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What went wrong for Drew Lock? What needs to happen next?

Broncos also dealing with injuries as Purcell lost for season
Posted at 1:29 PM, Oct 26, 2020

DENVER -- Drew Lock sat down for his Zoom interview Sunday afternoon, and apologized for a bloody nose.

It symbolized the worst afternoon of his career, a beat down by the Chiefs that included a pick six, a broken knee brace and a humbling reminder that the Broncos are not in Kansas City's galaxy.

Nothing fuels overreaction like Mondays. The sky is falling along with the snow. It is understandable after the Broncos talked big and shriveled in the spotlight in their latest fight with the class of the AFC West. Remember, though, the point of this season, one I mentioned a few weeks ago? The Broncos need to get a good read on Lock.

What went wrong for Drew Lock? What needs to happen next?

The final 10 games can serve as an audition. Can Lock stay healthy? Does he exhibit the traits of a franchise quarterback?

This season has created pause. His 4-1 cameo from last season seems like a long time ago. Lock is 1-3 this season.

"As a team, we just need to fix our entire passing game. We just haven’t thrown it very efficiently the past two weeks. The quarterback, he’s the main focus, as always, but I think we all need to keep in mind that it’s an 11-man operation," coach Vic Fangio said Monday. "It's a coaches thing, too."

There are reasons for Lock's uneven play. He missed 11 quarters after straining his right rotator cuff, an injury that cost him rhythm and reps at a time when he is learning Pat Shurmur's offense.

And the playcalling has not done Lock many favors. I understand they want to add deep strikes, challenge defenses vertically. But there have been clear instances where they expected Lock to be great and he is still working on being good. Shurmur has dialed up big plays when underneath routes that move the sticks would suffice. Sunday, the Broncos were moving the ball with two tight end sets, delivering on the ground with Phillip Lindsay. An argument can be made that they abandoned this strategy too soon. Play action can serve as Lock's best friend.

Fangio agreed that the Broncos have had "too many negative plays" in three-wide sets. This is not an aberration. As the Broncos attempt to find their offensive identity, they must assess personnel groupings more closely.

A year ago, Lock appeared to have a comfort level in Rich Scangarello's offense after five games. Fangio was not comfortable with Scangarello going forward, wanting more experience.

With Shurmur, Lock likes the more aggressive tilt, but it seems like he's trying to microwave his development, skipping necessary rungs on the ladder after missing OTAs and preseason. Lock is pressing, a natural reaction with his limited experience. He needs to show more patience, letting the game come to him.

And Lock must take ownership of this mini-slump.

He demonstrated his ability to work last season while on injured reserve. He has strong character and love for the game. He needs to roll up his sleeves and get back to basics. Lock has enormous talent, and has the unique ability to maintain confidence without results.

But he has wrinkles he must iron out. Lock must show better pocket presence. He needs to climb the pocket and drive the ball with velocity and accuracy. When he drifts back, he loses sight of the field, fails to go through his progressions, throws off balance and takes unnecessary risks. These are fixable issues, something the Broncos are drilling in practice.

Some of this can be schemed up, helping Lock through play design. The fundamentals, though, are on him. He must create muscle memory that carries into games when pressure enters the equation.

Lock has made nine NFL starts. This context is necessary when evaluating him. Going forward, his success will be measured on how he performs against the Chargers, Raiders and opponents with similar or worse records. These are games where he must shine to pull the Broncos back into contention.

He ranks near the bottom in touchdowns (one) and is tied for fifth worst with four interceptions. His completion rate has plummeted from 64.1% last season to 55.9% this season. Because of his injury Lock has played 13 quarters. That's hardly enough time to draw a conclusion. The next 10 weeks will allow for a more informed opinion.

And it begins Sunday against the Chargers, a must-win game if the Broncos fashion themselves as a contender.

Purcell lost for season
Nose tackle Mike Purcell, one of the team's best success stories the past two seasons, is lost for the year with a Lisfranc foot injury, Fangio announced Monday. Lisfranc is the result of bones in the midfoot breaking or torn ligaments in that same area. Purcell provides energy and production. It's why the Broncos awarded him with a three-year, $14.8 million contract with $6.8 million guaranteed earlier this month.

Purcell's injury will test the Broncos depth. They could also return Sylvester Williams to the active roster.

I asked Fangio if he and defensive end Shelby Harris are on good terms after Sunday's sideline incident. Harris blew a fuse at the officials, leading to a penalty that upset Fangio. The discussion between the two turned heated. Harris tweeted the following Sunday night: "Obviously in the game of football there is a lot of emotion involved. Vic and I spoke and we are on great terms. Families argue but we work it out after. All we both want is to win!" Fangio said Monday that he had "a great talk" with Harris and "there is no issue there" going forward. ...

Running back Phillip Lindsay remains in the concussion protocol, leaving his status for Sunday's game uncertain.