Gut Reaction: Denver, We Have A Problem

I know many of you folks here aren’t going to like what I’m here to tell you tonight.

But after watching the Broncos turn in a miserable performance against a Giants team that they were supposed to walk away with a victory over, it’s time to point out where the real problems are with the team.

No, it’s not that the defense has been proven to be a farce (though there were issues tonight). It’s not that the Broncos are snake bitten at the right tackle position (though it’s far from being solved). And it’s not that the Broncos don’t have an explosive playmaker at tight end (though they could use an upgrade — perhaps a healthy Jake Butt can be that guy?)

It starts with the real culprit for tonight’s struggles on offense and that’s the quarterback, Trevor Siemian.

I’ve wanted to see Siemian do well. I think he’s done some good things in past games — he looked pretty darn good against the Cowboys. And while it’s true their secondary was banged up, the Cowboys still had a good defensive front and got pressure on him, but he stayed confident in the pocket.

But the past three games, Siemian hasn’t made improvements as a passer, particularly when it comes to his pocket awareness and his decision making. He’s falling into the same trap that Paxton Lynch fell into during the preseason, in that he locks onto his first read too much, with the only difference being that he doesn’t take off running if that read isn’t open, but instead tries to force the throw.

When Siemian makes the throw, it looks good. When he doesn’t, though, the results are disastrous. That’s particularly true with the pick six he threw — Janoris Jenkins saw the play develop and was right where Bennie Fowler was. And on his second pick, Siemian had time in the pocket but his throw was poor, well short of where Demaryius Thomas was, and with two guys covering DT, it was an easy pick for the Giants. Prior to that, Siemian had Jamaal Charles wide open and enough time to make his throw even with pass protection starting to break down, but underthrew Charles, costing the Broncos a big play.

It’s easy to throw the right tackles under the bus, but if we are going to be honest in our assessment of them, it’s this: Menelik Watson was awful against the Chargers and not much better against the Cowboys, but in the last three games, he’s been adequate and it’s not because the Broncos keep giving him help. In the first half, he won more of his matchup with Jason Pierre-Paul than he lost. It’s easy to blame Watson for Siemian’s fumble, but he was doing enough to keep JPP away and better pocket awareness from Siemian means he’ll slide to the left and get away for an opportunity. Instead, Siemian locked onto his receiver and never paid attention to Watson and JPP.

There was only one play I saw from Watson in which he was responsible for pressure on Siemian and that was the play just before he came out with a calf injury. I won’t say the injury was the reason why he gave up pressure, but Watson held his own against a good pass rusher on the majority of plays and he’s not the reason Siemian struggled.

Neither was Billy Turner. While I didn’t see a future starter in Turner, he was decent enough, though the sack he gave up to JPP was entirely on him and he had a costly penalty, too. But while Turner isn’t the long-term guy, he’s not why Siemian struggled, either.

The tight ends were brought in to block more often in the second half because the Broncos had to throw more to get back into the game. Had Siemian been better in the first half, the tight ends might have been more involved in the passing game later on. That the tight ends aren’t putting up big fantasy football numbers the way guys like Tony Scheffler and Julius Thomas did is not an indictment on their play — if anything, these tight ends are better at blocking and can come up with catches just as easily as Scheffler and Thomas did. But when Siemian keeps targeting A.J. Derby when he’s covered too well, it’s hard to expect Derby to keep pulling stuff out of nowhere. Even the catch Jeff Heuerman in the end zone was Siemian throwing into double coverage, but the ball was at least where Heuerman had a chance to make the play.

I would hope everyone here would know enough not to blame Demaryius Thomas for anything. True, his fumble was costly, but that’s no reason to throw him under the bus. Thomas kept playing through injuries and made multiple catches, sometimes with defenders right upon him. It’s becoming clearer that Thomas is doing everything he can to keep things going on the offense and it would be a major mistake to part ways for him, like certain Broncos fans on social media want to do. (Though I didn’t see the tweets, I heard enough from Andrew Mason and Erick Treckel to know they were out there.) You can tell this to any Broncos fans who want DT shipped out of town: Delete your social media accounts because you have no business talking about him.

There were some issues on defense tonight, namely that the Broncos still have issues with covering top tight ends (which Evan Engram very much looks the part) and didn’t execute well on the run defense (though part of it goes to the Giants O-line, on which some lineup changes were made). But the pass rush got to Eli Manning enough that the Broncos stayed in the game. When the defense gives up just 13 points through three quarters (remember, the defense can’t be held responsible for the pick six), that should be enough for a good offense to get a comfortable lead.

But that didn’t happen and that’s because Trevor Siemian was the problem tonight. And if he didn’t get those issues with his play (pocket awareness, decision making and locking onto reeivers) corrected during the bye week, I have concerns that he can correct them at all. These are things that can’t be blamed on other positions — other QBs have to correct for weaknesses elsewhere on their offenses but have learned to do so. It’s not about expecting the QB to carry the load; it’s about expecting the QB to control what he can control. Right now, Siemian isn’t doing that.

If Siemian doesn’t prove to be the long-term guy, I don’t think throwing big money at a free agent is the right call. It’s easy to say the window of opportunity for the Broncos defense is closing, but if we make an honest assessment of the defense, we know that the only aging players out there are Aqib Talib and Domata Peko. Players such as Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris, Justin Simmons, Will Parks and Bradley Roby are all younger players who have made strides. Von Miller is showing no signs of slowing down, Shaquil Barrett complements him well and Shane Ray is set to return from injury — though the Broncos may have a tough decision to make later on about whether to keep Barrett or Ray for the long term, they at least know that either one could be the guy to form the OLB tandem with Miller.

If we’re being honest, the only issue the Broncos really have to be concerned about on defense is whether or not Todd Davis is the long-term answer as the second inside linebacker, and it’s not like that issue can’t be solved through a low-cost free agent (ILB is not a premium position and good players can be found for good value) and a draft pick. There are several young D-linemen behind Peko who we are excited about (remember, Tyrique Jarrett is right there on the practice squad) and the Broncos have players who could replace Talib at cornerback down the road, so this “window of opportunity” for the defense is a myth. The D may not be the top-ranked unit, but there’s still lots of talent to make it a top 10 unit for seasons to come.

So that takes us back to the quarterback position, which is what remains the biggest obstacle to keeping the Broncos a playoff contender. I don’t want to throw Siemian under the bus, but he has to get better in several areas to show he can be that guy. If that doesn’t happen soon, it’s for the best to stick Brock Osweiler under center until Paxton Lynch gets healthy, then consider starting Lynch if Osweiler struggles. If none of the three are the answer, draft a QB rather than throwing money at a free agent — and believe me, if Kirk Cousins does get Washington into the playoffs, there’s no way Dan Snyder will let him get away. Snyder’s issues are well known, but if Cousins takes Washington on a deep playoff run, Snyder is going to demand his front office give Cousins what he wants or he’ll fire them all and open up the checkbook himself. And if, for some reason, Cousins doesn’t hold up over the season, that’s a sign that Broncos fans should be cautious about giving him the keys to the franchise.

Regardless, Trevor Siemian needs to be held accountable for his play. He’s not the only player with issues, but in tonight’s game, he was number one. We need to accept that was the case and see if he learns from it or if we approach the point that the Broncos have to make a switch at QB.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.