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Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

What started as a preseason experiment is now an official lineup change: Trevor Siemian will be the starting quarterback for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos when they kick off the regular season on September 8 against Carolina.

"I think he's earned the right to be our guy," said Denver head coach Garry Kubiak. "I go back and look at the body of work throughout the course of the offseason, watch training camp, throughout the preseason, how far he's come. I watch how much he's improved in my opinion, the grasp that he has with what we're doing, to me he's earned the right to go out there and be our starter."

Siemian, a 2015 seventh-round pick out of Northwestern, has thrown 83 passes in the NFL, all in the preseason. He has completed 60 percent of those throws and averaged 6.8 yards per pass, with three touchdowns, three interceptions, and four sacks. Here is everything we wrote about him in FOA 2015:

Siemian threw seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his senior year at Northwestern before tearing his ACL in November. His 43.3 Total QBR also doesn't scream NFL success, but Zac Dysert needed company in the "seventh-round picks who won't replace Peyton Manning" club.

And here is what we said in FOA 2016. First, this tidbit from the Denver chapter:

That some Bronco-watchers are hoping for 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian (5.6 yards per attempt as a senior at Northwestern) to challenge for the starting job speaks to the quality of Denver’s quarterback options in 2016, not to mention the endless capacity for all of us to instinctively overestimate the probability of unlikely events.

And this, from Siemian's player comment:

Siemian’s last college season was his worst statistically. He has impressed with his oodles of arm talent, but that strong arm couldn’t stop him from averaging 5.6 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions in a difficult situation at Northwestern. Some have suggested that Siemian could challenge for the starting job in Denver, which would shatter any logical concept of what college production means for quarterbacks.

So no, we didn't see this coming.

Mark Sanchez, who did not play in Denver's most recent preseason game, will almost certainly be cut, leaving first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch as Siemian's backup.

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66 comments, Last at 03 Sep 2016, 11:40am

2 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

At the same time, people very much tend to sort of lazily assume that "very unlikely outcome" or even "unlikely outcome" are synonymous with "won't happen" or "can't happen". Watch the ponies at a race rack, or walk around a casino (as depressing as the latter is), and you see very unlikely outcomes come to pass with some regularity.

6 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

Is it safe to say the 2016 Denver Broncos area going to have the singly greatest talent gap between defense and QB quality the NFL has ever seen? Even Trent Dilfer had some history of occasionally being decent.

12 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

The 2009 Jets, who had a defense roughly as good in DVOA as the 2015 Broncos, started the quarterback the Broncos just benched, but the title probably goes to one of the 1969-71 Vikings teams when Tarkenton was playing with the Giants.

If teams whose Week 1 QBs got hurt count, the 1991 Eagles, 1986 Bears, 1984 Bears, and 1976 Steelers probably make the list.

13 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

Joe Kapp wasn't a bad QB for the era. Not great, but certainly at least averagy. He also didn't have much talent around him as almost all the SB IV Vikings talent was on defense. OTOH, Gary Cuozzo was a decent backup QB who had no business being a starter the following two years. (I think he had previously backed up Unitas in Baltimore.) That the Vikings could easily win the division with Cuozzo at QB - twice - is baffling.

39 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

It's gotta be '98 Chargers, by a mile. Leaf and Whelihan were bad enough that most teams would have gone 0-16 under them, but the Seau and Rodney Harrison led defense somehow squeezed out 5 wins. Although Leaf was a #2 pick, and no one anticipated he would be that bad coming into the season.

Any of Lovie Smith's pre-Cutler Bears teams could easily make the list, too.

50 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

I looked back a few years, here are some other teams with good rushing offenses and bad passing offenses, by DVOA:

Year Team | Rushing (Rank) | Passing (Rank)
2014 MIN | 6.5% (4) | -10.5% (29)
2013 MIN | 5.8% (8) | -8.3% (23)
2013 WAS | 4.4% (9) | -13.9% (26)
2012 BUF | 5.3% (9) | -2.1% (24)
2011 MIN | 11.7% (5) | -21.3% (28)
2010 OAK | 5.1% (7) | -5.3% (25)
2010 MIN | 4.6% (8) | -19.9% (30)

For comparison, the 2003 Ravens were 6.0% (12) and -20.3% (31). That same year, the Falcons were 7.8% (9) and -20.0% (29), the Raiders were 6.9% (10) and -10.9% (26), and the Bears were 5.6% (13) and -27.0% (32).

