manning 153 23 15.1%
5 Nick Foles 127 20 16.0%
6 Andy Dalton 575 98 17.3%
7 Lamar Jackson* 463 76 17.9%
8 Tom Brady 643 118 18.4%
9 Jared Goff 658 123 19.0%
10 Brandon Allen 98 18 19.4%
11 Dak Prescott 639 122 19.7%
12 Matthew Stafford 319 61 19.7%
13 Philip Rivers 631 130 20.8%
14 Derek Carr 556 113 20.8%
15 Teddy Bridgewater 220 44 21.2%
16 Patrick Mahomes* 524 106 21.2%
17 Jimmy Garoppolo 524 109 21.3%
18 Kyler Murray 618 131 22.2%
19 Kirk Cousins 481 106 22.5%
20 Aaron Rodgers* 631 138 22.8%
21 Mitchell Trubisky 576 127 22.9%
22 Gardner Minshew 552 117 23.3%
23 David Blough 194 44 23.4%
24 Carson Wentz 670 151 23.4%
25 Baker Mayfield 591 135 23.5%
26 Kyle Allen 554 126 23.6%
27 Deshaun Watson* 583 130 24.1%
28 Cam Newton 96 23 24.2%
29 Drew Lock 172 39 24.2%
30 Jameis Winston 704 164 24.4%
31 Matt Ryan 685 163 24.5%
32 Devlin Hodges 183 43 24.6%
33 Ryan Tannehill 332 78 24.6%
34 Matt Moore 100 25 25.3%
35 Josh Allen 541 128 25.7%
36 Mason Rudolph 308 80 26.8%
37 Brian Hoyer 72 19 27.1%
38 Ben Roethlisberger 65 18 28.1%
39 Joe Flacco 293 81 28.1%
40 Chase Daniel 72 20 28.2%
41 Daniel Jones 521 141 28.4%
42 Sam Darnold 482 135 28.5%
43 Ryan Fitzpatrick 577 155 28.6%
44 Jacoby Brissett 507 137 28.9%
45 Case Keenum 265 78 29.8%
46 Russell Wilson* 609 177 31.4%
47 Marcus Mariota 198 60 32.4%
48 Dwayne Haskins 244 76 32.8%
49 Will Grier 63 20 34.5%
50 Jeff Driskel 128 44 37.9%
51 Josh Rosen 128 48 38.4%
52 Ryan Finley 104 38 38.8%
53 Luke Falk 89 37 41.6%

Brandon Allen was not pressured very often (10th lowest), while Drew Lock was in the middle (29th of 53) and Joe Flacco was near the bottom (39th of 53). Flacco was pressured the most frequently of the three. While Allen and Flacco had better passer ratings on deep balls (mainly due to completion percentage) - all three QBs had one TD and one INT on deep passes.

What’s telling is that Joe Flacco only attempted 37 deep passes in eight starts. Given his reputation as a QB with an arm and a willingness to throw deep, only four or five deep passes per game is much less that I would have expected. Here’s a comparison of all 51 qualifying QBs (min 10 deep attempts) deep passing results in 2019.

