The third preseason game is the supposed dress rehearsal for the regular season, a small peek at what we might see in Week 1.
The Denver Broncos started Trevor Siemian at quarterback on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams, and here was the first series: run, run, run, punt. Here was the second series: run, run, run, punt. Get used to that as long as Siemian is the quarterback, because the Broncos’ offense isn’t going to be very dynamic. And get used to Siemian being the quarterback, at least early in the season.
It would be a surprise if anyone but Siemian started against the Carolina Panthers as the NFL kicks off its regular season on Sept. 8. Siemian, who has never attempted an NFL regular-season pass, started the third preseason game, his second start in a row. Also, it seems clear that Mark Sanchez has fallen to third in the competition, unless there’s a major change of heart.
Rookie first-round pick Paxton Lynch was the second quarterback in against the Rams, at the start of the third quarter. Sanchez did not play. That’s an indication of where Sanchez stands, and there’s not much time left for him to change it. In the unlikely event Broncos coach Gary Kubiak doesn’t name Siemian the Week 1 starter it seems Lynch would get the call, not Sanchez.
Kubiak said to not read anything into Sanchez not playing, and he hasn’t made a decision on who will start the season opener.
“We’ll figure it out, we’ll make a decision,” Kubiak told 9News after the game.
Lynch has done some good things in the preseason, albeit against backups late in games. He didn’t exactly force his way into the Week 1 conversation with his play on Saturday. Lynch made some nice throws and has obvious physical skill, but completed just 6-of-13 passes for 57 yards. Lynch probably had to unseat Siemian on Saturday, and he didn’t do that.
The question becomes, if Sanchez doesn’t start Week 1 do the Broncos even keep him around? If they cut Sanchez they wouldn’t have to send the Philadelphia Eagles a conditional draft pick to complete an offseason trade, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much room for Sanchez on the roster if Siemian is the starter and Lynch is the next in line.
Assuming the Broncos go with Siemian to start this season, it won’t be a big-play, exciting offense (Greg Cosell had an Xs and Os breakdown of all three Broncos quarterbacks and what to expect from the offense here). Saturday night’s game plan was probably extreme on the vanilla side, especially early on, but don’t expect it to look much different against the Panthers.
Siemian’s first pass came 13:59 into the game, a play-action pass in which Siemian was under pressure and threw too high for Demaryius Thomas. At the end of that drive, Siemian completed a 2-yard pass on third-and-3. Then a run was stuffed for a loss on fourth down.
When the Broncos took some chances, the results weren’t good. In the second quarter Siemian threw deep down the right sideline to Cody Latimer, but it was a bit underthrown, tipped by Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson and picked off by safety Cody Davis.
The Broncos had the highest scoring offense in NFL history in 2013. Three years later, they might field the most conservative offense in the league.
You’d think that Lynch could also hand the ball off most of the time and make some quick-read throws too, but Kubiak said Lynch’s knowledge of the offense has been behind Siemian and Sanchez — which is completely normal for a rookie. What Siemian can do is make single reads and get the ball out fast, which is what Kubiak will ask him to do. On back-to-back throws early in the second quarter, he hit Demaryius Thomas for 10 yards and Sanders for 17, just before the Davis interception. Siemian completed 10-of-11 passes in the first quarter in the second preseason game. At times he has been efficient.
The question is if the Broncos’ offense can be effective with its limitations. Denver had a nice scoring drive at the end of the second quarter, with some good runs by C.J. Anderson and a play-action touchdown pass to tight end Virgil Green. Siemian also had a nice 43-yard pass on a one-handed catch by Thomas late in the first half. But later that drive, Siemian threw a pass late over the middle that should have been intercepted but was dropped. The Broncos have to expect someone with practically no experience will make some mistakes.
Siemian was 10 of 17 for 122 yards in the first half, then his night was done. At times Siemian looks fine and the offense moves. Other times it is clear the quarterback is a 2015 seventh-round pick with zero NFL regular-season passes in his career.
Will that be enough to again beat a Panthers team that won the NFC championship last season? We will likely get a chance to find out. It seems, barring a surprise, Siemian is going to get the first chance to start at quarterback for the defending Super Bowl champions.
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