Tape Don’t Lie: Trevor Siemian should not be the Denver Broncos’ Starter

Trevor Siemian

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) passes the football against the Oakland Raiders during the first quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Siemian is no longer a stabilizing force on offense, and the Broncos don’t have a passing game. Gary Kubiak’s play-calling as of late hasn’t been much help.

Bronco fans have two elections this week. The highest office in all Broncos Country is becoming a topic of fierce dispute with the Saints and their “leave everybody open” defensive strategy on tap. If Trevor Siemian doesn’t kick the passing game into gear against the NFL’s defensive punchline, he’s in trouble.

This would be the ideal time to bench him and start the rookie, as the bye week would allow Paxton Lynch additional 1st team reps. There are plenty of other good reasons to do so, as detailed in Steven Kriz’s excellent column in favor of starting Lynch.

Consider this one opposed to Siemian. I like him, but he looks more like a competent backup than a playoff quarterback. Paxton Lynch’s accuracy has been all over the place in his short stint on the field this year, and frankly I don’t have much more faith in him either.

Long-term, I’m in love his skillset. I said in the preseason that he had a handful of plays where he looked like the football lovechild of Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers.

The problem is that Lynch has a massive learning curve. This is the first offense that he’s ever played in that huddles to call the play….huddles!!

My head almost exploded when I learned that. High school and college football is so dramatically different from where it was five or ten years ago.

Lynch has an absolute cannon, and he unlocks a greater portion of the Bronco playbook. Siemian has struggled as of late, but that’s not entirely his fault, as Kriz wrote:

It would be completely unfair to pin these struggles directly on Trevor Siemian.  The play-calling has been a complete atrocity.  The insistence on coming out of the gate passing the ball is completely mind-boggling.  Gary Kubiak states week after week a need for balance—yet the play calling directly contradicts what he says he wants to do.

Atrocity is harsh, but it may not be strong enough of a word. In game one, when no one had a clue what to expect out of Siemian, it was cagey for Kubiak to open by throwing the ball. It caught the Carolina defense off-guard, and by the time they adjusted, they didn’t know what to expect. However…

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak stands on the sideline during action against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

…like any surprise, the law of diminishing returns will rear its ugly head and render it completely unsurprising at some point. Kubiak has yet to abandon this strategy where he thinks he’s zigging when the rest of the league is zagging.

In reality, he’s still zigging while the NFL has zagged, then zigged, then zagged again, and now are back to zigging. It’s time to change things up. Here are the first twelve offensive plays from last week’s game:

Incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, (punt), incomplete, 2-yard run, incomplete, (punt), 3-yard run, incomplete, 4-yard completion, (punt), 4-yard run, 1-yard run, incomplete (punt).

By the time Kubiak adjusted to the run, the Raiders knew he had to anyway. Frankly, if the play-calling isn’t going to change, then it doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback.

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) is tackled by Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Darius Latham (75) after throwing an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Siemian has played poorly as of late, but I assumed a lot of it was due to his injured shoulder. Even though it is not his throwing shoulder, it still has sapped his power and some of his accuracy as he cannot fully follow through on every pass.

However, once I put on the tape, it was the same story from all my profiles on him in the preseason. He looks to the check-down far too often (but not to the RB, just the TE and WR checkdowns which is extra maddening).

What’s different from the preseason are his reads. Against vanilla defenses, he knew which throws were open and showed off his accuracy on short passes to win the job.

It took the NFL about a month to catch up on the 7th round unknown. Here’s their second play of the game against the Raiders last Sunday.

Demaryius Thomas turned the DB’s hips and is breaking open into a clear throwing window. Meanwhile, the safety is reading Siemian’s eyes that are locked on to a covered Sanders.

There’s a decent chance that could have been a touchdown if he hit DT in stride. On the next play, we see the Raiders jumping all over Siemian’s tendency again.

DJ Hayden (#25) is so certain the checkdown is coming that he’s pointing to the safety to run down and cover the zone that DT’s route is flowing into. Meanwhile, Sanders is wide open on a slightly deeper in route.

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) is stripped of the ball by Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) during the during the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has a simple plan to nullify Trevor Siemian’s greatest (only?) strength: play a short zone and let the safeties crash down to fill in the gaps.

