DENVER -- The question continues to shift with Drew Lock, evidence of a season sinking into the abyss. It has gone from, "Is Lock a franchise quarterback?" to "Can Lock avoid being benched?"
Following Lock's cringeworthy, four-interception outing, Broncos coach Vic Fangio plans to stick with the second-year pro, if he is healthy. Lock injured his ribs in the 37-12 loss to the Raiders, and needs a good week of practice to start against the scalding-hot Dolphins.
Lock has no issue with toughness. But his performance has been abysmal. He ranks last in the NFL with a 55 percent completion percentage and second in interceptions (10). A confluence of factors have contributed to the Broncos' fourth straight 3-6 start, among them a struggling offensive line, inconsistent running game and inexperienced receiving corps.
However, Lock's slump defines the offensive issues.
"We are going to keep going with him," said Fangio, stressing that the team is in a funk, not just Lock. "When you go back and look at the five games he played last year, outside of the Houston game, the games were pretty low scoring. I see definite improvement. There’s no question he has the talent. He is going through the growing pains.”
It certainly hurt to watch the Broncos on Sunday. They were outscored 27-6 in the second half as the Raiders used them as a chew toy. The game flipped when Lock fired a fastball to Raiders safety Jeff Heath in the end zone right before the half. Lock had scored on a 5-yard run on the previous play, but it was negated by a questionable holding call on Noah Fant.
Lock looked like he lacked confidence going forward, completing 10 of 22 passes for 95 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown. He insisted he wasn't seeing ghosts. The mistakes, though, were glaring.
Lock's reckless nature on passes has to decrease, especially in the middle of the field. It's one thing for Fangio to play a quarterback in the name of development, but Lock must show improvement, if not for the coaches, then his teammates.
"It's about having a good week of practice. There is not much more you can do," Lock said Monday on 850 KOA. "Come in here, try to light a fire under both sides of the team. It's not like these games are going to stop. ... I can just work on not making the bad plays worse, making better decisions with the ball. We’re making those little mistakes and they all add up."
By statistics alone, Lock has regressed. He has shown an ability to connect on deep strikes, but it has amplified aggressiveness that has created turnovers. The onus is on offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to help Lock regain his footing. A running game would provide a tremendous boost. The Broncos are not doing anything well offensively, lacking an identity. The Broncos rushed for 66 yards against the Raiders, and rank 19th in ground yards per game at 106.6.
The idea that Phillip Lindsay rushed the ball four times for two yards remains difficult to fathom. It goes back to a unit having no rhythm, facing long third downs, and the Raiders widening their margin in the second half.
"There is no doubt a better running game would help any quarterback," Fangio said.
For now, the Broncos will show patience with Lock. The last seven games are an audition. Can Lock show he deserves a commitment or will the team bring in competition, a proven veteran or look to acquire a young quarterback through trade (Sam Darnold will be a coveted commodity by several teams) or the draft?
Lock believes the Broncos can execute a U-turn.
"Yes, there's always time. There's always time, if you have the mindset, that's good and that's positive. Obviously, I have a very real mindset. I realize that it was not very good today and it hasn't been very good the past couple of weeks, but it doesn't get better if you dwell on it." Lock said. "You can only keep moving forward and you keep looking into next week and keep coming out and playing — just keep pushing."
Defensive end Shelby Harris, as I wrote last week, is unlikely to play against the Dolphins. He is recovering from COVID-19, and will have gone nearly three weeks without practicing before Sunday's game, making it difficult to play ...
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago, is not back in the building. Fangio hopes he returns by the end of the week ...
Fangio said that they were comfortable with the cornerback rotation of Bryce Callahan, A.J. Bouye and Essang Bassey against the Raiders receivers. That's why rookie Michael Ojemudia, who struggled with tackling in the previous game, did not play a single snap.