The best quarterback on the field, by far, Thursday night was donning Orange and Blue. Unfortunately, for the Denver Broncos, it was the wrong shades of Orange and Blue.
The second-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Mitchell Trubisky, was magnificent in his NFL debut for the Chicago Bears, going 18-for-25 for 166 yards and a touchdown. For the Broncos, the same can be said about one quarterback: rookie Kyle Sloter, who went 5-for-6 for 94 yards and a touchdown.
But the same word cannot be said about Denver’s two quarterbacks competing for the starting job. Although Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch finished the game with similar stats, they took significantly different routes getting there — a crucial aspect that separated the quarterbacks in the evaluation of the game.
Here’s the path that each signal caller took in Thursday’s 24-17 win against the Bears, in which both quarterbacks combined for three of the teams 24 points.
In a game where many players looked like they needed to knock off major rust of a long offseason — including members of the Broncos’ offensive line and his counter-part Mike Glennon — Trevor Siemian was even-keeled.
On the night, Siemian did exactly what Vance Joseph has asked of his quarterbacks: make good decisions with the football. In his three series, playing with a mix of first and second team players, Siemain was 6-for-7 for 51 yards and one sack, compiling a 97 passer rating and leading the offense to three points in three drives.
While Siemian was on point, boasting an 85 percent completion percentage, he wasn’t able to put together more than one scoring drive, in large part due to missed opportunities by he and his teammates on third-down.
“The penalties killed us offensively in converting third downs,” head coach Vance Joseph said after the game. “It was hard to say who played well at the position because of the penalties.”
During Siemian’s first series — the team’s only double-digit-play drive — the drive was stalled on Chicago’s 20-yard line after Siemian was immediately pressured up the middle due to left guard Max Garcia being blown off the line of scrimmage upon the snap, leaving Siemian no choice but to essentially throw the ball away — his only incompletion on the night.
The next two drives were stalled after wide receiver Jordan Taylor failed to find the first down marker. The first came on 3rd-and-5 where Siemian threw to Taylor two yards short of the marker. Whether it was Siemian’s fault for throwing short or Taylor’s fault for cutting the route too shallow, it resulted in a Denver punt.
The second, and final throw for Siemian, was on 2nd-and-7, when it seemed as if Taylor had the first-down but then backpedaled and was tackled a yard short of the marker. Denver was unable to run for the final yard the next play.
“Trevor was solid. He made some nice plays in the pass game,” Joseph said.
The 14-game starter from a year ago showed his game experience right from the chute. After starting the game with a sack, Siemian bounced back with an 11-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas on 3rd-and-11 to gain the first down and move the ball out of the Broncos’ own red-zone.
Overall, three points in three drives won’t get the job done in the regular season. However, although it wasn’t flashy, Siemian controlled the ball and showed the coaches he has the composure to be a starting quarterback.
Lynch to Latimer
The story of the night for Denver’s other competitor in the quarterback competition was straightforward: if the ball went to Cody Latimer it was successful, if it didn’t, it likely wasn’t.
On the night, playing with the second and third-team units, Lynch went 6-for-9 for 42 yards and a 77.1 passer rating through the air. When he targeted Latimer, he was 5-for-5 for 28 yards. When he didn’t look to Latimer, he was 1-for-4 with the lone completion to Taylor for 14 yards.
Lynch’s five throws to Latimer were all quick hitters — traveling an average of 4.8 yards in the air for an average of 5.6 total yards per completion. In these passes, Lynch was effective by finding his first read quickly and throwing the ball immediately.
However, when Lynch progressed in his reads, he ended up holding the ball for too long, leading to ill-advised throws and inaccurate passes. His first series was a perfect example of this, a one-yard scramble on first down followed by an overthrown pass and capped off by a three-yard scramble on 3rd-and-8.
During his third and fourth series, Lynch began throwing the short passes to Latimer and developed somewhat of a rhythm — totaling three first downs and 50 total offensive yards.
Lynch did show his additional dimension, scrambling three times for 11 yards but was only effective on his long run of eight yards where he was able to pick up the first down on 2nd-and-5.
While Siemian only put up three points during his time on the field, Lynch wasn’t able to lead his team to any. Unlike Siemian, Lynch got slightly better as the night progressed, saving his best drive for last. Unfortunately, it was an eight-play drive that went 31 yards and stalled at Chicago’s 44-yard line — the only time Lynch crossed into the Bears territory.
Before the game, John Elway said, “We’ll start preseason tonight and see how far he’s progressed,” when referring to Lynch. As was evident to all that watched, they young quarterback still has a significant way to go.
Play of the Game
In an underwhelming performance from both quarterbacks — at least in big, eye-popping plays — the play of the day goes to a wide open pass from the third quarterback, Sloter.
On 3rd-and-18 from Chicago’s 47-yard line, 5-foot-7 Isaiah McKenzie slipped by the Bears’ defense and found himself as open as can be. While it’s likely any of the quarterbacks in the night’s contest could have made the throw, Sloter stepped up in the pocket and delivered the bomb to McKenzie as he trotted into the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.
If Sloter-to-McKenzie develops into a trend as the play of the day, it will either be one of the most unexpected stories in Denver sports history, or terrible news for the Broncos’ quarterback competition.
In what wasn’t an amazing game from either quarterback, Siemian was clearly the better option from start to finish, thus extending his lead over Lynch that he’s built up to this point in training camp.
Three points from a Siemian-led offense was nothing to write home about, but it was three more than Lynch was able to lay claim to.
*Since Vance Joseph and John Elway have preached that preseason games will be worth more than practices, there is a 2x multiplier placed on preseason games compared to practices.
Day-to-day score: 7-4-1, Siemian
Daily 10-point scale score*: 13-7, Siemian
Collective 10-point scale score: 77-53, Siemian