9 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

One thing to keep in mind -- there is a potential "why" for why Siemian had only a mediocre college career, and a bad senior season. He was playing with Northwestern-level talent against the rest of the Big 10 plus Notre Dame. That's a recipe for failure.

I'm trying to think of other QBs from major conference doormats who got a shot in the NFL. Cutler is the obvious choice, and sure enough, his OK-not-great college stats translated into an above-average NFL QB. Elway maybe? His good college stats translated to inner-circle HOFer. Not sure if Stanford really counts, though they weren't good when he was there.

All of this is to say, I think there's a case to be made for big-arm QBs from major conference doormats outplaying their college level of performance.

15 Re: Siemiean Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

Siemian was also a pocket QB playing in an option offense. He's the only starter in the Persa-Colter-Siemian-Thorson stretch who's not an option QB.

Which is perhaps why that 2014 season went so poorly -- NW doesn't really have the WRs or linemen for a standard passer.

Incidentally, I sort of like Buffalo's roster construction for this reason. Taylor, Manuel, and Cardale Jones are all similar-style QBs.

16 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

I'd be pretty surprised if Denver cracks above 8-8. There is no way this defense will be as good as it was last year and even if it was, that team was lucky to win 12 games given all of the close wins.

Baltimore has shown what happens when you pair a defense with a neckweight of a bad offense. Sometimes you make the playoffs(2003,2006,2008); sometimes you even win the superbowl(2000) - but sometimes you miss the playoffs altogether and finish sub 500(2001,2002,2004,2005,2007).

Then again, denver has better wide receivers than those baltimore teams, but probably a worse o line.

36 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

I didn't mean above-average this season; I meant in the medium-term, Kubiak's history suggests he should be able to put one together with some time and stability in the front office.

That said, I'm also not convinced the defense will be as good this season as last, and an improvement on a historically great defense seems unlikely. They can still be a Top-3 defense while being worse than they were last season.

37 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

They could be best defence in league and still be quite a bit worse worse than last season.

Also, part of being that good is getting some luck and making it count (who cares if you recovery every fumble in a blowout compared to the one in overtime that bounces away...). Broncos luck will likely regress a little this year as well (and I say that as a fan). Everyone needs some luck to win the Super Bowl, even the 85 Bears were helped by McMahon discovering health and arguably by New England making it through as their opponents.

26 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

On the other hand, the aggregate QB play was in the bottom three last year, and the schedule was more difficult. Even setting aside that the AFC South is weaker than the AFC North and the NFC South is at least comparable to if not weaker than the NFC North, the Broncos also get most of the difficult non-divisional games at home (NE, Indy, Carolina, Houston, Atlanta at home vs. Cincy on the road). If I had to guess, I'd probably go:

Carolina: L
Indy: W
@ Cincy: L
@ TB: W
Atlanta: W
@ SD: W
Houston: W
@ Oak: L
@ NO: L
@ Jax: L
@ Tenn: W
NE: W (note: game won't matter to NE, plus they always have difficulties at Mile High)
@ KC: L
Oak: W

That's 10-6 with no improbable road wins and questionable projected road losses at NO and Jax, neither of which is assured of being any good.

30 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

A few things. They won a ton of close games last year,games that could easily have dropped them to 8 wins. Wins over the lions, chiefs, vikings, browns, bengals, and ravens. Nearly all those games featured a late turnover to seal the game(much like the sb). Turnovers are some of the most random aspects to football. If the defense played the same but had worse turnover luck, thats a worse record still.

The defense was also mostly healthy all year and avoided injuries to most of its star players. A severe injury to miller, talib, or ward could have ripple effects on the entire D.

