Playoff hopes are on the line – and on QBs it can’t protect
The three most dangerous vocations in the United States: 1) Chain-saw juggler; 2) Squirrel-suit pilot; and 3) Broncos quarterback.
As Trevor Siemian limped through the Denver locker room Wednesday wearing a boot on his aching left foot, putting his availability to play against Jacksonville in doubt, rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch was engulfed by media seeking an answer: You ready for this, kid?
“I feel confident in me,” Lynch said Wednesday.
Lynch was given full command of the offense in practice as Siemian tried to recover in time to run for his life Sunday against the Jaguars.
“It’s kind of a pain in a butt,” Siemian said. He was talking about dragging around the cumbersome boot prescribed by the team’s training staff. He could have just as easily employed those same words to describe the physical pain of his job with the Broncos.
In a violent sport, one of the NFL’s bigger health hazards might be Denver’s offensive line, which has already gotten Siemian hurt twice this season and just might kill any shot the Broncos have of making the playoffs.
There’s a stat to break down why Siemian keeps breaking down. The Broncos are among the league’s worst four teams at protecting the quarterback. Denver has suffered sacks on 7.47 percent of its passing attempts in 2016, better only than Indianapolis (8.44 percent), Buffalo (8.86) and Cleveland (9.22). It’s probably no coincidence Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is recovering from a concussion, while the Browns have not found a way to win a single game but have managed to get four quarterbacks hurt.
There’s no questioning Siemian’s toughness. He stood and delivered three touchdown passes despite getting sacked five times during Sunday night’s overtime loss to Kansas City, when he was dogged constantly by Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who treated Siemian like a chew toy.
But the durability of Siemian must be considered a legitimate concern, whether we’re talking about his importance to the Broncos’ playoff aspirations in 2016 or how well his slender body can absorb the shots
every long-term starting QB in the NFL must endure. Siemian dinged his right shoulder during training camp, sprained his left shoulder at Tampa Bay and now hobbles toward Jacksonville. Detect the painful pattern?
So well-versed in the Denver offense that he doesn’t need to practice to be effective against the Jaguars, Siemian can play through pain. But will the injury compromise the mobility of a quarterback who already has been sacked 24 times while attempting 325 passes?
When coming off the bench to replace Siemian against the Buccaneers, Lynch looked good, throwing for 170 yards and a touchdown. But, the very next week, when Lynch got his lone start of the season, he did not have the luxury of adjusting his eyes to the speed and rhythm of the action from the sideline. As a starter, he seemed overwhelmed by Atlanta’s defense until the fourth quarter, after the Falcons had put the game out of reach.
“I’m definitely upset that I have a zero on the win column from my starts,” said Lynch, whose lone start began a slow, steady slide for the defending Super Bowl champs, who have dropped four of their last seven after a 4-0 start.
The Broncos traded up in the NFL draft to take Lynch with the 26th pick of the opening round, with general manager John Elway outmaneuvering the Dallas Cowboys, who also had their sights on the highly touted QB prospect from Memphis. The Cowboys were forced to settle taking Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott 109 selections after Lynch, in the fourth round.
All Prescott has done is everything, leading the Cowboys to a league-best 10-1 record, forcing longtime Dallas starter Tony Romo to make a concession speech and causing some snarky Broncos fans to wonder why Elway liked Lynch better in the draft.
“He’s doing well,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said, giving Lynch a vote of confidence. “He’s making progress.”
Here’s the tricky part for Kubiak when installing the game plan: Siemian is comfortable operating under center, in the run-first system favored by the coach. In order for Lynch to succeed, the Broncos might be well advised to let him operate out of the shotgun as much as possible. For all his inexperience, however, it should be noted that in limited duty, Lynch has completed a higher percentage of his passes and thrown interceptions at a slightly lower rate than Siemian.
A major reason Elway fired John Fox and hired Kubiak was in the hope a new coaching staff would be more efficient at developing the team’s young talent.
Is Lynch ready to step in for Siemian, if need be? Lynch had better be. “We can’t afford to lose this game, period,” Broncos linebacker Shane Ray said.
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian is tackled from behind by Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston during the Broncos’ overtime loss Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. John Leyba, The Denver Post
The Broncos’ Paxton Lynch, pictured being hit by Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley in the rookie quarterback’s lone start of the season Oct. 9, was in full command of the offense Wednesday. Associated Press file