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Lock, Scangarello, Fangio, Buzz and many other observations from Broncos' 38-24 win against Houston

Imagine how well Broncos rookie QB can play once he masters playbook without the cheat sheet.
Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) celebrates a touchdown pass against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston.

There is more to the job of offensive coordinator than calling plays.

That may be the position’s most visible task, the one in which he is most judged.

More importantly to being a coach, though, is coaching. Teaching.

For Drew Lock to play as well as he had even though it’s obvious he doesn’t have command of the playbook is testament to how well he’s otherwise been coached up by offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and quarterbacks coach T.C. McCartney.

The coordinator has received all the criticism for the team’s offensive struggles beyond the Scangarello Script so give him the most credit for Lock’s 2-0 record, five touchdown passes and a 111.4 passer rating.

And Scangarello the play-caller also had his best game Sunday at Houston, at least until he smartly went conservative with a big lead in the fourth quarter.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, left, stands with head coach Vic Fangio, right, on the sideline before an NFL football preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Here are 43 other observations – 43!?! --from re-watching the Broncos’ 38-24 win against the Texans:

*I couldn’t believe how long Lock looks at his play-call cheat sheet on his left arm at the line of scrimmage when many players are holding their three-point stances. Left guard Dalton Risner kept turning back as if to say, “Hey, Buzz, hit the laser, already.”

Lock looked so long at his cheat sheet on second-and-12, it cost his team a timeout at 7:35 of the first quarter.

Kevin Harlan, who’s excellent as the Broncos’ play-by-play TV announcer, said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarterback look at his (play card) while he’s back in the position.”

Said Lock after the game: “That’s just me reminding myself sometimes on short motions, if it’s Z short or Y short or Y or whatever, just to remind myself to bring it down. If I ever have a question just look back at it.”

*Then again, when you can throw like Lock, what’s the big deal about not having full command of the play book? His dart to Fant that beat tight coverage for a 14-yard touchdown was incredible.

To Lock’s credit, his long checks of his play list doesn’t rattle him. He also looks long at the safeties and linebackers to spot the coverages and pass rushes.

*The Broncos’ offense opened with a three, tight-end set. Run personnel. Yet, on play-action, Lock hit Fant for 48 yards on the first play. It was a 12-yard pass that Lock and Fant played perfectly off the inside, right hip while Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph tried to pick it off Fant’s left hip.

Perfect ball placement by Lock. Fant then used his top asset – speed – to move another 36 yards straight up the sideline.

So much for Lock having issues on the road.

*Lock’s most underrated great throw was his second one to wide open fullback Andrew Beck for 29 yards.

Texans safety Tashaun Gipson had blitzed in untouched and was bearing down on Lock. The quarterback fell back on his back foot and slung the ball to Beck on a middle-crossing route in stride.

Beck caught it at the Houston 28 and carried it to the 12.

*There was nothing Garett Bolles could do on block-in-the-block penalty. First, he blocked linebacker Benardick McKinley, who then turned his back on the play. Had Bolles not followed up and shoved from behind, McKinley would have made the tackle around the 7 yard line.

Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant (87) pulls us a catch for a touchdown in front of Houston Texans strong safety Jahleel Addae (37) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston.

The shove knocked McKinley out and Lindsay scored. Brought back. Not saying it wasn’t a penalty. Saying it was a darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you-don’t.

*Just after Lock did pantomimed his Buzz Lightyear laser off his play sheet, Harlan, on cue, wrapped his review of the opening drive by saying, “and a 14-yard laser to Fant in the end zone.”

Harlan, by the way, is not really the Broncos’ TV play-by-play announcer. It just seems that way as he and Rich Gannon have called four of the previous five Broncos’ games.

*Speaking of cheating, Houston left tackle Laremy Tunsil keeps getting caught pulling back a split second before the snap. He had three false start penalties, giving him a league-most 12 on season.

He said afterwards he has a “target on my back,” implying the refs are after him. No, Mr. Tunsil, you are moving before the snap. Not blatantly so, but you are.

His first false start killed the Texans’ promising opening drive.

*Von Miller played more on the right side, over the left tackle (Tunsil) than he has all season. It might have been because his pass rush partner, Attaochu, prefers the left side. Or it might have been because of his trick left knee, Miller feels more comfortable with his get off from the right side.

*Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense was more of a 4-2 early. With Derek Wolfe out, Fangio often used just two down defensive linemen (Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell) and had the two outside linebackers (Von Miller, Jeremiah Attaochu) line up as stand-up defensive ends.