I could see them being a top D again, but the heights they reached last year seem unlikely. When you are a one dimensional team and you have iffy qb play, you can lose to any team, especially on the road.

42 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

Do keep in mind that a lot of those "lucky" rock fights were only rock fights because of backbreaking Manning interceptions. Plus one of the losses (Indy) was a direct result of yet another gut-punch pick, and who knows how the second Chiefs game would have turned out if Manning hadn't thrown four picks in the first half plus a possession.

Which is all to say, yes the Broncos got lucky to win a bunch of rock fights. But they also got unlucky to be in many of those rock fights in the first place.

46 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

That's true. I do think Manning kept drives alive with his ability to avoid sacks. Osweiler was an improvement, but the offense was still a neck-weight that nearly cost the team. Will Siemian and an upgraded roster be enough? I Don't doubt that the broncos offense could improve to the high teens, but a drop in the defense from otherworldly to merely great is the argument I'm making.

52 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

That's true. Though McNair was really awful in that postseason game and I'm still not convinced that colts defense was that great.

The colts defense that year could stop the run if it had no fear of the other team's passing attack. The moment they had to honor both, they broke - hence why they struggled so much against NE despite being at home.

In some sense, the colts got really really lucky they faced three offensively challenged offenses in the playoffs. On the other hand, outside of the average Chiefs defense, they faced the top two defenses in the league that year and both were really really good too; so its not like Manning got a cakewalk ride to his first sb win.

54 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

That defense was totally different depending on whether Bob Sanders was playing.

They also didn't struggle as much against the Patriots as the box score indicates. Held New England to 17 first downs and 319 yards.

But New England went 2-2 on 4th down, got a TD off their own fumble, and got a defensive td.

45 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

Agree with the caveat that it really depends on QB play.

The have a TON of offensive talent at the other skill positions. The interior oline (G in particular) is a question mark, but the OTs should be vastly improved over last year's suckitude.

This will be a really interesting case study in how much a team can hide its QB. Siemien (and likely eventually Lynch) don't have to be great... if they are even barely serviceable starter level, with the talent around them they could pull off an average offense... and that would be better than last year.

I agree that much above 8-8 is iffy, but their floor is relatively high too. 10-11 wins seems eminently doable, as their division doesn't look like world beaters either. The Brady-less NE team in 2008 is probably a decent comparison.

60 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

I'd say the division looks fairly intimidating. The Chiefs were one of the best teams in the NFL last year (comfortably ahead of Denver by regular season DVOA). Oakland were average but have a young squad that looks ripe for improvement. San Diego were weak, but their offence was ravaged by injury and will surely improve with even average injury luck. It may not be the best division in the NFL, but it isn't far off.

61 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

The Chiefs won a grand total of four games against teams with winning records last year. Two were against a Houston team that was 4-7 against non-AFC South opponents. One was against a Steelers team featuring the QB stylings of one Landry Jones. And the last was against a Broncos team with the rotting corpse of Peyton Manning at QB, throwing four picks in the first 35 minutes before being benched for most of the rest of the regular season.

I've never seen a bigger bunch of bumslayers.

66 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

Way to miss the point. It's not that they "only" had four wins -- it's that the four wins were against (1) the worst .500+ team in the NFL, which almost certainly only was .500+ because they beat up on the worst division in football, (2) a good team playing its third string QB, and (3) another good team playing the worst starting QB in football while he was hurt and playing at his absolute worst, in a performance that led to a half-season benching.

(And is it true that four wins against .500+ teams is above average? It seems like good teams normally have more. The 2015 Broncos, for instance, had eight such wins. The 2015 Panthers had seven.)

38 Re: Siemian Named Denver's Starting Quarterback

Siemian is unlikely to reach the depths of Leaf whatever happens - he has at least had a year of bench seasoning and also is apparently a hard worker with some chemistry with his teammates. He will have very different problems (apart from dodgy blocking in front of him) to Peyton Manning last year, but it isn't as if he has a statistically high bar to clear.