This exposes defenses to the big play, especially on play action. Take a wild guess as to what’s coming next.

If you’re not seeing it, watch DT at the bottom of the screen.

Got it?

Good. A C- throw to DT is definitely a touchdown. One that would have opened up the Raiders defense considerably had Siemian had any thought to throw it deep.

Instead, he locked on to the lower levels, threw across his body, and effectively took 6 points off the board for the Broncos. These are the plays that put quarterbacks on the street.

So are ones like this:

This could very well be his bum shoulder affecting his accuracy, but if the injury is that bad, Lynch needs to step in. Throws like these to the sideline are what won Siemian the gig, and this is not the only bunny he flat out missed last Sunday.

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) passes the football against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

This one goes down as a completion and a solid play in the box score even though it’s an average play by the QB at best.

Let’s freeze the moment of truth:

That ball should already be on its way to Emmanuel Sanders. He’s almost through his break and Siemian is still holding the ball. Siemian is a slave to his routine.

He waits to get to the top of his dropback to decide, sometimes takes an unnecessary step forward, then throws. His robotism doubles as one of his best assets and ultimate downfalls.

If that pass is in the air and on target by the time Sanders makes his cut, all he needs to do is beat the last DB to the edge or break a tackle and at the very least, the Broncos move into field goal range.

Here’s another mess that highlights the deficiencies in Siemian’s game right now.

The Raiders line up playing 3 on 2 to the bottom of the screen; 4 on 2 once the middle linebacker swings out to take away the short middle. Siemian locked on to this side because…um…initially I thought that the CB on Norwood was a LB, but that’s our friend DJ Hayden again. Now I’m just confused (this could be another example of his shoulder injury taking away the far half of the field).

Meanwhile, to the top of the screen, they’ve allocated 3 defenders for 3 pass catchers. The Broncos miss an easy first down to Sanders (who has his hands up in the air in the middle of his route) because Siemian couldn’t adjust off his pre-snap read even when the MLB dropped right into his field of vision.

Siemian’s one saving grace amid all these struggles has been his willingness to take shots downfield. He may be locked in to the short pass, but he’s not a cult member like Alex Smith. That said, his accuracy gets spottier the further down the field you go, and he can get jumpy in the pocket.

McManus kicked a field goal at the end of this drive so we’ll only say Siemian cost the Broncos 4 points on this play, for a total of at least 13 in the first half. That’s a clean pocket, but for some reason Siemian keeps drifting away from the line and towards Khalil Mack’s side.

The result is Mack getting in Siemian’s face and juuuuust affecting the throw enough when he never would have had the chance if the Northwestern grad stayed in the pocket. That first half was as bad as I’ve seen from a Bronco QB this year.

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) reaches for a first down marker as Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (41) defends in the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one play that summarizes the Broncos offense right now, it’s this:

They call the outside WR in + inside WR/TE go routes a billion times a game. Your grandmother knows how to counter it by now.

Watch DJ Hayden let Jordan Norwood go to the next level to break off his coverage and smother the obvious underneath route that has become the Denver offense. Defenses are abandoning traditional man to man concepts because they know they don’t have to cover everyone downfield.

If there’s one image that summarizes the Trevor Siemian ride right now, it’s this:

I don’t know about you, but I see at least ten yards of green in front of him. The only immediate threat is the defensive tackle 7 yards away, but Donald Stephenson looking back at Siemian to run so he can start blocking the DT downfield.

The Raider standing at the 15 likely would have forced Siemian to slide in between the 20 and the 25. Siemian threw this pass away and was rightly flagged for intentional grounding. That penalty proved that he’s either too hurt to play or simply not reading the field well enough to be a starter. Either way, these mistakes can’t continue to happen. My mental wellbeing can’t take it.

The Broncos left at least 20 points on the field in Oakland, and the bulk of the blame can be placed on the quarterback and the play-caller. Kubiak isn’t fooling anyone right now and hasn’t for the last month. Meanwhile, Siemian isn’t doing him many favors.

Paxton Lynch can take the top off a defense with both his arm and his legs. If Trevor Siemian makes these same mistakes against an even worse defense than the Raiders’ on Sunday, the Broncos must roll the dice on the more talented option behind center.

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