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Drew Lock was elite on playaction passes in 2020

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock was elite on playaction throws. Unfortunately, he was terrible on non-playaction throws which made up most of his drop backs.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pro-football-reference.com has some nice (and free) advanced stats on QB play. One of them shows how well QBs played on play action (PA) vs non-playaction. It had been noted by Joe Rowles from his discussion with some other statheads, that Drew Lock was really good on play-action passes and really bad on non-PA throws. So I wanted to dig into this and see how he compared to the other 34 qualifying QBs in the league.

So let’s first look at the non-playaction data for all 3 QBs.

QB Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk Y/A
Aaron Rodgers 269 386 69.7 3139 29 5 113.7 17 8.1
Patrick Mahomes 294 444 66.2 3672 33 5 111.8 20 8.3
Drew Brees 237 335 70.8 2512 22 5 108.0 11 7.5
Deshaun Watson 327 464 70.5 3989 22 5 107.9 40 8.6
Ryan Tannehill 223 323 69.0 2278 21 4 105.5 19 7.1
Derek Carr 286 430 66.5 3516 24 8 102.4 25 8.2
Josh Allen 293 412 71.1 3043 22 8 101.8 20 7.4
Russell Wilson 291 435 66.9 3174 28 10 100.1 41 7.3
Kirk Cousins 269 391 68.8 2979 20 9 98.6 31 7.6
Tom Brady 329 500 65.8 3514 28 8 98.2 18 7.0
Philip Rivers 315 457 68.9 3450 19 9 96.6 16 7.5
Ben Roethlisberger 373 560 66.6 3569 32 10 95.8 11 6.4
Gardner Minshew II 182 280 65.0 1896 14 4 95.2 22 6.8
Ryan Fitzpatrick 152 226 67.3 1750 12 7 95.2 11 7.7
Matthew Stafford 269 423 63.6 3125 23 9 95.1 38 7.4
Lamar Jackson 187 289 64.7 1990 17 7 94.2 23 6.9
Justin Herbert 304 468 65.0 3196 20 8 91.8 25 6.8
Teddy Bridgewater 282 402 70.2 3096 9 9 90.8 27 7.7
Kyler Murray 306 451 67.9 3094 17 10 90.5 22 6.9
Joe Burrow 216 325 66.5 2185 8 3 89.8 25 6.7
Mitchell Trubisky 128 201 63.7 1257 12 6 88.7 14 6.3
Matt Ryan 300 474 63.3 3149 17 8 87.4 36 6.6
Jared Goff 251 380 66.1 2568 13 9 86.8 19 6.8
Baker Mayfield 224 365 61.4 2422 15 7 86.6 16 6.6
Tua Tagovailoa 133 212 62.7 1348 8 5 83.6 17 6.4
Cam Newton 176 269 65.4 1794 7 7 82.2 24 6.7
Andy Dalton 172 272 63.2 1756 9 7 82.0 21 6.5
Daniel Jones 218 348 62.6 2226 9 9 78.8 35 6.4
Nick Mullens 151 240 62.9 1574 8 9 77.3 11 6.6
Carson Wentz 195 334 58.4 2037 15 12 76.1 35 6.1
Nick Foles 159 254 62.6 1384 9 8 75.6 14 5.4
Alex Smith 131 204 64.2 1217 6 8 73.9 21 6.0
Dwayne Haskins 125 205 61.0 1279 4 6 73.2 16 6.2
Sam Darnold 180 301 59.8 1666 9 9 72.5 25 5.5
Drew Lock 190 351 54.1 2159 9 15 63.6 12 6.2

Lock was 35th of 35. His passer rating of 63.6 was a step below Dwayne Haskins and Sam Darnold. On non-PA his passer rating was almost half of what Aaron Rodgers was (113.7). Lock and Haskins were the only two QBs in the league to have more INTs than TD on non-PA throws.

Now compare the above to PA passing stats below

QB Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk Y/A
Aaron Rodgers 103 140 73.6 1160 19 0 137.5 3 8.3
Deshaun Watson 55 80 68.8 834 11 2 132.0 9 10.4
Kirk Cousins 80 125 64.0 1286 15 4 124.5 8 10.3
Baker Mayfield 81 121 66.9 1141 11 1 124.0 10 9.4
Russell Wilson 93 123 75.6 1038 12 3 122.6 6 8.4
Justin Herbert 92 127 72.4 1140 11 2 122.2 7 9.0
Josh Allen 103 160 64.4 1501 15 2 120.9 6 9.4
Drew Lock 64 92 69.6 774 7 0 120.5 7 8.4
Tom Brady 72 110 65.5 1119 12 4 120.2 3 10.2
Lamar Jackson 55 87 63.2 767 9 2 116.4 6 8.8
Matt Ryan 107 152 70.4 1432 9 3 111.5 5 9.4
Andy Dalton 44 61 72.1 414 5 1 111.0 3 6.8
Kyler Murray 69 107 64.5 877 9 2 110.2 5 8.2
Ryan Tannehill 92 158 58.2 1541 12 3 108.6 5 9.8
Mitchell Trubisky 71 96 74.0 798 4 2 103.6 4 8.3
Nick Foles 43 58 74.1 468 1 0 103.2 4 8.1
Nick Mullens 60 86 69.8 863 4 3 103.0 8 10.0
Matthew Stafford 70 105 66.7 959 3 1 101.3 0 9.1
Gardner Minshew II 34 47 72.3 363 2 1 99.9 5 7.7
Philip Rivers 54 86 62.8 719 5 2 98.9 3 8.4
Teddy Bridgewater 58 90 64.4 637 6 2 98.2 4 7.1
Alex Smith 37 48 77.1 365 0 0 98.0 1 7.6
Ryan Fitzpatrick 31 41 75.6 341 1 1 97.7 3 8.3
Patrick Mahomes 96 144 66.7 1068 5 1 97.2 2 7.4
Jared Goff 119 172 69.2 1384 7 4 97.1 4 8.0
Drew Brees 38 55 69.1 430 2 1 96.8 2 7.8
Tua Tagovailoa 53 78 68.0 466 3 0 96.4 3 6.0
Derek Carr 62 87 71.3 587 3 1 96.3 1 6.7
Joe Burrow 48 78 61.5 503 5 2 90.9 7 6.4
Daniel Jones 62 100 62.0 717 2 1 86.1 10 7.2
Cam Newton 66 99 66.7 863 1 3 84.7 7 8.7
Ben Roethlisberger 26 48 54.2 234 1 0 74.5 2 4.9
Sam Darnold 37 63 58.7 542 0 2 73.6 10 8.6
Dwayne Haskins 23 36 63.9 160 1 1 71.5 4 4.4
Carson Wentz 56 103 54.4 583 1 3 62.1 15 5.7

