Drew or Shu? Should Drew Lock or Pat Shurmur shoulder the blame for the Broncos woes on O?

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) leaves the field after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For two weeks in a row now, the Denver Broncos offense has looked like two entirely different units: A dreadful offense, and a terrific one. As it were, those two units could be referred to as the Broncos “first half” offense and the Broncos “second half” offense.

Had it not been for a miraculous game-winning drive complete with a debatable pass interference call last week against the Chargers, the Broncos first-half offense would have been responsible for two (probably three) straight losses. Lately, the Broncos offense has been so bad in the first half, it’s nearly unwatchable. In fact, since the New England game when Drew Lock returned from a shoulder injury, the Broncos have only managed one first half touchdown – that’s one touchdown in eight first-half quarters.

“We say it every week; we’ve got to find a way to start earlier,” Lock told KOA’s Dave Logan following the game.

Vic Fangio, who doesn’t make many observations when it comes to the offense, put it this way: “I thought our whole offense was out of sorts.”

But one half does not a football team make. Against the Chargers, the Broncos put up 28 second half points and ultimately won. Yesterday in Atlanta, a game that looked well out of reach at half – as the Broncos trailed 20-3 – or at the start of the fourth quarter – with the score at 27-6 – became suddenly pretty interesting with just under two minutes to go. In the fourth quarter, Lock engineered three touchdown drives. The final score of 34-27 indicated a close game, but that really wasn’t the case.

In the last two weeks, the numbers are certainly deceiving. In two games, the Broncos are averaging 29 points and 378 yards. Not terrible, especially for a team that was only mustering 16 points per game when Drew Lock was under center (against Tennessee, New England and Tennessee) earlier in the season. Statistically, there’s been a major improvement. For anyone who’s watched the first half only, however, the Broncos offense has looked historically bad.

But those are just facts, indisputable by nature.

What’s important though are the answers to two very important questions: Why? And Who?

Why are the Broncos so bad at the start of games? And who’s to blame?

There are unquestionably some very valid excuses – injuries and youth being the top two. The Broncos have been decimated by bumps and bruises, and they own the youngest average age across skill positions (24 years and 353 days) in the entire NFL.

But neither of those reasons explain why the Broncos can’t play in the first half, and they can play in the second.

It’s easy to blame the offensive line – a unit that’s been bad for as long as anyone in Denver can remember. But again, the same line that had Lock scrambling for his life for most of Sunday, is the same one in the trenches during two straight weeks of fourth quarter fireworks.

Whatever happens at halftime seems to be the difference between a practically incompetent Drew Lock and an electrifying one. Is that Lock finally saying enough is enough? Or, could it be that the original gameplan gets thrown out the window once the Broncos have dug too deep a hole? Whether applying the stat sheet or the eye-test, there’s no denying that Lock looks like a player when his back is against the wall – or, maybe – when he’s drawing up plays in the dirt out of desperation.

Another way to examine the situation: In his five games operating under former offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, Lock completed 64.1 percent of his passes, averaged 204 passing yards, 1.4 touchdown passes and .6 interceptions per game. In five games (not counting Pittsburgh, in which Lock was injured in the first quarter) under Pat Shurmur, Lock has completed 57.2 percent of his passes, and has averaged 244 passing yards, 1.2 touchdowns and 1.2 interceptions. Under Scangarello, Lock was 4-1; under Shurmur, he’s 2-3 (again, throwing out the Pittsburgh game).

Statistically, there’s not a major difference. And the aforementioned excuses could account for just about any dropoff in numbers. Then again, there’s not the obvious tale of two halves. There’s no debating that the Broncos offense – as their head coach aptly put it – is “out of sorts.”

What’s probably fair and accurate, however, is to say that the Lock and the offense have the capability to perform, but haven’t done so consistently. Are the Broncos poorly coached or undermanned? Or, worse yet, both?

From now until the end of the season, the Broncos desperately need to answer one question first: Is Drew Lock the man to lead this franchise into the future?

And secondarily, is Pat Shurmur the coordinator to lead Drew Lock?

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