Is Trevor Siemian the Problem in Denver?

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 11: Quarterback Trevor Siemian
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 11: Quarterback Trevor Siemian /

After the first two games of the season, the Denver Broncos believed they had their answer at quarterback in Trevor Siemian.

Admittedly a beneficiary of low expectations entering 2017, Trevor Siemian vastly outplayed former first-rounder Paxton Lynch in the pre-season. He then led the Broncos to a 2-0 start, scoring seven touchdowns and committing only three turnovers.

However, Denver has dropped three of their past four games after Sunday’s loss to the division rival Chargers. The offense has been mostly to blame, scoring only 42 points in that span (after putting up 42 points against Dallas alone). When offenses struggle, the blame largely falls on one person: the quarterback.

It’s true, number 13 hasn’t exactly been lighting up the box score the past few weeks. He has only two touchdowns and six turnovers since Week 3. If not for many, MANY garbage-time completions to running backs and tight ends, his numbers would look even worse. Beyond the stats, the Broncos’ loss at home to a team of New York Giant back-ups was one of the worst losses of the season for any team.

Denver is clearly struggling. But is the quarterback the root of the problem in the Mile High City?

Enter the offensive line. The story must be getting old for Bronco fans: Poor protection up front leads to turnovers and 3-and-outs. One of the best defenses of its generation is forced onto the field for far too long. Denver loses a close game.

You would think that having a former quarterback running things in the front office would lead to better protection for Siemian.

It’s not as if John Elway hasn’t tried. Denver’s biggest free-agency addition to their weakest unit was RG Ron Leary. In his 12 starts in 2016, Leary allowed no sacks, making him a top priority for Denver. Elway awarded the undrafted prospect out of Memphis with a 4-year, $36 million deal in hopes of shoring up the Broncos’ pass protection.

The team also gave a large contract to Menelik Watson. Oh, you don’t know who Menelik Watson is? Trust me, you are not alone. That’s because the oft-injured right tackle failed to even unseat Austin Howard in Oakland, who was one of the worst starting right tackles in the entire NFL in 2016. Yet, the Broncos deemed Watson good enough to start for them this season.

Finally, Denver used its first-round pick on Garett Bolles, who has started at left tackle since Week 1. While he hasn’t been completely awful, Pro Football Focus currently has him rated below average at number 38 among all offensive tackles in 2017.

Denver’s offensive line ranks 27th in the NFL in pass protection according to Football Outsiders, and it’s easy to see why. Though Watson was absent from the game on Sunday (a phrase Oakland fans are accustomed to reading), the loss provided a glimpse of what Siemian has dealt with this season.

Deeper Issues

Siemian needs a running game to be successful. However, C.J. Anderson toted the rock only ten times against the Chargers. That’s unacceptable.

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The Broncos had plenty of reasons to run more on Sunday. They were within reach the whole game (14-0 midway through the fourth quarter), the Chargers have the second-worst run defense in the entire league, and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were matched against a rookie and a guard.

Siemian isn’t a franchise QB, and he shouldn’t have to be. The defense is good enough to require very little out of the offense. He does, however, need to be put in positions to succeed with a strong run game.

Yet, the biggest problem facing Denver is neither the play calling nor the playmakers. It’s the big boys up front who need to perform better and get this offense back on track.

On Sunday, Los Angeles pressured Siemian from his first drop back to his last. Seemingly a sign of things to come, the pocket collapsed on the very first pass, and A.J. Derby promptly turned the ball over.

Fundamental Flaws

Facing a 3rd and four, Ron Leary inexplicably stood straight up upon the snap, leaned forward and lost his balance trying to get his hands on the defensive tackle. This poor technique led to Leary grasping for the back of a Charger jersey on a near sack. It would only get worse from there, as the entire line was fundamentally unsound for much of the game.

In the fourth quarter, RT Allen Barbre’s unbalanced stance kept him from even getting a hand on Chris McClain, who demolished Siemian and caused a fumble.

Denver’s best offensive lineman is likely their center Matt Paradis. However, he nearly got his quarterback killed because of poor mechanics.

A center in pass protection must keep his head up and look out for blitzes and stunts. During a pass in the first half, Paradis inexplicably leaned forward to double-team a defensive lineman with his left guard. Because he was leaning forward, when the lineman stunted away from him, Paradis fell forward with his eyes toward the turf.

This led to him missing the Melvin Ingram stunting back to the A gap on a full sprint. Ingram crushed Siemian on one of the most brutal quarterback hits this season.

It should be a priority to prevent pressure from up the middle. However, there were several times where Paradis stuck to double teaming on pass protection and left a free defender through the A gap. It’s possible that some of the pressures were the result of miscommunication with the guards. Yet that still falls on Paradis, as the center is typically the communicator for the offensive line.

Talent Gaps

Bad technique and miscommunication can ruin any offensive gameplan. But they become even more important when faced with the drastic mismatch of talent presented by the chargers.

Whether Barbre or Bolles attempted to stop him, Joey Bosa routinely collapsed the pocket on Sunday. Bosa drove Bolles back so quickly and effortlessly on one play that I honestly believed he was being blocked by a wide receiver. Bolles’ failures against Ingram and Bosa’s simple bull-rushes caused an interception, two near-interceptions, a sack and a holding penalty.

The Broncos resorted to cut blocking with their tackles, but it did them no good. Bosa bounced up from one attempt as if he were on a trampoline and finished a sack anyway.

Siemian is Still the Best Option

It’s hard to point out anything the Broncos offense did well Sunday. The stats show five sacks for the Chargers, but the film shows a 60-minute bloodbath for the Bronco’s O-Line. If it wasn’t for Trevor Siemian’s mobility and a LOT of missed holding calls, the Chargers would have taken him down several more times.

Siemian certainly has his flaws. His awareness could be better. His clock management has cost his team opportunities. Sometimes he doesn’t feel pass rushers sneaking up on him, leading to fumbles and sacks. And when he does feel pressure, he is more likely to throw on the run even though he has an opportunity to reset his feet. This leads to inaccuracy even on short throws right in front of him, often too high for or behind his receivers.

But Denver’s problem isn’t their quarterback. When given time, Siemian can make all the throws necessary to win in the playoffs. He generally makes good decisions and his mobility is a big asset for this team. He’s also very tough and isn’t afraid to take some contact to let plays develop.

But if the line performs like they did on Sunday, the Broncos won’t be able to take the deep shots that should make this offense explosive. If they subject the quarterback to a few more hits from All-Pro linebackers on full-out sprints, he may not be around at all.

Moving Forward

It won’t get any easier in Week 8. Denver hits the road to take on Kansas City on Monday night. With Justin Houston and Chris Jones up front, Siemian likely won’t have much more time to throw than he did on Sunday. When that happens in front of a national audience, many will call for Siemian’s job. But until the coaching staff finds a way to take pressure off whoever is under center, you can expect this offense to keep struggling.