Lock was 8th in passer rating on PA throws. Aaron Rodgers was unreal on PA throws completing 73.5 percent for 19 TD and 0 INTs. That gave him a passer rating of 137.5 on PA throws. Lock had a passer rating of 120.5 on PA throws. Like Rodgers, Lock did not throw a single interception on a play-action pass. Of course, Tua Tagovailoa, Nick Foles, Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger can also say that for 2020, but those guys combined for a total of five TD passes on PA throws - two less than Lock.

If we view this through the lens of how much better Lock was on PA vs non-PA, it almost gets sickening, particularly if you factor in that Lock only had 20.8% of his throws as PA throws.

Here’s the view of all 35 QBs and how they compared on PA vs non-PA.

So now we get to the question - why did Pat Shurmur not call more PA throws for Lock? If you look at the other two actual QBs that played for us this season (sorry, Kendall Hinton, you don’t count), you find that they were fairly low in terms of PA percentage, significantly lower than Lock. In fact, Jeff Driskell was one of only three NFL Qbs of the 53 with 40 or more attempts to have less than 10 percent of his throws as PA throws. Driskell was throwing off of playaction on only 9.4 percent of his throws. The other two QBs both played for the Steelers, who didn’t use play action at all as a team. Brett Rypien was not far ahead of Driskell. His PA percentage was 12.5 percent.

So while Pat Shurmur was not calling many playaction throws for Lock, he was calling them even less frequently for Driskell and Rypien. The Broncos finished the season 23rd in percentage of passes that were thrown from playaction. Why, you ask? I have no idea.

Playaction
Rank Tm ATTEMPTS PA ATTEMPTS PA %
1 TEN 481 158 32.8%
2 LAR 552 172 31.2%
3 BUF 572 160 28.0%
4 GNB 526 140 26.6%
5 NWE 412 109 26.5%
6 CHI 609 154 25.3%
7 SFO 570 142 24.9%
8 CLE 486 121 24.9%
9 KAN 588 144 24.5%
10 ATL 626 152 24.3%
11 MIN 516 125 24.2%
12 BAL 376 87 23.1%
13 NYG 514 114 22.2%
14 SEA 558 123 22.0%
15 MIA 557 119 21.4%
16 LAC 595 127 21.3%
17 DAL 598 125 20.9%
18 PHI 585 122 20.9%
19 CIN 546 113 20.7%
20 WAS 580 113 19.5%
21 DET 571 110 19.3%
22 ARI 558 107 19.2%
23 DEN 547 103 18.8%
24 NYJ 498 91 18.3%
25 TAM 610 110 18.0%
26 CAR 548 98 17.9%
27 LVR 517 87 16.8%
28 NOR 511 81 15.9%
29 IND 543 86 15.8%
30 JAX 616 91 14.8%
31 HOU 544 80 14.7%
32 PIT 651 50 7.7%

From what I remember of this injury-plagued season for the Broncos, our offense only worked when the running game was clicking like it was against the Dolphins.

So maybe the reason that Pat Shurmur was not calling much playaction is that opposing defenses were not fooled by it because they were able to stop our running game in many games with only their front four (or five). If the opponent’s LBs are not biting on the run fake, then PA become less effective.

I would love to ask Pat Shurmur why he didn’t call more PA throws since it seemed to work fairly well for the Titans, Rams, Bills and Packers - the top four in terms of percentage of throws that came from PA. All four of those teams are in the playoffs.

Of course the Broncos did not have a back like Derrick Henry (frankly, no one else did either), but they also didn’t have a QB like Josh Allen or Aaron Rodgers. You could argue that Lock is comparable to Jared Goff and that Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay were comparable to or better than the three RBs who got 100 or more carries for the Rams. So why did Kevin McConnell and Sean McVay call so much more PA than Pat Shurmur did? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe Drew Lock is not as good at selling the run fake as Jared Goff is. Maybe we need to bring Steve DeBerg in as a consultant to teach Drew Lock how to fake handoffs.

Poll

Drew Lock was one of the best QBs in the league on playaction passes, but the Broncos were 23rd in usage of playaction. Why?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Pat Shurmur doesn’t like playaction
    (248 votes)
  • 32%
    Our running game wasn’t good enough to lean as heavily on PA as TEN, LAR, BUFF and GNB
    (205 votes)
  • 2%
    Drew Lock is not good at selling the run fake
    (17 votes)
  • 13%
    Drew Lock’s PA success was fluffed up by games against terrible defenses that couldn’t defend the run or the pass
    (88 votes)
  • 11%
    something else
    (75 votes)
633 votes total Vote Now