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Like every quarterback on the Denver Broncos roster, we’ve followed Paxton Lynch’s progress every step of the way as a pro, going even further back and analyzing extensive college tape on him as well.
Simply put, analyzing the exploits of the Broncos’ first-round pick is a Film Room staple. So we certainly weren’t going to miss an opportunity to dig into the tape and break his first ever performance in the NFL.
Paxton had five drives in this game worth noting when we eliminate his first pass on 3rd-and-7 and his final couple drives in which the team only ran the ball. Given all that, here’s what we found from Lynch’s first NFL appearance in which he drove the team to score 13 points and helped steer the ship to another important win, on the road nonetheless.
Protecting the ball
Paxton had two close calls on passes that could have been intercepted but generally kept things simple and safe. He forced a pass to the end zone, one that he lofted up too much on a 3rd-and-1 on the goal line at the very end of the half, with an underneath defender tipping the ball. On 3rd-and-11 he threw the ball to Demaryius Thomas right as he was cutting in on an In route and the cornerback jumped the route as Thomas had to play some defense on the pass.
Aside from the two missed third-down throws, Lynch was very reliable and made safe decisions. His ball placement was also on point, seldom putting him in danger of a defender affecting the pass, as he placed his throws where only his wide receivers could make the catch.
Showing off the gun
In his first NFL start, Paxton Lynch was not timid. He didn’t simply dink and dunk, throwing the ball vertically early and often. Lynch almost exclusively threw the ball in the 10 to 20-yard range, showing high-level zip and letting it rip to his receivers. He threw the ball with depth the entire game and was able to eat up yardage in a hurry because of that.
The Memphis product’s arm strength is easy to see as he just pushes the ball downfield with incredible ease. His potential arm talent is tantalizing, with the Broncos rookie showing off some nice accuracy on top of his power. Lynch wasn’t scared to air it out or zip balls into tighter windows either. He attempted two deep bombs, overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders on both plays, though again avoiding any risk.
Lynch’s release was on point, and the quarterback was making quick and decisive throws.
Lynch’s development in his ability to anticipate throws, for a rookie, was very impressive. He put the ball into tight windows without fear, throwing guys open and releasing the ball on time. Though he was often throwing the ball beyond 15 yards, his timing and quick release stood out beyond just his power and zip.
For a rookie who has the talent and traits that Lynch has, you’d expect a lot more dancing around and improvising to make big plays. However, that wasn’t the case with Paxton who managed to play within the offense and have success within the pocket, thanks to a combination of smooth footwork, quick and decisive delivery, and excellent power on his throws.
Because he was so decisive in the pocket, the Buccaneers defense rarely had opportunities to pressure him.
Under center vs. Shotgun
As mentioned above, Lynch started the game by throwing the ball out of the shotgun for his first nine passes as he was thrust into the game unexpectedly and during a two-minute drill situation. After that initial series, his snaps were much more evenly divided as he only had six passes out of shotgun the rest of the game, compared to 18 under center (three of those plays were penalties that don’t show up on the stat sheet as pass attempts).
The rookie had some of his best passes out of the shotgun, there’s no denying that, but his deepest throw came on a play-action pass in which he dropped back into the pocket ripped a 30-yard shot to DT. His comfort level in the pocket was extremely impressive, as his footwork was smooth and not mechanical and seemed improved from the preseason. He was decisive, reading his options quickly and getting rid of the ball without holding onto it too long, or being hesitant.
A handful of Paxton’s under-center throws came on play action bootlegs, a staple of the Broncos offense. One led to a nice 3rd-and-1 conversion to C.J. Anderson and another on his one touchdown of the game.
It’s not talked about much, but when you have a suffocating defense like the Broncos do, avoiding three-and-outs is crucial. It’s not rocket science, the more you shorten the game and keep your defensive unit fresh the better they’ll be, and in turn, the better chance Denver has of winning the game. In a bit more than a half of play, Lynch was able to avoid three-and-outs except for on one occasion. The two occasions when the Broncos did have to punt the ball, the team was in good field position.
Paxton also drove the offense to their only three scores that didn’t come off of defensive turnovers. His ability to eat up yards with 15 to 20-yard passes at a time allowed him to move the chains and get in good field position the entire game.
Areas for improvement
One of the few areas in which Lynch didn’t succeed was on third downs, the most important aspect of the game for a QB. When the team needed the rookie to drop back and pass, he converted just 3-of-8 third downs, making his only two dangerous throws in these situations.
A defensive holding call aided the young QB in converting another third down (that isn’t included in the conversion rate above). Third down is never an easy down to convert especially on longer down and distance, but Lynch didn’t always shine in these situations.
Keeping it simple
Lynch had a terrific performance in Tampa Bay considering the context. But the coaching staff played a big part in this, putting him in comfortable situations to ease things significantly for the rookie.
In Lynch’s first true drive, he played exclusively out of shotgun getting him in rhythm and making him feel comfortable. Remember, at Memphis Paxton was almost never asked to play under center.
On top of using him out the gun, the Broncos coaching staff also had Lynch taking three-step drops almost exclusively. Obviously, this is the simplest drop and allows him not to worry as much about his footing. Because of this, Lynch was able to deliver many throws to his first read. Essentially just reading his one target, going through his footwork and delivering the ball.
The first-round pick was utilized on bootleg play-action passes in which he was able to run and make throws on the move, an area of strength for him. At times, though, he did have issues with these throws.
All in all, Lynch showed important growth from his last preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. He was able to make significant plays within the pocket with sharp mechanics and smart decision making.
While the rookie was aided by some simplified play calling, there were very few negatives to his performance. After an offseason of uncertainty at the position, the Broncos appear to have two promising young QBs on their roster.