Trevor Siemian is the underdog.
Because he’s the underdog, whenever he does the most basic things, he’s going to receive unearned praise for it. Obscene amounts. It’s a cycle with all the same words: poise, leadership, toughness. Three things that have nothing to do with the basic skills that come up on every single play: accuracy, decision making, mental processing.
As a first time starter for the Denver Broncos, Siemian’s expectations were low. On Thursday night, he managed to stay out of the teams way just enough to meet those expectations. By doing that, people are apparently impressed. Siemian’s game was as conservative as imaginable, and that’s not good when you consider that he has spent a year with this system and team. But he’s not the future of the franchise and everyone knows that. Yet some of my twitter timeline and several football news outlets, even Chris Collinsworth who had to watch it live, seem ready to throw out whatever exaggerative praise sticks to build a narrative about the kind of player he is. There was even a rumor of an anonymous scout saying he had a second round grade on Siemian that came out right after the game. It’s hard to believe.
Anyway, let’s set the stage for this game. The Broncos have a gifted group of receivers containing Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders out wide, Virgil Green at the tight end position, and even CJ Anderson who can be moved around the offense to catch passes. Their offensive line is questionable and gives up pressure too often. The run game is leaned on heavily and it’s effective.
All that takes a backseat to the defense. It’s filled with players ranked anywhere between elite to very good, with maybe two starters who bottom out as average. As a result, even an inefficient offense is given enough opportunities to eventually score points.
Things were kept simple. Most plays stuck to single side reading, with clearly defined potential targets through combinations like a double vertical clearing out the coverage for an underneath flat. Siemian had an awful ANY/A throughout the game, regardless of read amount with 5.44 once screens are removed. If you’re new to this, they’re removed because they’re a play-design decision and we’re trying to measure the QBs decision making. Siemian was given many simple decisions throughout the game, mostly through curls, flats, and screens.
The curl is an easy timing route that requires placing the ball exactly on the target. The flat occurs in an area most defenders don’t tread into, allowing for a lot of space. Out routes were kept short and worked almost the same way. Screens remove all need for mental processing and only require the QB to throw at the pre-determined target. These plays say more about a player when they fail to make them than they do when they succeed; at least when it’s made this simple.
For the majority of the game, these four routes; focused primarily in the first 10 yards of the field was all the offense did against a team starting two rookie corners. That’s overly conservative, and for an obvious cause; to hide the flaws of the QB. Siemian didn’t look comfortable going through reads, sometimes panicing when he had to look at more than one receiver (even on the same side). He kept things tied down to the scheme, focusing on hitting timing passes and playing exactly as told. He had his moments avoiding some rushers, but he wasn’t patient enough to let routes develop so he ran often.
Even given a simplified offense, Siemian couldn’t provide optimal ball placement on those passes; which, to me, is a crime. Most of the curls required adjustment from the WRs, hurting their YAC. Two of his four screens were thrown high and needed adjustment (another was intercepted, but I say that’s luck). The flat was the only route where he didn’t show a consistent accuracy issue. The outs were mixed.
Siemian also couldn’t work as well on plays where he had to figure out what the defense was doing:
Man coverage is an easy defense to beat, at least mentally. It only requires the ability to recognize leverage. However the quick short routes in this game make it hard to say the Panthers were playing man and weren’t just in the vicinity of the player, but I had no choice but to mark it as man by my criteria. On top of that, because the routes mostly focused in the outside areas; any zone defenders that were roaming weren’t anywhere near the actual targets. It made things a lot easier for Siemian, who only attempted 3 throws into the middle of the field at all.
Against actual zone coverage, Siemian would often give up by throwing a flat or short out route leading to a huge drop in ANY/A. He wasn’t confident in his ability to dissect those defenses, so he just took what yardage he could. That’s actually a bit respectable that he played within his flaws. However, the result was an excruciatingly slow moving offense trying to dink and dunk their way from one side of the field to other.
I like to end positive, so here’s Siemian’s two best plays. Both occurred in the 3rd Quarter as Kubiak let him throw a bit further down the field on some post routes.
On the first, the pre-snap is showing man on the outside. As the snap occurs, both corners open up and are about to turn into a cover-3. When the tight end moves out left, he pulls the outermost defender on that side with him, opening a lane to Demaryius Thomas’s route. Siemian sees Thomas entering open space as he hits his last steps and enters his throwing motion as Thomas leaves his break, hitting him down the field.
The second shows the Broncos in spread, with the defense opening up with a cover-2 zone look. At the snap, Green runs past the first corner whose momentum is moving him the opposite direction of the post’s break. When Green gets even with the lower defender, Siemian loads up and targets Greens body. The safety recognizes the throw coming as soon as his arm goes up and comes down hard on it, but can’t get there in time to stop the pass.
Neither of these plays show a lot of mental ability or even difficulty. But it’s the hardest things that he succeeded in doing on Thursday, and for a team as stacked as the Broncos it’s apparently enough to beat a Superbowl contender.
Maybe next time Kubiak lets him play for real so we see what he can actually do.