Well, Paxton Lynch looked like a rookie. And despite some desperate rallying at the end, the first start of his NFL career ended with the first Denver Broncos’ loss of the season.
It was easy to hope Lynch would step right in and flourish. Dak Prescott just keeps winning with the Dallas Cowboys, a team that was horrible with bad backup QB play last year. Eagles’ rookie Carson Wentz lost today, but the Eagles were previously undefeated and still look like a much better team than they were last year.
With those guys playing so well, there was hope that the last rookie taken in the first round – well ahead of Prescott, after all – would do the same.
He didn’t. You can’t blame him. He is a rookie, after all. This is a guy who never had a QB coach until the pros, who never used a huddle in high school or college, and who did play against low-tier competition at the NCAA level. He has the physical tools, but there are a lot of hurdles to overcome.
Holding the Ball
The Falcons were the worst team in the NFL at getting to the QB, averaging one sack per game before Sunday. They came in and Vic Beasley got 3.5 sacks all on his own. They were in Lynch’s face all day, and, while some of that absolutely has to do with the beat-up, underperforming offensive line, some of it also has to do with Lynch just holding that ball too long.
It’s a classic rookie move. Instead of just reacting and knowing where guys are, he’s trying to read the play and find guys. It takes him a second too long to do it. Even at the end, he rolled out of the pocket, bought time, and then motioned for his receivers to run deeper. Then he stood there, waiting, and got hammered. He’ll figure it out eventually, but the game moved a bit fast for him.
Lynch also struggled with accuracy, especially in the first half. He threw a lot of overthrows and passes that were just too high. One sailed right over the head of its intended target and only wasn’t an interception by some fluke, as it hit a defender – who shouldn’t even have been in on the play – right in the hands.
He just looked a bit tight. A bit nervous. The pass rush was getting to him and he’d try to make a quick, frantic play. He needs to learn exactly how much time he has and how to stand in and throw an accurate, controlled pass even with the rush coming on. The best thing for it will simply be more snaps. He’ll get used to that pressure, but he wasn’t there yet.
Check Down Passes
Lynch did end the day with 223 yards and a TD (and a pick). Those aren’t terrible stats. Realistically, he was only 44 yards behind Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who has been doing this for a while now.
But a lot of those yards came on check-down passes and in garbage time. With the pressure the Falcons were getting on Lynch, that’s not all bad. Check-down passes can be hugely useful. But it became clear very quickly that the Falcons were more than happy to give that up, taking away everything deep. Lynch kept taking them. While that’s better than taking sacks, it did slow the offense down and meant that his yardage totals weren’t as telling as they might have been otherwise.
It is important to come away from this game looking at the upsides, as well. Lynch does throw that out route to the sidelines very well. He has great arm strength. He had enough mobility to get away from some of the sacks and at least turn them into neutral plays or short runs. He only threw one pick, which is huge for a rookie.
Things didn’t go his way today, and this game wasn’t as close as the score indicates, but Lynch did do some things right. He just looked like a rookie doing things right, whereas Trevor Siemian looked like a guy with a much better command of the offense, a QB who was doing what he wanted to do. Lynch didn’t have that decisiveness. Again, it’s not a disaster and there’s a lot to build on, but it does prove that Lynch still has quite a lot of growing to do as he transitions into the NFL.