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Here's why the Broncos' offense remains in intensive care despite Drew Lock's efficient work in Week 16

Andrew Mason Avatar
December 28, 2021

On the one hand, Broncos quarterback Drew Lock did exactly what he could do in his Week 16 return to the starting lineup — with a game plan that was tailored to his strengths.

The two longest completions of the game for the Broncos — a 40-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy and a 20-yard strike to Noah Fant — both came out of play-action. Another near-miss — a potential deep pass down the right sideline to Courtland Sutton on the Broncos’ first series — was also off play-action from under center. When Lock was in the shotgun, a decent chunk of his success came on first reads and checkdowns. He bought time with his movement, too.

Lock played sensibly; most of his passes were accurate, although Fant reaching back to get a hand on a pass that was behind him possibly averted disaster, as two Raiders defenders were in position to potentially intercept the errant throw.

Most crucially, Lock did not turn over the football for just the third time in 21 career games played.

It was progress.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio saw that — but also saw room for improvement.

“You know, I thought he made some good throws. We had a chance on some of them. We didn’t quite make them, but I wasn’t terribly disappointed in his performance, either,” he said. “Obviously, it could be better.”

Of course, the Broncos’ offense as a whole could have been much better. And that made it difficult for Fangio to assess the scale of Lock’s performance, even after watching the film.

“Yeah, anytime you lose your running game — especially for us, that’s what we’ve done best this year — it makes it harder on the quarterback, there’s no doubt about that. And I think it’s hard to give a great assessment of Drew’s play yesterday, because as a whole offensively, we just didn’t play good enough, and it makes it hard to assess the quarterback position.”

With protection breaking down and an offensive line playing on its heels as the Raiders rushed, stunted and twisted their way into the backfield, none of it was enough for the offense to avoid a pedestrian output.

To wit:

  • The offense accounted for 13 points, but 10 of them came on drives of 1 and 4 yards set up by takeaways. Just one drive mustered more than a single first down.
  • Its 158-yard output in Las Vegas was its third-worst since 1993; the only two games worse in that span also came in the Fangio era — in Brandon Allen’s final start at Buffalo in 2019 and in the quarterback-less game against the New Orleans Saints last year.
  • The Broncos had just two drives that netted at least 25 yards on Sunday. With the exception of the QB-less game against the New Orleans Saints last year, the last time the Broncos had so few drives of at least a quarter of the field was on Nov. 26, 2017 — Paxton Lynch’s next-to-last start, a 21-14 loss at Oakland in which the 2016 first-round pick was injured in the second half and replaced by Trevor Siemian.
  • Denver went 1-of-10 on third downs — its ninth game with a sub-20-percent third-down conversion rate in the last three seasons. Only the Chicago Bears have more sub-20-percent third-down games in that span.
  • And, of course, the offense itself was held to just a single touchdown for the third time in the last four games and fourth time in the last six. In that six-game span dating back to the Week 10 defeat to Philadelphia, Denver has averaged 17.3 offensive points per game, ranking 24th in the league in that span. But if you remove the 38-point outburst against the hapless Lions from the equation, then the Broncos’ average in the other five games is a meager 13.2 points.

The Broncos have failed to surpass 14 points six times in their last 12 games. Only the Browns and Texans have been stuck at 14 or fewer points more often in that span.

If the Broncos offense was in the hospital, it would be in intensive care. Their vital signs would be failing and a Code Blue could be coming next.

“Have we scored enough points in those losses? No, we haven’t, but we have total faith in our players that we’re going to get this turned [around] offensively in these next two weeks,” Fangio said.

Specifically, he doubled down on his faith in beleaguered offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to revive the attack and generate some momentum in the final two games.

“Pat and I — and the offensive staff, for that matter — talk a lot,” Fangio said. “We have meetings regularly so yes, we do talk a lot about what we’d like the offense to look like, where we think we can improve on a week-to-week basis, taking a look at what we’ve done in the past few week, what we can change up, etc.

“Pat has a long history of being successful in this league, and I’m counting on that happening here these final two weeks.”

Doing so will require reversing so many trends, no matter who lines up at quarterback.


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