Rank Quarterback Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A 1D Rate
1 Matt Moore 10 15 66.7 293 3 0 19.5 9 149.3
2 Matt Schaub 6 10 60.0 129 1 0 12.9 6 137.5
3 Patrick Mahomes 50 110 45.5 1513 13 2 13.8 49 123.9
4 Drew Brees 28 51 54.9 755 8 2 14.8 27 123.2
5 Lamar Jackson 32 81 39.5 967 12 2 11.9 32 114.0
6 Gardner Minshew 35 70 50.0 1068 6 2 15.3 35 112.5
7 Russell Wilson 45 109 41.3 1374 10 2 12.6 44 111.5
8 Kirk Cousins 36 81 44.4 1157 8 3 14.3 36 108.7
9 Ryan Tannehill 27 59 45.8 829 4 1 14.1 26 107.8
10 Derek Carr 38 78 48.7 1008 5 2 12.9 38 105.4
11 Jimmy Garoppolo 34 61 55.7 954 7 5 15.6 34 104.7
12 Dak Prescott 54 115 47.0 1606 11 6 14.0 53 103.4
13 Aaron Rodgers 47 127 37.0 1419 10 1 11.2 47 102.4
14 Tom Brady 43 99 43.4 1130 7 2 11.4 43 101.0
15 Matthew Stafford 37 76 48.7 1085 7 5 14.3 36 98.0
16 Deshaun Watson 41 94 43.6 1290 9 6 13.7 39 95.8
17 Case Keenum 17 37 45.9 445 3 2 12.0 17 95.0
18 Ryan Fitzpatrick 41 92 44.6 1080 7 5 11.7 40 90.9
19 Teddy Bridgewater 11 23 47.8 315 1 1 13.7 11 90.4
20 Jameis Winston 66 152 43.4 1959 12 10 12.9 66 89.3
21 Joe Flacco 15 37 40.5 497 1 1 13.4 15 85.7
22 Jacoby Brissett 32 77 41.6 782 4 2 10.2 30 85.5
23 Brandon Allen 7 16 43.8 223 1 1 13.9 7 85.4
24 Matt Ryan 46 100 46.0 1279 5 6 12.8 45 84.2
25 Kyler Murray 41 97 42.3 1235 6 6 12.7 40 84.2
26 Eli Manning 11 26 42.3 369 2 2 14.2 11 83.0
27 Andy Dalton 33 80 41.3 970 6 6 12.1 32 80.7
28 Daniel Jones 29 80 36.3 787 10 7 9.8 29 76.4
29 Jeff Driskel 8 20 40.0 225 2 2 11.3 8 76.0
30 Baker Mayfield 49 114 43.0 1320 7 9 11.6 48 73.7
31 Carson Wentz 39 106 36.8 1101 6 6 10.4 38 71.3
32 Devlin Hodges 13 31 41.9 403 2 6 13.0 13 71.0
33 Sam Darnold 34 94 36.2 931 5 5 9.9 34 69.1
34 Mitchell Trubisky 38 99 38.4 996 5 6 10.1 37 67.6
35 Josh Allen 36 102 35.3 963 5 5 9.4 35 66.7
36 Nick Foles 7 25 28.0 176 2 1 7.0 7 66.4
37 Marcus Mariota 9 23 39.1 258 0 1 11.2 9 63.3
38 Cam Newton 3 13 23.1 109 0 0 8.4 3 62.0
39 Philip Rivers 56 127 44.1 1478 5 12 11.6 53 61.1
40 David Blough 14 33 42.4 450 1 5 13.6 14 60.0
41 Jared Goff 41 105 39.0 1047 1 5 10.0 41 59.5
42 Drew Lock 6 23 26.1 185 1 1 8.0 6 57.0
43 Josh Rosen 5 20 25.0 147 1 1 7.4 5 53.5
44 Mason Rudolph 16 56 28.6 452 4 5 8.1 14 47.3
45 Kyle Allen 30 92 32.6 858 2 7 9.3 30 43.7
46 Ryan Finley 3 13 23.1 89 0 1 6.8 2 23.6
47 Luke Falk 3 10 30.0 82 0 2 8.2 3 21.7
48 Dwayne Haskins 10 37 27.0 262 0 4 7.1 10 17.0
49 Brian Hoyer 5 17 29.4 102 0 2 6.0 4 12.5
50 Ben Roethlisberger 1 11 9.1 45 0 1 4.1 1 6.2
51 Will Grier 2 14 14.3 47 0 3 3.4 2 1.5

The fact is, none of our QBs threw deep very often in 2019. I think it was a different reason for all three, though. I think Flacco was afraid to throw deep, despite having two viable deep threats to throw to (Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton). In my opinion, Allen did not really have the arm to throw deep. This was on display in his final start against Buffalo where his limited arm exploited by the Bills defense. Lock has the arm and the willingness to throw deep, but he only had one viable deep option. This can be seen from his deep target selection.

Lock threw deep 23 times - 10 of those were to Sutton. Sutton had all three of our deep touchdown catches in 2019. Sutton was targetted on 33 of our 77 deep passing attempts - catching 14. Three of those were deep throw-aways that were not counted as a target of any receiver. Here are the Bronco receivers’ stats for deep passing targets in 2019. Note that this only shows Sanders’ stats with Denver.

