How Broncos QB Trevor Siemian played in first NFL start
Trevor Siemian didn’t look like an All-Pro in his first start against Carolina, but he was more than passable, and that makes the Denver Broncos Super Bowl contenders once again, given the talent surrounding him.
The Broncos showed a year ago that they didn’t need All-Pro QB play to win a Super Bowl with this roster—they can get it done with average (at best) performances from their signal caller. When the team was looking for a new starter for 2016, the three-way QB competition wasn’t about which QB had the most upside, or who could put up 40 points in a game; instead, it was about which had the most poise down-to-down, and was the least likely to make a key mistake. They judged that to be Siemian, and on the basis of last night, they seem to be correct.
Siemian’s first NFL pass was a nice example of the kind of basic, quick thinking and calm decision-making with the ball that viable pro QBs need. It’s not often that you get anything significant out of a throw on a receiver screen, but on this occasion Denver did nothing to block the play-side DE, and he was standing right in the throwing lane when Siemian wanted to release the ball. Rather than try and loft it over him, taking the chance he wouldn’t make the play, or simple throw the ball away, Siemian calmly pump faked to get him in the air and then side-armed the pass accurately around him.
I’m not suggesting that, because of this one throw, we know Siemian won’t make mistakes or can take this team where it needs to go, but it was a nice, immediate example of veteran savvy from a guy who was throwing his first NFL regular-season pass.
He subsequently had two passes batted at the line, one of which was avoidable and ended up being intercepted by Panthers LB Thomas Davis, and the other of which was more a great play from DE Kony Ealy to save a certain touchdown in the end zone. Siemian wasn’t consistently perfect on even this type of throw, but it was good to see it right off the bat.
Best quality: Good decision-making
Siemian made some mistakes in this game, but they tended to be errors of execution rather than analysis. By and large, he showed good decision-making, able to process what was going on and adjust to make the correct decision and put the ball where it needed to go. His raw numbers aren’t that pretty, but he had a dropped pass, an excellent play from Ealy to save a TD, and there were at least two questionable no-calls where his receivers were held away from a well-thrown pass. His intermediate execution was good and he checked down quickly and efficiently.
Under pressure, Siemian was actually better than when he was kept clean, at least statistically. He completed seven of his nine passes when hurried for 74 yards and a score, with the only black mark being the underthrown interception, which was at least in the right area to go with the football on that play.
Perhaps most importantly, the Broncos trusted him to pass the ball. This wasn’t an offense devised to prop up a flawed QB, it was the full playbook with Siemian running it.
Biggest flaw: Often a fraction slow on read and release
I’m not trying to make out that Siemian was perfect, and we did see mistakes. The batted pass/interception was avoidable, had he fully appreciated the rush on that play, and the other interception was poor execution on a pass that needed to be left long if it was going to miss.
The biggest issue that I saw throughout the game, however, was a tendency to be late—he was often a fraction slow on his read and release, getting himself into trouble when a quicker decision and pass would have done the job.
Take this play down in the red zone in the fourth quarter.
WR Demaryius Thomas is going to break inside against Carolina’s cover-3, with the slot route having cleared out the underneath space. The break to the inside gives Thomas position over CB James Bradberry, and a quick pass would likely have seen him score after the safety backed up into the middle of the field in the end zone.
It wasn’t Siemian’s first read, but he sees it early enough to still make it work, and instead holds the ball just long enough that the safety is able to break on the route from the middle of the field and separate Thomas from the ball. Denver rode their luck on that drive, eventually punching it in, but this play could easily have been the difference between winning and losing the game.
On Denver’s final drive—the final play on offense for the Broncos, in fact (outside of the QB kneel)—Siemian again held the ball too long and was late, resulting in a sack where a completed pass would have come close to sealing the win. It was far from an easy play, but he had Jordan Norwood about to break to the outside from the slot and come open, and had the opportunity to put the ball in the air and trust his receiver would get to that spot. Instead, Siemian held it just a fraction too long, and then was forced to abandon it when he felt the pressure coming from his left.
Throwing late will get an NFL QB into some trouble. It could easily have cost Denver the game here, but the question for Siemian will be whether this something he can develop the longer he starts, speeding up his play to match the greater speed of NFL competition, or is this his fatal flaw that saw him last until the seventh round of the 2015 draft, billed as a comic afterthought to the real starting job competition in Denver?
Right now, Siemian looks good enough to do a job for this team, and that is really all they need from their quarterback—as long as the rest of the roster maintains the high level of play exhibited thus far.