Pat Shurmur's Offensive Strategy Thus Far Doesn't Fit Drew Lock
The Denver Broncos' offense is bad. How bad?
The Broncos are currently ranked No. 28 in total offense in the NFL. Denver is also one of five teams in the bottom tier of the NFL that score approximately 19 points or more (NE, WASH, NYG, NYJ).
The play-calling from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been poor and the performance of starting quarterback Drew Lock has regressed over the last two weeks. So far in 2020, it's been the same ol' story for Denver — a decent defense, terrible special teams, and a bad offense.
While Shurmur’s spread offense was brought to Denver to develop Lock into a franchise QB, it’s had the opposite effect. When Lock operates from under center, it’s a tell-tale sign that an inside hand-off or power run is coming.
In shotgun, the second-year signal-caller ‘locks’ (no pun intended) onto his first read, eliminating half of the field from his vision. Even more bizarre, it seems like the deep throws on go-routes, where Lock has completed less than 20% of his attempts, have become a stale habit of the offense.
The Broncos' vertical passing attack is the equivalent of a homerun hitter swinging away at the same pitch repeatedly but missing time after time. This offense just isn’t working.
In three-wide receiver sets, Denver continues to be a disaster, relinquishing 13 sacks, while throwing 10 interceptions, and losing three fumbles, while only scoring three touchdowns. Rather than effectively utilizing the deep talent at the tight end position, or the running backs in the passing game, Shurmur is determined to keep throwing up Hail Marys, for lack of a better term.
Denver is -8 in the turnover differential, which is the second-worst in the NFL only to Dallas (-13). So, when Lock is completing less than 53% of his passes, it becomes glaringly evident that something is wrong with the Broncos' offense. The offense isn’t stagnant, it's getting worse.
While Lock hasn’t done himself any favors by pressing and turning the ball over, offensive adjustments need to be made. Over the last two weeks, Lock has gone 34-of-64 for 443 yards and zero passing touchdowns, with four interceptions, while being sacked five times.
His sloppy footwork and inability to go through his progressions have largely led to this decline in play since returning from injury against the New England Patriots in Week 6.
Opposing defenses know that if they dial up blitz packages, they’ll force Lock into ill-advised throwing scenarios. Lock’s already prone to drifting out of the pocket and is clearly rattled when facing pressure. In ideal circumstances with competent pass protection, Lock’s happy feet and lack of field vision allow defenses to tee-off on the Broncos' QB.
Let’s be honest; the fact of the matter is, quarterbacks work when offenses fit them and are tailored to their strengths. Shurmur should take a page out of former ex-OC Rich Scangarello’s playbook last year and empower Lock through various personnel groupings that feature multiple tight end sets.
Lock was most effective in 2019 throwing on rollouts and bootlegs outside of the pocket. At times last year, it felt like Scangarello was directly telling Lock where his hot routes and reads were pre-snap.
Surely Shurmur’s extensive NFL play-calling and coaching experience can better assist the sophomore QB. Inserting simple high-low reads and letting Lock run with the ball can pick up first downs and keep the defense guessing.
Lock seems to be reading only half the field anyway, so why not play to that strength and get wideout Jerry Jeudy more involved? Jeudy’s role in the offense has diminished from approximately eight targets per game to four since Lock returned to the lineup.
If the Broncos' offense is going to improve, Shurmur needs to let go of what’s worked for him in the past with, say, Case Keenum and Daniel Jones. Lock has an entirely different skill-set, and there’s more than enough talent to move the football and be competitive every time Denver steps onto the field.
If Shurmur doesn’t make the changes that are needed, the Broncos will head into another offseason wondering whether Lock is the answer at the most important position on the field, and whether he was given a large enough sample size with which to evaluate.