Reciever Targets Catches Catch% Yards TD 1D
Courtland Sutton 33 14 42.40% 491 3 14
Emmanuel Sanders 9 4 44.40% 129 0 4
Noah Fant 11 4 36.40% 122 0 4
Tim Patrick 6 3 50.00% 104 0 3
DaeSean Hamilton 10 2 20.00% 55 0 2
Jeff Heuerman 2 1 50.00% 26 0 1
Fred Brown 1 1 100.00% 16 0 1
Devontae Booker 1 0 0.00% 0 0 0
Diontae Spencer 1 0 0.00% 0 0 0

Once Sanders was traded, it became much easier for opposing defenses to take away the deep ball option. All they had to do was double Sutton. Sutton’s 33 deep targets were tied for 15th most in the league. Top 20 deep receiving threats (from targets) shown below.

rank Receiver Tgt Rec Ctch% Yds TD 1D
1 Julio Jones 49 23 46.9% 611 0 22
2 Odell Beckham 45 17 37.8% 436 2 17
3 Kenny Golladay 45 23 51.1% 759 5 23
4 Mike Evans 42 18 42.9% 588 4 18
5 Robby Anderson 41 14 34.1% 432 3 14
6 John Brown 41 19 46.3% 506 5 19
7 Mike Williams 40 20 50.0% 624 1 19
8 Allen Robinson 40 20 50.0% 490 2 20
9 DeVante Parker 39 19 48.7% 605 6 19
10 Curtis Samuel 38 9 23.7% 240 0 9
11 Keenan Allen 36 15 41.7% 344 2 14
12 Jarvis Landry 36 18 50.0% 473 2 18
13 Tyler Lockett 34 16 47.1% 445 3 15
14 Courtland Sutton 33 14 42.4% 491 3 14
15 Amari Cooper 33 18 54.5% 534 4 18
16 James Washington 32 12 37.5% 431 2 11
17 Chris Conley 32 12 37.5% 333 3 12
18 D.J. Moore 32 13 40.6% 440 2 13
19 DeAndre Hopkins 32 15 46.9% 406 3 14
20 Marvin Jones 32 19 59.4% 437 1 19

So what about 2020? Our incoming most recent new offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, spent the last two years as the head coach of the Giants. The Giants, playing mostly with a highly drafted rookie QB, Daniel Jones, were 21st in deep passing frequency in 2019 (see table from the beginning of the article). I don’t know if that is a function of Shurmur’s willingness, or lack thereof, to push the ball down the field, a function of playing with a rookie QB who didn’t want to push the ball the field, or a function of not being able to push the ball down the field because of limited confidence in their receivers as deep threats. The Giants OL was worse than Denver at allowing pressure on the QB in 2019.

The 2019 Giants had three different players who got 20 or more deep targets: Darius Slayton, Golden Tate and Sterling Shepherd. That trio combined for ten of the Giants’ twelve deep touchdown catches. They also had Cody Latimer, who was targetted 10 times on deep passes. Those four wide receivers combined for 33 of the Giants’ 40 deep completions in 2019. If you include their WR5, former Bronco Bennie Fowler, their five wide receivers combined for 87 of the teams 102 deep targets in 2019. This means that unlike the Broncos Giants had plenty of deep threats at WR. They at least had three, maybe four if you count Latimer, who caught four of ten deep targets.

So it would appear that Denver needs another deep threat. I would like to believe that Noah Fant can become one. He was not one in 2019. In 2019 tight ends were not used as down-the-field threats very often across the league. Travis Kelce had the most deep targets for a TE with 24. Only five TEs finished the season with more than one deep target per game: Kelce, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, Zach Ertz and Hunter Henry.

I also have little confidence in DaeSean Hamilton becoming a deep threat. His two catches on ten deep targets did not inspire much confidence for his future. Maybe Tim Patrick can develop into a deep threat. His height and leaping ability show that he could be that for us, but his lack of speed limits his ability to threaten defenses down the field. So it would appear that the Broncos are going to need to draft another deep threat this year. Thankfully, this draft is loaded with WR talent, many of whom should be available at 15 if we want to use our first round pick on one. Alternatively the Broncos could bring in a free agent WR who is a legitimate deep threat. There are a few from the list above who are available this off-season, but I’d prefer to go the draft route.

Poll

What do you think was the main reason why the Broncos did not throw deep in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Poor pass protection
    (233 votes)
  • 20%
    Limited QB play for most of the season
    (120 votes)
  • 14%
    Only one deep threat at receiver for most of the season
    (85 votes)
  • 23%
    Coaches who didn’t want to call or couldn’t call plays that would lead to deep throws
    (140 votes)
  • 2%
    some other reason not mentioned here
    (13 votes)
591 votes total Vote Now