By Ryan Mayer

(CBS4)- It’s been a frustrating season for Broncos fans hoping the team would take a step forward to playoff contention this season. Injuries have certainly played a factor as has the inconsistency of quarterback Drew Lock.

In his first season as full-time starter, Lock has flashed plenty of good moments mixed with some bad as well. What’s particularly striking about his six (really five) starts this season is the difference between his play in the first and second halves of games. As ESPN senior writer Jeff Legwold pointed out this week, Lock has been a starkly different quarterback late in games than he has been in the first half.

“This season Lock is a 57% passer in the first half of games with one touchdown and one interception. He is a 65% passer in the second half of games with five touchdowns and two interceptions as well as a rushing touchdown. All six of those second half touchdowns have been scored in the fourth quarter of the last two games combined.”

The disparity in play, The NFL Today analyst Phil Simms points out could come from a number of factors.

“There could be many things. It could be the fact that the score dictates maybe it’s easier sometimes because they could be losing and teams play you differently or it could be that Pat Shurmur finally goes, okay, this group of plays isn’t working so let’s go to another group of plays,” said Simms.

And, of course, making difficult throws late in games in pressure situations is exactly what you want to see out of a young quarterback. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said in the wake of the team’s comeback win over the Chargers, that Lock’s play late is great, but the early part of games needs to be fixed.

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“Now, the flip side of that, and once the dust all settles, you guys say, ‘OK, how do we execute better early?’ And I think that’s the challenge moving forward. I think we would all agree that shooting 3-pointers at the buzzer is not the way to do this thing,” said Shurmur.

For Simms, it’s a matter of Lock being a bit more judicious in his decision making. The former quarterback is a fan of Lock’s abilities but he wants to see him be more willing to take what’s underneath the defense instead of continually bombing down field.

“Just looking at him and what he’s doing, he needs to tighten it up, just be a little more careful in decision making. Be a little more cautious. As I said on the show last week on The NFL Today, they asked me what I think of Drew Lock and I said I like Drew Lock, but he has never turned down a 50-yard or 40-yard pass that he didn’t like,” said Simms. “The league is really about throwing it underneath and then when you get those opportunities you shoot it down the field. Right now, I think he sees it the opposite way. That could change, young quarterback, more experience and I’m sure the coaches will do a good job with him.”

There should be some opportunities to take those steps forward this week against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders defense ranks 23rd in passing yards allowed, 21st in opponent’s passer rating, 31st in sacks and 27th in pass rush win rate. That means there is some opportunity for Lock and his talented receiving corps to find areas to exploit on Sunday.

“Drew Lock’s got a top flight receiving core in (Jerry) Jeudy, (KJ) Hamler, Noah Fant, Tim Patrick and they have Daesean Hamilton who has a hard time getting involved because of all these other guys. But, they’re going against a Raiders defense that just cannot get to the quarterback,” said Simms. “They (the Raiders) do play very hard on the defensive side, but this week Drew Lock is going to have some chances to throw the football. Matchups are going to favor him for sure. Their talent against the corners, safeties and lack of pass rush should mean some success for the Denver Broncos.”

The Broncos face the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas this Sunday at 2:05 p.m. Mountain Time on CBS.

Ryan Mayer

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