It wasn’t until the Texans’ fifth play, a third-and-1, that Adam Gotsis came in to join Purcell and Shelby Harris for a three-down linemen set that was flanked by Miller and Attaochu.

Then after a couple first downs, Fangio went more with three defensive linemen, rotating DeMarcus Walker in as well.

*The Texans got three first downs and moved into Broncos’ territory on each of their first two drives. Yet, they had -7 points to show for it. A short punt, and the Keke Coutee fumble after he was stripped by Alexander Johnson.

Attaochu picked up the fumble at his own 29, ran up to the 34, then retreated as Jordan Akins grabbed his ankle before handing off to safety teammate Kareem Jackson at the 30.

The stunned Texans stood there and watched as Jackson took off down the right sideline. Jackson started prancing and strutting and celebrating with the ball held high in his right hand from 13 yards out. Tunsil, this time moving too late, knocked the ball out of Jackson’s hand about 7 yards into the end zone.

It was 14-0 Broncos and you knew it would be their day. (The last two games the Broncos scored more than 24 points, by the way, their defense scored touchdowns. Problem is those 25+ point outputs were 21 games apart.)

*The Broncos got back-to-back monster hits on the Texans’ third offensive series. Attaochu nailed Deshaun Watson for a 9-yard sack and Jackson crushed DeAndre Hopkins while separating the star receiver from a 26-yard catch.

I was surprised Jackson wasn’t flagged for annihilating a defenseless receiver, but he legally led with his shoulder and legally hit Hopkins high on the chest but below his chin. Still, Hopkins had not taken a full step when clobbered and I’ve seen that play flagged before.

*Lock impersonated Buzz Lightyear after his first touchdown pass. On the first play of the second quarter he mimicked Aaron Rodgers.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) celebrates his interception with teammates during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

From the shotgun, Lock dropped back to his own 11 and whipped a throw off his back foot 42 yards in the air. The football dropped perfectly into Tim Patrick’s arms just past midfield as two frustrated Houston defenders moved in a step or two too late.

*Devontae Booker might be the NFL’s best running back who never plays. He got a robust two offensive snaps in this game and had two catches, one for 25 yards that helped set up the Broncos’ third touchdown.

*Jeff Heuerman not only gave the Broncos a 21-0 lead, he broke out Lock’s second Buzz Lightyear act. Personally, I don’t think it’s much of a visual without seeing the laser. I can’t imagine the laser. I need to see it or it doesn’t move me. Which makes me, Buzzkill on Lightyear.

*On the Broncos’ fourth offensive series, Lock operated from under center. Off short drops, he hit Patrick on a slant pattern for 13 yards and dumped off to Fant on the ol’ block-turn-and-catch play for 28 yards. Well-designed play.

*Gannon pointed out Lock’s habit of throwing off his back leg with no trunk and legs behind his throw on his third-down pass to Booker for a 1-yard loss. Gannon says this must be corrected.

Rodgers does it but it only hurts him occasionally. Jay Cutler did it and hurt him plenty. Lock has the arm to do it and it hasn’t hurt him, yet.

*The game got away from the Texans, but when they did run the ball, they did so effectively, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Fangio’s scheme seemed to allow the run in return for taking away Watson’s first receiver and allowing nothing over the top, except for when the coverage was blown on Hopkins’ wide-open 43-yard touchdown catch in the second half. All in all, Fangio’s strategy worked.

*Kareem Jackson was so humble and emotionless after the game. On the field, he played with frenzied emotion and kept posing his flexed biceps in the direction of Texans’ sideline audience after big plays.

I’m always amazed how placid, well-mannered citizens transform into crazed brutes for 3 hours on game day.

Jackson’s take out of tight end Darren Fells for no gain on third-and-1 at the 2-minute warning was the most underrated of his many great defensive plays against his old team.

*O’Brien going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34 at the 2-minute warning of the first half wasn’t an awful decision. Dropping Watson into the gun with an empty backfield and throwing to the sidelines was a silly call.

Shelby Harris knocked it away, giving him a league-most 7 batted balls at the line of scrimmage. Harris bulldozed left guard Max Scharping back into Watson’s kitchen before getting his right mitt on the ball.

*Lock got hit in the face by Brennan Scarlett and wound up with a bloody nose while escaping a sack and rolling right with 1:33 left in the half. Scarlett wasn’t flagged but defensive back Lonnie Johnson was for holding Courtland Sutton.

Johnson got another holding penalty on Patrick to set up the Broncos’ final touchdown of the half, a 3-yard flip from Lock to Royce Freeman.

*After Lock’s TD pass to Freeman, he did a little crouch lunge dance that veteran safety Tashaun Gipson took offense to. Gipson gave the rookie some guff. Lock mockingly laughed back.

