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Broncos offense takes a significant step back when Paxton Lynch is at quarterback

Paxton Lynch may end up being the quarterback of the future for the Broncos, but right now the team’s offense struggles with the rookie under center.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos will turn back to Trevor Siemian, who missed Week 13 due to a foot injury, sending rookie first-round pick Paxton Lynch back to the sideline. That’s welcomed news for the Broncos offense, after Lynch struggled to move the ball while under center.

It’s far too early to make a final determination about Lynch’s long-term viability as the quarterback of the future for the Broncos, but the early returns haven’t been promising.

In two starts and three games, Lynch has completed 49 of 83 passes for 497 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The numbers are far from poor, but the concern has been the team’s inability to score points and its susceptibility to instead absorb negative plays.

Against the Atlanta Falcons, the Broncos lost 23-16 with 10 of the points coming in the final three minutes and Lynch going down from six Atlanta sacks. Two months later, Lynch got his first win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 20-10, but was aided by a 51-yard interception returned for a touchdown and two more Jaguars turnovers.

The Broncos offense resigned to punt the ball 11 times against the Jaguars, with Riley Dixon becoming the first punter to eclipse 500 yards of punting in a game in 2016.

But growing pains were to be expected for a raw rookie who showed big talent at Memphis, but a lack of polish. Still, Broncos general manager John Elway seemed to expect more from Lynch at this point.

“Is that going to happen tomorrow? Probably not, but you never know when it can happen,” Elway told Denver Sports 760 in May when asked how long it would take Lynch to be a starter. “We think he’s going to be ready quicker than a lot of people think.”

Seven months later, Lynch looks erratic and inconsistent with the basics that would make him an accurate passer. In particular, Lynch has struggled to find his balance to drive the ball downfield, especially if he’s rolling out of the pocket.

The sloppy footwork has been a consistent theme for Lynch in his limited time on the field.

“He learned a lot from this game,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said after the victory over the Jaguars. “He missed two big plays in the game off the bootlegs that could have been touchdowns for us. He’ll learn from that, and he’ll be better because of it.

“He’s still a young, raw player. There’s some opportunities in the game where he has to give us a better chance with the ball. It’s really just making those plays.”

The second miss was also due to Lynch not properly finding his balance before throwing downfield. While not as egregious as the other error, in both cases Lynch’s momentum continued to carry him toward the sideline and resulted in an underthrown pass to an open receiver.

For the most part, Lynch hasn’t been asked to throw downfield much. He has just 6.0 yards per attempt, which would be ahead of only Brock Osweiler among qualifying quarterbacks.

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Plenty of quarterbacks have struggled early in their NFL careers before cleaning up the issues that caused those early struggles. Footwork is a correctable problem, and Lynch likely needs more time to adjust to the challenges of learning an NFL playbook.

But in 2016, the Broncos look like a team in serious trouble if it needs to rely on Lynch much down the stretch.

Siemian’s 89.2 passer rating isn’t elite, but the team has been able to score with the 2015 seventh-round pick under center. At 8-4 and currently in control of the second AFC Wild Card berth, the Broncos can’t afford to slip up and their best chance at a postseason run is with Siemian leading the way.