In the four seasons since their last Super Bowl victory, the Denver Broncos have been in desperate search for their next franchise quarterback. Failed draft picks, free agent signings, and longshots have all tried to right the ship, unsuccessfully.
Now Drew Lock is the one who is tasked with turning the Broncos franchise back in the right direction. A preseason injury not only derailed any speculation of Lock starting early in the season, it also took him off the practice field until mid-November.
Lock returned from injury and made his first career NFL start last week vs. the Los Angeles Chargers. The Broncos coaching staff elected to go with a run-heavy approach, hoping to ease Lock into his first NFL action. That decision paid off, and Lock showcased his talent by making a few great throws.
Lock’s second career start was going to be a much tougher task, going up against the AFC South leading Houston Texans. The Broncos coaching staff wisely opened up the offense more, and Lock also took a step forward in terms of confidence in his own ability.
On his second pass attempt of the game, offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello drew up a beautiful play to give Lock an easy completion.
The Broncos are in a 12-personnel set out of a 1×2 two-backs-pistol formation, DaeSean Hamilton is lined up off screen wide to the field. Houston responds to this formation by bringing safety Tashaun Gipson (#39) down to the line of scrimmage over tight end Jeff Heuerman (#82). While the play-action fake from Lock (#3) and Phillip Lindsay (#30) suck the linebackers in towards the line of scrimmage, Gipson charges in when he reads pass. Tight end Andrew Beck (#83) gives Benardrick McKinney (#55) a shake and then cuts across field on a dig route. Lock is retreating into the throw but has enough arm strength to cut the ball loose and in front for Beck to run with.
Those who watched Lock in college are used to seeing him retreat in the pocket. Those lapses in his footwork have affected throws negatively but this time Lock gets away with it. Lock’s arm talent coming out of Missouri was obvious and it’s because of that natural ability Lock is able to make this throw early in the game against Houston.
Four plays later, the Broncos are facing 3rd and 12 from the Houston 14-yard line when Lock delivers again.
Denver goes five wide out of 11 personnel with tight end Noah Fant (#87) in the slot to the field. Initially, Houston shows a single high defensive set with man coverage. Safety Justin Reid (#20) drops back before the snap, moving the Texans into a two-high shell playing Man Cover 2. The ball is snapped and Lock is reading Gipson. Once Gipson drops back into his deep half zone, Lock knows he’s going to have a window up the seam right where Fant is running. Safety Jahleel Addae (#37) has good coverage on Fant, but a defender with their back to the quarterback in the middle of the field is going to be susceptible to these types of throws. Lock has enough confidence in his arm to zip the ball to Fant and the Broncos go up 7-0 early.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Lock would make an attempt for another big play but would barely escape disaster.
Denver goes back to their 12-personnel package, receivers Tim Patrick (#81) and Courtland Sutton (#14) are split out to the field. Another play-action pass is called and Lock is given excellent protection. Patrick and Sutton are covered downfield, Royce Freeman (#28) has a step on his defender on the check down, but Lock attempts to force a ball to Patrick coming across the field. Gipson does a great job of reading Lock’s eyes and sinking downfield into the throwing window. Lock is fortunate to get away with an incompletion on this play. Lock’s inexperience and lapses in mental processing show up here.
Despite nearly throwing an interception, Lock responds two plays later with another great throw.
Denver is in a tight 11-personnel formation with Patrick and Sutton lined up in a twins receiver formation to the top of the screen. Houston shows a cover 3 shell pre-snap but is in cover 1, another single high defense. Lock notes the single high safety, recognizes the matchup with Tim Patrick on Vernon Hargreaves (#28), and locks on to Patrick from the snap. Patrick does a great job on this route starting with an outside release, and Hargreaves is already fighting to get back into position. Patrick fights throw contact and is able to run by Hargreaves, stacking the corner on his back. Lock is facing pressure and drifts in the pocket again. This time he’s able to get his feet set and deliver a powerful, accurate football that drills the turkey hole.
Lock is showing that he can make reads before the snap and that he boasts NFL talent. Thankfully, he has a coaching staff that is able to scheme up some easy throws for him as well.
The Broncos are in a tight 2×2 12-personnel formation. Royce Freeman (#28) swings out of the backfield, bringing a linebacker with him. Beck runs a chip-flat route. Sutton and Hamilton on the outside run deep out-breaking routes, opening up the middle of the field for Fant. It’s an insanely easy throw for Lock that gives the Broncos 28 yards and put them in position to go up four scores in the first half. Scangarello is calling these well-designed plays at perfect times to help move the offense down field and keep Lock on schedule.
The Broncos would build up a 38-3 lead after their first drive of the second half. Towards the conclusion of the third quarter, the Texans would only score one touchdown more and Drew Lock would commit his first turnover of the game.
Denver is in a 12-personnel 3×1 formation with Sutton split out wide to the boundary. The Texans are in a two-high shell but shift into single-high before the snap. Gipson is reading Lock the entire way. Lock forces an under-thrown ball deep into double coverage and is picked off by Gipson. If Lock is going to even think about this throw, this needs to be to the back pylon and high. The down and distance only being 2nd and 10 makes this decision even worse.
Outlook for the rest of 2019
Drew Lock after two career starts looks like he belongs in the NFL and has given hope to an offense that has struggled to move the ball for five consecutive seasons. That’s as big an endorsement as one can earn with so few games played. Lock puts noticeable pop on the ball and shows that he has the confidence to complete any throw on the field. He has been mobile and created throwing and running opportunities on his own by extending plays. Lock’s footwork overall is better than how it looked in college but he still tends to drift away in the opposite direction from where he is throwing the ball. He certainly is not being asked to complete too many reads on the field and has taken care of the ball to an adequate level so far. The final three games of the season are going to be crucial in Lock’s acclamation to the NFL. If Lock can keep on his current trajectory, Denver’s quarterback issue could finally be solved.
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