ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Drew Lock vowed to become a "Calculated Gunslinger" during training camp in attempt beat out Teddy Bridgewater. He fell short, but received an opportunity last Sunday due to Bridgewater's injury, and delivered on the calculated promise.
He ran the operation well, boasted zero turnovers, and will start against the Chargers with Bridgewater remaining in concussion protocol. The Gunslinger part never materialized. This is not a criticism of Lock, but the offensive philosophy. While coach Vic Fangio told me Monday the intent was never to play low-scoring games, the actions tell a different story. The Broncos are wildly conservative, meaning when they can't run, they don't win.
Lock knows he must be less careless, his résumé of 25 turnovers in 22 games screams of the improvement necessary. However, asking Lock to be Bridgewater fails to account for their differing skillsets. Bridgewater is comfortable playing not to lose. There is merit in this. Lock brings a stronger arm, which should open up more deep strikes, while loosening the reins.
Finding the balance between taking care of the ball and taking chances has been elusive for the Broncos since Peyton Manning retired.
Can Lock try more strikes this weekend, especially if the Broncos establish the run, which was stonewalled by the Raiders?
"As far as the shots downfield, we called some in that game. We took a shot early to Courtland (Sutton), it was off by just a little bit. Got the one to Jerry (Jeudy). If they're not exactly there, it's best for me to somehow get the ball into somebody's hands underneath and let them make a play," Lock said Wednesday.
"This week if we do have shots called, it's going to be the same approach for me. If it's there, and we have time I'm going to get it to these guys. I'm not afraid to throw it up to Courtland or whoever it might be. But at the same time, understanding that moving the sticks on first and second down, putting us in better situations for these third downs that we've talked about, is pivotal for any offense. Staying out of third and long, standing out a second and long. Just being able to move the chains is my biggest priority and doing that smartly so to say.”
Lock is right, but is this plan wrong for him? Lock, who was a limited participant Wednesday because of an ankle injury, did not put the ball in harm's way. But, a home run hitter can't bunt all the time, either. This is the challenge. Let Lock loose without losing the game. It just seems unlikely given the team's posture this season — to win with defense and long time-absorbing drives.
The Broncos receivers have two touchdowns over the past eight weeks, both by Tim Patrick who is out Sunday because of COVID-19 protocols. Courtland Sutton owns 16 catches for 164 yards during this stretch. Jerry Jeudy has no touchdowns this season.
Jeudy's season began with promise in the opener, but a sprained ankle cost him five games. He has been unable to regain traction present this offseason, failing to eclipse 100 yards in any game, while his yards per catch have sunk from 16.5 to 12.1 this year. Will he find redemption in Los Angeles, where he had his worst game as a rookie?
"Some of the reasons (his production is down is that) we had some games where we ran it a bunch, so we didn’t throw it a bunch. Then last week, we didn’t have many plays because we didn’t get anything going and the Raiders were able to sustain some drives against. Those are two tangible reasons," Fangio said. "He’s been targeted a good bit. I think—I’m hoping and expecting Jerry to have a good game this week.”
Added Lock, "You’ve got a playmaker like that, when you get him the ball in space and let him do what he does best, he’s the best route runner I've ever seen. He's one of the best route runners in this league. I think we should take advantage of it, and I know he wants us to do that. He’s a guy that, if he could get the ball in his hands every play, he’d love that. He’d love that for this team, he’d love that for us being able move the ball down this field, whatever it may be. If it were to be a big week for Jerry, it wouldn't surprise any of us on this team."
The Broncos enter Sunday against the Chargers strapped with a two-game losing streak that has left their playoff chances at less than .1%.
“We have a group of really good fighters and great competitors, and they’ve shown that all year. I think we can expect to see that again," said Fangio.
Denver's tailspin has heightened speculation that Fangio is coaching for his job. The focus for the players, however, remains narrow.
"Something positive has been built. We had a lot of meaningful games in December There are no moral victories, but there are some positives to build on," safety Justin Simmons said, indicating that posting a winning record and finishing strong in the AFC West would mean something. "Obviously we would like to be playing for playoffs, but you don't need too many more reasons to do your job."
The Broncos are facing COVID issues that have impacted the entire league. Wednesday, the Broncos placed receiver Tim Patrick, safety Caden Sterns, offensive tackle Calvin Anderson and receiver Tyrie Cleveland on the COVID list. Center Lloyd Cushenberry, who missed the first game of his career last week, returned to practice and should start Sunday. ...
Coach Fangio paid tribute John Madden, who passed away Tuesday. Madden had an enormous impact on the game as a coach, broadcaster and with a video game bearing his name. "I never have played Madden. I’ve never played any video games for that matter, but John transcended a lot of things. Obviously, his successes as a coach — a lot of this new generation (are) not even aware that he was a coach. He had a love for football and a care for football that just permeated through him all the time. He cared for the game, he cared for the players, and he cared for the coaches. He just wanted the league to always do the right thing all the time. I know he had a major influence in the league office on many matters.”