*Von Miller thought he timed the snap for a sack with 37 seconds left in the half. He did jump it by a fraction.

*Next play, Tunsil, facing Miller, rocked back a fraction before the next snap. So back to first and 10.

*Not only were the Broncos up 31-3 at halftime, they got the ball first in the second half. And not only did they get the ball first but Diontae Spencer had a nice, 33-yard kickoff return that gave Lock nice starting field position at his own 43.

*On the first play, Lock was sacked by Whitney Mercilus but former Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby was called for holding on Patrick in the secondary. Huge penalty that changed second-and 18 at the 35 to first-and-10 and the 48.

*Roby followed with a nice tackle on Lindsay, who was trying to bounce outside. Lindsay got up jawing at Roby, of course.

*Two plays later, Roby tried to strip Fant, who caught a short out, instead of tackling him. Fant took it up field for 23 yards. At that point, Fant had 4 catches for 113 yards just 2 1/2 minutes into the second half. He finished with those totals as he suffered a foot injury early in fourth quarter and didn’t return.

*Sutton had an 11-yard catch on the last possession of the first half, then three catches for 21 yards on the first possession of the second half. That was about it for the Broncos’ top receiver as he finished with five catches for 34 yards, although he also drew multiple penalties.

Lock spread his 22 completions among 10 different receivers. Impressive.

*The easy 1-yard touchdown run by Lindsay gave the Broncos a rare second-half touchdown and 38-3 lead.

*On Hopkins’ ridiculously easy 43-yard TD, cornerback Chris Harris was on him initially but dropped back into left-side zone as Hopkins ran a crossing route to the upper-right quadrant. Kareem Jackson was playing the right safety spot in the area where Hopkins caught the ball at the 20, but he had already moved to the middle while right-side cornerback Isaac Yiadom followed his man to the end zone.

When some are playing zone and others are playing man, the coverage is going to bust.

*On the first play of the Broncos’ second series of the third quarter, Lock threw a beautiful 27-yard crossing-route completion to DaeSean Hamilton. It gave Lock 301 yards on the game. He finished with 309.

*Off the flea flicker, Lock showed impressive quickness and speed to scramble for 11 yards and the first down. On next set of downs, Lock used his legs again to convert a third down.

Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston.

*Lindsay must have seen Zach Cunningham in his sleep the past two nights. Cunningham had 16 tackles.

*Lock’s pick was bad. From the Texans’ 25, second down and 10, Lock stared down Sutton on the go route down the right sideline, which gave Gipson an easy read. Gipson moved over from his middle safety position. When Lock, a bit under pressure, underthrew the ball, Gipson had an easy one.

*On Gipson’s runback, Lindsay made a nice open-field tackle, then shoved Gipson down as he tried to get up. That set off some tempers.

*Lindsay was held to 51 yards on 16 yards. Lindsay now has 817 yards rushing with three games remaining. As a rookie last year, he had 967 yards with three games remaining.

Still, he remains on pace for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, but he’ll need to average 61 yards rushing in his final three games.

*Holding penalties and not getting the ball much hurt the Broncos’ offense in the fourth quarter.

*On fourth and 18 from his own 42, Watson scrambled back to his own 27, heaved it up to Hopkins, who posted up Chris Harris at the Broncos’ 37. Hopkins came back for the ball to catch it for a 19-yard gain and first down.

Harris would like a do-over on that play, starting with not giving Hopkins a good 10-yard cushion.

*A few plays later, Jackson caught the ricocheted pass on fourth-and-3 for an interception. Jackson would have gained another 8 yards by letting it fall incomplete but no way he was turning down an interception against his long-time former team.

*Joseph Jones got a tough hop on the onside kick. He attacked the kick, but the ball quickly bounced up high on him and he couldn’t get his hands up fast enough to catch it.

*Will Parks deserved the final-second interception. He has done yeoman’s work while playing with a cast around his left hand.

*This game shouldn’t be lopped in with the others because the Broncos were right to simply run the ball and eat up clock in the fourth quarter.

But a skid is a skid. The Broncos have now gone 9 consecutive games without a fourth quarter touchdown – not since Joe Flacco connected with Sutton for an 8-yard score late in Game 4 against Jacksonville.

*Finally, Lock will eventually have to become less reliant on his play-call cheat sheet. But he has the goods to become the Broncos’ best quarterback since Peyton Manning was healthy in the first half of the 2014 season.

Lock now gives the Broncos hope he can become the answer to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes as the team’s battle each other for the AFC West title the next five to 10 years.