Uh oh. Here come the rain clouds, just in time to rain on the parade in Broncos Country.
For the first time in ages, it feels like there is reason to be excited about the orange and blue. Not only did Denver get a win, knocking off Cleveland by a 24-19 count on Sunday, but they did so in relatively entertaining fashion.
Behind a quarterback making the first start of his NFL career, the Broncos offense showed some life. For one of the few times all season, they posted big scoring plays, converted key first downs with the game on the line and generally looked like they had a semblance of a plan on offense.
A lot of the credit has to go to Brandon Allen. The fourth-year signal caller was impressive in his debut, completing 12 of 20 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn’t commit any turnovers, throwing no interceptions and taking care of the ball when he was hit in the backfield.
That’s a steady stat line. It was a workmanlike performance. And it got the job done against the Browns.
But it’s not a long-term formula for success. Not by a long shot.
That said, there were some things that Allen did that the Broncos can build upon. He showed some flashes of bigger and better things to come.
The first touchdown pass of his career was a 21-yard completion to Courtland Sutton. Yes, the second-year wideout made a tremendous catch, leaping over Denzel Ward to snare the ball in the end zone. But that doesn’t diminish Allen’s part in the play.
It was refreshing to see a quarterback who was willing to take a shot. Instead of being ultra-conservative with every throw, Allen followed up a completion on third-and-11 by going for seven on the very next play. After years of watching one Captain Check Down after another, that aggressiveness was a breath of fresh air.
In addition, it was nice to see Allen trust his best receiver. Sutton has proven to be uncoverable at times, from practice to the games, as he’s able to win 50-50 balls at way more than a 50 percent clip. So it was smart to give the 6-foot-4 receiver a chance against the 5-foot-11 cornerback.
Contrast that moment to what Baker Mayfield did later in the game. On fourth-and-four at the Broncos 28-yard line, the Browns quarterback didn’t take his shot when Odell Beckham Jr. got a step on Chris Harris Jr. Instead, he tried to throw underneath and the pass was broken up, ending Cleveland’s chances.
Sometimes, a quarterback has to trust his playmakers. Allen showed that he’s willing to do just that on his first career touchdown pass.
He also showed that he can air it out. Heading into the game, there were questions about Allen’s arm strength. But on an otherwise innocuous play, the first-time starter showed that he can stretch the field.
On their first offensive play of the second half, the Broncos took a shot down the middle of the field. The post pass from Allen to Diontae Spencer fell incomplete, just beyond the outstretched hands of the speedy receiver, but the end result was somewhat beside the point. The quarterback showed with that pass that he had the arm strength to make the deep throw.
Throughout the game, Allen also showed that he had the skills to run the Mike Shanahan / Gary Kubiak / Rich Scangarello offense. For the first time this season, Denver had a quarterback behind center who seemed at ease with the physical requirements of operating a system that relies heavily on crossing routes and bootlegs.
The first example was an obvious one, as Allen found Noah Fant in the middle of the field on the first play of the second quarter. The rookie tight end broke multiple tackles and turned the receptions into a 75-yard completion.
But it was another completion to Fant that was the most impressive. On the Broncos 95-yard scoring drive that put them ahead 24-12, Allen hit the tight end for a 16-yard completion on second down from their own 11-yard line. The pass was a thing of beauty, as the quarterback rolled to his right and floated a perfect strike over two Browns defenders.
Joe Flacco doesn’t make that play. Case Keenum doesn’t make that play. Trevor Siemian doesn’t make that play.
So there are reasons to be optimistic. Allen didn’t seem overwhelmed by the situation and he seemed perfectly capable of making plays within the system. There’s a reason the Broncos looked more in sync on offense than they have all year; they finally had a quarterback with the skill set to do what’s required to be successful.
But none of that means the Broncos have found their quarterback of the future. It would be foolish for them to think so.
John Elway and Company already deviated from their plan with Drew Lock once because they believed they were still in contention. They can’t make the same mistake again due to thinking Allen is a long-term solution at quarterback.
He might turn out to be a fine player. But no matter what he does in the next couple of games, the Broncos need to play Lock as soon as possible. Starting with their Dec. 1 game against the Chargers, the rookie needs to be behind center.
That’s not an indictment of Allen. It’s just the reality of the situation. Denver can’t get to the offseason without knowing what they have in Lock.
The worst-case scenario for the Broncos would be a quarterback battle during training camp next year between Allen and Lock. There’s a decent chance that neither player is “the answer,” which Denver needs to know well before the calendar turns to 2020.
In 2017, the team’s preseason featured a much-ballyhoed QB competition between Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter who won; neither was a legitimate long-term answer.
The Broncos would’ve perhaps known that had they played Lynch at the end of the 2016 campaign. Instead, they kept trotting out Siemain en route to a 9-7 season. They sacrificed knowledge for meaningless wins, a mistake that can’t happen again.
Brandon Allen should feel great about his debut today. Everyone in the Mile High City can be encouraged by the way the quarterback played against the Browns. But one win can’t change Denver’s plans.
By the end of the season, Elway needs to know what he has in Allen and Lock. That’s not raining on the parade. It’s simply offering a cold dose of reality.
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