Last night was the official kickoff the 2016 NFL regular season, with the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers competing in a Super Bowl L rematch. The game was uneventful for the first 50 minutes or so, with excitement ramping up in the fourth quarter as the Broncos came back from a 17-7 deficit to pull out a close 21-20 win on a missed field goal from Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano.
The major story coming from the first game of the year was Broncos’ new starting quarterback Trevor Siemian’s first career start, and how he fared throughout. He finished with the following statline: 18-26 (69.2% completion), 178 yards (6.9ypa), 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions. These numbers aren’t exactly inspiring, but for his first game, we can give Siemian a bit of slack.
Gary Kubiak and Co. would prefer that he limit his mistakes, and Siemian didn’t exactly prove that he could do that last night. His first interception occurred with 1:06 left in the first quarter on a screen pass to Emmanuel Sanders. As Sanders turns upfield, Siemian throws, and the ball is tipped by Star Lotulelei and caught by Thomas Davis. While he may have been able to change the trajectory of the throw, it would’ve lead to Sanders being tackled almost immediately, right at or even behind the line of scrimmage. Less of the blame should be placed on Siemian for this one, as it was a good play by the defense.
Siemian’s second interception came with 9:15 left in the third quarter. It started with a play action fake to the running back, and the defense was able to generate pressure with a blitzing Kurt Coleman. While under pressure, Siemian puts too much air underneath the ball and underthrows his target, which again happens to be Emmanuel Sanders. As the ball comes down, Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere is able to grab it out of the air, about two or three yards in front of where the ball should have ended up. This mistake is solely his fault, as he should have either thrown it away or taken the sack.
While the plays highlighted are only negative, Siemian did seem to have a grasp of the playbook and understand what he was doing. The Broncos only need a quarterback who can keep the ball in the team’s possession, while allowing the defense to take care of the opposing offense. Siemian showed last night that he is unable to do just that. His two turnovers were unnecessary and likely could have been avoided in some fashion. If he continues on this trend, the Kubiak could look to his first round rookie to take the reigns on offense.
Paxton Lynch was selected 26th overall by the Broncos in this year’s draft, and his first regular season game kept him on the bench. If Siemian continues to struggle like he did last night, the team should look to Lynch to take over and conduct the offense. Throughout the preseason, viewers saw that Lynch could go through some growing pains, but he had a decent grasp on the offense and his knowledge will only grow as the season goes on. Putting a rookie quarterback in the game early in the season can always be a risky choice, but Lynch was regarded as the best signal caller selected in the first round out of the bunch (Jared Goff is the #3 behind Case Keenum and Sean Mannion, and Carson Wentz will be starting with the Eagles, solely because of the Sam Bradford trade).
The Broncos need a quarterback who will limit his mistakes and keep the ball away from the defense. If Siemian proves he can’t do that in the next few games, it is time to start Lynch. Derrik Klassen of QB Mecca (@QBKlass on Twitter) believes that the ideal game for Lynch to make his rookie debut would be against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, who, aside from Marcus Trufant, aren’t an imposing force in either phase of defense. Keeping the running and passing games open is very beneficial to a young quarterback, and it also allows Gary Kubiak’s offense to run at full steam.
As the weeks pass by in the regular season, if Trevor Siemian continues to struggle on the field for the Broncos, Paxton Lynch will be on the field sooner than many expect. And he will be there to stay.