Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock was elite on playaction throws. Unfortunately, he was terrible on non-playaction throws which made up most of his drop backs.
Pro-football-reference.com has some nice (and free) advanced stats on QB play. One of them shows how well QBs played on play action (PA) vs non-playaction. It had been noted by Joe Rowles from his discussion with some other statheads, that Drew Lock was really good on play-action passes and really bad on non-PA throws. So I wanted to dig into this and see how he compared to the other 34 qualifying QBs in the league.
So let’s first look at the non-playaction data for all 3 QBs.
|Gardner Minshew II||182||280||65.0||1896||14||4||95.2||22||6.8|
Lock was 35th of 35. His passer rating of 63.6 was a step below Dwayne Haskins and Sam Darnold. On non-PA his passer rating was almost half of what Aaron Rodgers was (113.7). Lock and Haskins were the only two QBs in the league to have more INTs than TD on non-PA throws.
Now compare the above to PA passing stats below
|Gardner Minshew II||34||47||72.3||363||2||1||99.9||5||7.7|
Lock was 8th in passer rating on PA throws. Aaron Rodgers was unreal on PA throws completing 73.5 percent for 19 TD and 0 INTs. That gave him a passer rating of 137.5 on PA throws. Lock had a passer rating of 120.5 on PA throws. Like Rodgers, Lock did not throw a single interception on a play-action pass. Of course, Tua Tagovailoa, Nick Foles, Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger can also say that for 2020, but those guys combined for a total of five TD passes on PA throws – two less than Lock.
If we view this through the lens of how much better Lock was on PA vs non-PA, it almost gets sickening, particularly if you factor in that Lock only had 20.8% of his throws as PA throws.
Drew Lock finished the season with a passer rating of 120.5 on playaction passes and a passer rating of 63.6 on non-PA. Drew Lock also finished 26th of 53 in % of passes that came from playaction. Among starters Tannehill had highest % of throws from PA. Big Ben had lowest. pic.twitter.com/LVWOohJV1O
— Joseph Mahoney (@ndjomo76) January 7, 2021
Here’s the view of all 35 QBs and how they compared on PA vs non-PA.
Drew Lock was 8th best (of 35) in passer rating on play-action passes, but 35th on non-PA. His PA vs non-PA is sickening. From a passer rating perspective he was 90% better on play-action than on non-PA. That was almost double the next closest, Mayfield. Rodgers was unreal on PA pic.twitter.com/IULiin5ge4
— Joseph Mahoney (@ndjomo76) January 7, 2021
So now we get to the question – why did Pat Shurmur not call more PA throws for Lock? If you look at the other two actual QBs that played for us this season (sorry, Kendall Hinton, you don’t count), you find that they were fairly low in terms of PA percentage, significantly lower than Lock. In fact, Jeff Driskell was one of only three NFL Qbs of the 53 with 40 or more attempts to have less than 10 percent of his throws as PA throws. Driskell was throwing off of playaction on only 9.4 percent of his throws. The other two QBs both played for the Steelers, who didn’t use play action at all as a team. Brett Rypien was not far ahead of Driskell. His PA percentage was 12.5 percent.
So while Pat Shurmur was not calling many playaction throws for Lock, he was calling them even less frequently for Driskell and Rypien. The Broncos finished the season 23rd in percentage of passes that were thrown from playaction. Why, you ask? I have no idea.
|Rank||Tm||ATTEMPTS||PA ATTEMPTS||PA %|
From what I remember of this injury-plagued season for the Broncos, our offense only worked when the running game was clicking like it was against the Dolphins.
So maybe the reason that Pat Shurmur was not calling much playaction is that opposing defenses were not fooled by it because they were able to stop our running game in many games with only their front four (or five). If the opponent’s LBs are not biting on the run fake, then PA become less effective.
I would love to ask Pat Shurmur why he didn’t call more PA throws since it seemed to work fairly well for the Titans, Rams, Bills and Packers – the top four in terms of percentage of throws that came from PA. All four of those teams are in the playoffs.
Of course the Broncos did not have a back like Derrick Henry (frankly, no one else did either), but they also didn’t have a QB like Josh Allen or Aaron Rodgers. You could argue that Lock is comparable to Jared Goff and that Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay were comparable to or better than the three RBs who got 100 or more carries for the Rams. So why did Kevin McConnell and Sean McVay call so much more PA than Pat Shurmur did? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe Drew Lock is not as good at selling the run fake as Jared Goff is. Maybe we need to bring Steve DeBerg in as a consultant to teach Drew Lock how to fake handoffs.