Broncos change in scheme and play-caller can bring the best out of Lock

Jan 2, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) hands off the ball in the first half the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Lock’s best opportunity to be a franchise quarterback might still be in Denver. With Teddy Bridgewater becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Lock is currently the only quarterback under contract for the Denver Broncos in 2022.

Lock spoke like a player who wants to be back with the Broncos at quarterback.

“There is without a doubt a foundation in that locker room,” Lock said. “I’d like to believe there can be a foundation with me in it, but, you know, that’s not my choice.”

A decision on Lock’s future will materialize over the next two months.

If general manager George Paton believes there is an upgrade available, he is armed with 11 draft picks and enough salary cap space to make a move for Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson.

However, Wilson and Rodgers are not available at this time and the league seems lukewarm on the crop of 2022 draft class quarterbacks.

Broncos Country should accept a scenario where the 2022 season sees Lock enter the season as the starter.

That may not excite many, and for fair reasons. His play has been too erratic for anyone to believe he’s the long-term answer.

However, the team’s new head coach, Nathaniel Hackett, could be just what Lock needs to finally become an NFL-caliber quarterback.

An emphasis on the running game will benefit Lock

Under Hackett, the Denver Broncos are returning to an outside zone concept the team used primarily under Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak. As result, the team won three Super Bowls in that offense.

This scheme, which Hackett will implement, is run-focused. The outside zone produced three of the NFL’s top five leading rushers in 2021 (Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, and Dalvin Cook).

A strong running game will benefit any quarterback, but it is very impactful for Lock.

In Lock’s rookie season he lead the team to a 4-1 record in 2019 in an outside zone scheme.

That season, Lock threw for 1,020 yards with seven touchdowns to only three interceptions. Lock sported an 89.7 quarterback rating along with a 50.2 QBR according to ESPN Stats.

A large portion of Lock’s career success has come when using play-action. Even in a tough 2020, Lock was tremendous out of play-action looks.

Hackett will be bringing the version of the outside zone offense utilized by Matt LaFleur in Green Bay.

Rich Madrid of SB Nation outlined the success of building plays off another. Something Hackett will emulate based on the success he saw with LaFleur’s offense over the last few seasons.

The outside zone scheme is built off of the run first. The system is designed to have slower development because the running back targets the outside leg of the tight end. A key ingredient comes with the patience of the runner to get the width and decide to cut and go or try and take the corner.

Here, Madrid shows the Packers’ use of the wide zone and highlights the offensive line movement.

The beauty of the wide zone running game is the play-action pass setup looks the same upfront. This allows the play-caller to build off similar run looks.

How building off the running game can help Hackett get the most out of Lock

When the outside zone scheme is effective it meshes beautifully with the passing game. The slow development hides the look as the offensive line moves laterally in concert while the quarterback extends the path to the handoff point.

Under former offensive coordinator and Kyle Shanahan’s disciple Rich Scangarello, the Broncos featured the running game, leading to opportunities to build play pass off of them.

In this clip, the play-action fake gives an extra second or two for the receivers to create separation and get downfield. This also allows the young quarterback more time to let a play develop before delivering the ball in rhythm.

Additionally, in most play-action looks, the quarterback is using a high-to-low concept. This is because the play is designed to place a defender or two in conflict as they have to choose whether to play the pass or come up and stop the run. often using layer concepts.

This concept off of the wide zone action has been successful for Lock creating a half-field read for the quarterback.

Something Green Bay has done successfully over the last few years is involve the tight end and running backs in the passing game. From Robert Tonyan to Aaron Jones, the Packers made defenses defend all eligible receivers.

When Denver found creative ways to use their complementary pieces, Lock excelled. Creative looks like this should create more easy completions for the fourth-year player.

Hackett can find ways to utilize the Broncos’ array of talent to give Lock the best matchups possible, something often absent from the 2021 play-calling playsheet.

Bringing back the boot game

Lock’s athleticism is not elite, but it is an asset. Under Pat Shurmur, the boot game was used irregularly and limited the quarterback’s legs as a threat for the defense.

As Lock displayed in the season finale, his ability to gain yards on the ground will provide defenses an additional aspect to gameplan within this offense.

Madrid highlights how the Packers’ offense took advantage of Rodgers’ athleticism by using the keeper game to get Rodgers on the edge.

Using the same wide zone scheme allows Lock to use his athleticism on boot keeps. As a result, Lock — like Rodgers has over the past few seasons — will have increased clean looks on the edge.

The switch to a wide zone under Hackett may be the best thing for Lock. However, he may not have the opportunity to be the Broncos quarterback in 2022. Lock feels confident that he has what it takes to be the answer for a franchise that has struggled to find “the guy”.

If a clear upgrade does not materialize for Paton, the marriage between Hackett and Lock might surprise fans next season.

Hackett’s arrival could help the Broncos unlock their quarterback. Lock seems to think the right opportunity will show the best he has to offer.

“I do feel like if you put me out there, there is not a play you can’t run with me,” Lock said after the season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. “I can make a throw here, I can make a throw there, I was waiting for the opportunity to show you guys I can run around and they gave it to me. But that’s not a surprise to me.”

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