A one-two hunch

Siemian will start, but Lynch will get time vs. Raiders on Sun­day

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala

Trevor Siemian will start Sun­day when the Bron­cos host the Raiders in their reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale, but both he and rookie quar­ter­back Pax­ton Lynch will get play­ing time, coach Gary Ku­biak said.

The Bron­cos (8-7) head into their fi­nal game with noth­ing to gain, but the Raiders (12-3), play­ing with­out vet­eran quar­ter­back Derek Carr (bro­ken leg), have plenty on the line. A win or tie in Den­ver se­cures the AFC West ti­tle and a first-round bye in the play­offs for Oak­land. Which, of course, raises the risk in play­ing a rookie with only 2½ games’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

Oak­land’s de­fense — specif­i­cally, its pass rush — has run roughshod over the Bron­cos’ of­fen­sive line in re­cent meet­ings. In a 30-20 Bron­cos’ loss at Oak­land ear­lier this sea­son, Siemian was sacked twice and hit five times, while eight of his passes were de­flected. In a Week 14 loss in Den­ver last sea­son, Brock Osweiler was sacked five times — all by de­fen­sive end Khalil Mack — and hit 10 times.

Lynch played in his first NFL game in the sec­ond half of a Bron­cos vic­tory at Tampa Bay in Oc­to­ber, when Siemian sprained his left (non­throw­ing) shoul­der. Lynch started the next game, a home loss against At­lanta, and then again at Jacksonville as Siemian re­cov­ered from a foot sprain. In Lynch’s three games, he com­pleted 49-of-83 passes (59 per­cent) for 497 yards, two touch­downs and one in­ter­cep­tion but was sacked nine times.

“I’ve coached quite a few guys in the league and been through the ups and downs of a young quar­ter-

back,” Bron­cos quar­ter­backs coach and pass­ing-game co­or­di­na­tor Greg Knapp said of Lynch ear­lier this month. “He’s only played 2½ games. Your first year, you’re still learn­ing the of­fense. I don’t care who’s played, the first year is a learn­ing curve like no other be­cause it’s one thing just to learn the play­book, but then to have to go and ex­e­cute against a mov­ing de­fense, it takes time. I think he’s a done a good job of pro­tect­ing the ball for a young quar­ter­back.”

Although Siemian (and his team) are com­ing off their worst out­ing of the sea­son, he has av­er­aged 300.2 pass­ing yards in his pre­vi­ous six games and is 7-6 in his 13 starts this sea­son. Af­ter win­ning the start­ing job in Au­gust, Siemian has com­pleted 59.3 per­cent of his passes for 3,195 yards (245.8 per game), 16 touch­downs and nine in­ter­cep­tions for a passer rat­ing of 83.9.

But in­juries — the shoul­der and foot — have kept him out of two games and likely lim­ited him through­out the sea­son.

“I think it’s af­fected him a lit­tle bit,” Ku­biak said. “We all know early in the sea­son he made plays with his feet. We spoke about that. He started to do that again be­fore the foot is­sue, but also be­ing a pro in this league, be­ing a quar­ter­back, be­ing a leader you have to go out there and play when things are not per­fect for you. You have to still be able to get your team in po­si­tion to win. We watched a guy do that for many, many years. That’s part of play­ing that po­si­tion, so you do have to change your game some­times be­cause of some­thing that you have go­ing on phys­i­cally.”

At Kansas City on Sun­day, Siemian com­pleted only 17-of43 passes for 183 yards, zero touch­downs and one in­ter­cep­tion. But blame for the loss was shared by all — on the field and the side­lines. The de­fense gave up 243 yards and three touch­downs in the first quar­ter alone.

Spe­cial teams fum­bled twice, los­ing one. The of­fense recorded only their sec­ond touch­down of the past three games. And the play-call­ing in crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions raised ques­tions.

“That was ob­vi­ously not one of his best out­ings,” Ku­biak said of Siemian. “That’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence for him. That’s as tough a place as there is in foot­ball to go play as a quar­ter­back and han­dle your team. Even though he had been in there be­fore and watched Pey­ton (Man­ning) do it one year from the side­lines, it’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent be­ing that guy out there. He would be the first one to tell you (that) he has to play a hell of a lot bet­ter than he did, but that’s across the board. There are a lot of places that we have to play a lot bet­ter than we did (Sun­day) night.”

But the Bron­cos’ per­sis­tent of­fen­sive strug­gles, while con­found­ing, don’t rest solely on Siemian. Den­ver’s of­fen­sive line, es­pe­cially on the edges, has lagged in pass pro­tec­tion. The run game Ku­biak has tried to jump-start amid in­juries and per­son­nel changes has av­er­aged only 70 yards (3.11 yards per carry) in the eight games since starter C.J. An­der­son was lost to a knee in­jury.

And now, for the first time since gen­eral man­ager John El­way joined the Bron­cos’ front of­fice in 2011, Den­ver will be out of the play­offs. Sun­day’s fi­nale won’t change that, but it will af­ford the Bron­cos’ young quar­ter­backs more time, more reps and a chance to move past that sting­ing loss at Kansas City and onto to 2017.

Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak, left, and quar­ter­backs coach Greg Knapp hud­dle with quar­ter­backs Trevor Siemian, right, and Pax­ton Lynch dur­ing a time­out in the first half of Den­ver’s 33-10 loss to the Chiefs at Ar­row­head Sta­dium in Kansas City, Mo., on Sun­day night. Joe Amon, The Den­ver­Post

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pax­ton Lynch takes part in prac­tice at Dove Val­ley on Wed­nes­day. Steve Nehf, The Den­ver Post

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