Somewhere in the blurry third quarter against the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago, Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian hit what was arguably the low point of his season. An efficient start had devolved into two interceptions and a blown lead. The whispers were getting louder while the cameras were trained on Paxton Lynch standing on the sideline.
Siemian climbed out of the hole that he and the rest of the offense had dug themselves and escaped the Superdome with a victory. After a week away, he felt the criticism of his head coach and plenty others ahead of a pivotal Sunday Night Football game at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
http://www.scout.com/story/1731476-scout-s-cyber-monday-sale-is-on?s=101 The Broncos played 75 minutes of football and lost a heartbreaker to their AFC West rivals, 30-27. Regardless, it was the most impressive performance of Siemian's career to this point.
The first half was, to a large extent, a continuation of the offensive line deterioration that plagued the Broncos on their way to allowing six sacks to the Saints. The right side crumbled as Ty Sambrailo flailed just to get in the way of Justin Houston, who very quickly racked up three sacks through the second quarter.
There's two paths a quarterback can take when their offensive line isn't protecting them; they can sit back and take the beating, hoping their release is quick enough to beat the undeterred pass rushers, or they can maneuver their way in and out of the pocket. Siemian picked the latter.
After hearing Gary Kubiak publicly state that Siemian needed to take advantage of his mobility, the quarterback heeded those words and finally got out on the move, which aided the passing game and the offense as a whole.
Second Quarter: 11:05
Here's one example where Siemian does that brilliantly. The Broncos have a third-and-9 at their 33. With an empty shotgun formation and five receivers, there's virtually zero threat of the run. The pass rushers, especially Houston, will be gunning for Siemian.
Trevor hangs in for a couple beats while Kapri Bibbs knocks Houston off course just a hair before getting to this route. Rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones bull rushes Michael Schofield back into where Siemian took the snap.
While surveying the left side of the field, Siemian is still able to sense pressure coming from Jones to his right. But rather than completely bailing out of the pocket and losing his timing and mechanics on the throw, he simply shuffles a couple of steps to his left out of harm's way and fires a laser to Emmanuel Sanders for 20 yards and a first down. For his efforts, Siemian is rewarded with a shot from Jones after he lets go of the football.
This play is impossible if not for Siemian's vision, maneuverability, and mega-quick release.
Things calmed down in the second half, even as the Broncos trailed 9-3 to the Chiefs. Donald Stephenson had supplanted Sambrailo at right tackle and did a respectable job slowing down Houston from a Khalil Mack performance. Needing a touchdown to take the lead early in the third quarter, the Broncos mounted a drive behind Siemian and Devontae Booker.
The drive took them down into Kansas City territory, where a third-and-goal from the seven was the decisive play.
Third Quarter: 7:48
Siemian suddenly flashed the full extent of his athleticism on a play that made him look like half-Steve McNair, half-Michael Vick, and half-John Elway. Yes I know that's 3/2, but it's appropriate because he gave 150 percent on this play.
Denver again operates from the empty shotgun with five receivers, this time with one tight end tacked on next to Russell Okung. Stephenson relents as Houston quickly gets the corner and forces Siemian to escape to his left, a less-than-ideal position for a right-handed quarterback in tight quarters.
But once he sees the sideline approaching rapidly, he pumps the breaks, gathers himself, and reverses gears to his right. Stephenson does a good job of guiding Houston to the sideline and out of the play.
Now with open field on the right, Siemian keeps his eyes downfield until, at the very last second, he throws from full stride at the 10 and hits Jordan Taylor in the right side of the end zone for the crucial score.
Plays like this were the only way the offense could keep the ball moving in the face of a cracking offensive line and a jailbreak pass rush.
We know what happened in the fourth quarter. Siemian kept the Broncos in the game with back-to-back rainbows to Sanders that accounted for 64 and 35 yards, with the second resulting in a touchdown.
Then, on a third down with a one-point lead deep into the fourth quarter, Siemian nonchalantly hung tight in the face of a seven-man blitz and floated a 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown to Bennie Fowler to give the Broncos an eight-point lead.
This time, it was the Broncos defense that let down the offense.
Overtime. The Broncos won the toss and got the ball, hoping to either end the game with a touchdown or take the lead with a field goal and ask the defense for one last stop.
One of the marks of a good quarterback is the ability to make use of every available option in the offense. Siemian did that on a third-and-eight that was absolutely necessary for getting into field goal range.
The Broncos again go shotgun, this time with Booker to the left of the quarterback and trips wide receivers to the right. The ball is snapped and heat comes on the left side from Tamba Hali, as well as up the middle when Jones beats Schofield.
One more time, Trevor evades the rush and scrambles out of the pocket to the right. He keeps the eyes past the sticks and finds Booker, who is running a shallow post. The throw is a touch high, but Booker pulls it in and picks up 22 on the play. Denver takes the lead with a field goal.
There's plenty of blame to be thrown around, but Trevor Siemian is most certainly not responsible for the loss on Sunday. Even on the last Denver possession of overtime, he threw a dime down the right sideline that Fowler just couldn't reel in with a diving attempt. Could he have brought in, the Broncos would have had an easy game-winning field goal try.
Ultimately, Siemian passed the eye test and finished the game 20-of-34 with 368 yards and three scores (all pf them coming in the second half). He averaged an outstanding 10.8 yards per attempt, and led an offense that converted nine third downs and one fourth down. He also spread the ball around, hitting seven different receivers throughout the game.
It was his best performance because of the many obstacles he had to hurdle on the way to racking up those tremendous numbers and keeping Denver in the game. He responded to the constant heat from the Kansas City pass rush with immense resolve and craftiness, using his athleticism as a deadly tool for the first time in weeks.
Hopefully, the Broncos can do a better job of protecting him in the coming weeks and match his focus with defensive intensity. If they can, the Broncos will pick up some much-needed steam for these final five games in an attempt to grab a spot in the playoffs.
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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.