In Trevor Siemian’s senior season at Northwestern, he didn’t have a single game with more than one touchdown pass. One year earlier he led the Wildcats to a 37-34 win in the season finale against Illinois with four touchdowns, but even Northwestern fans couldn’t have expected Siemian’s next four-touchdown game would come in the NFL.
Hell, Northwestern faithful hardly believed Siemian would even stick on an NFL roster. That made it even more astounding that he shredded the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday to the tune of 312 yards and four touchdowns, just two years after his senior season with seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The difference for Siemian between his college days and his short time so far as a professional: The Broncos are a really good football team. Northwestern was not.
Denver won the Super Bowl a year ago with poor quarterback play and turned the keys of a Ferrari over to Siemian. There’s no doubt the team’s defense is elite and C.J. Anderson is leading a rushing attack that racked up 282 yards in the first two weeks.
So maybe the improved cast around him is the reason why Siemian looks completely unflappable under center with the Broncos.
Siemian is essentially a rookie, so things have been far from perfect. In the first two weeks, he just looked serviceable enough to get a win. He threw just one touchdown and three interceptions, but wasn’t a disaster and completed more than two-thirds of his passes to keep the Broncos offense moving.
But Sunday looked like his coming out party. Siemian threw two touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter to erase a 17-16 lead for the Bengals and get a win against a high-quality team in his first-ever start on the road.
"We’ve been waiting for the offense to finish the game," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said after the game. "They did a great job today, and that’s what we need."
No, it wasn’t a perfect showing. On one drive against the Bengals, he hit Cincinnati defenders in the hands twice, but he was fortunate that neither pass was intercepted.
"We gave Trevor an opportunity to make some throws. He’s growing. The guys around him did a good job," Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said. "His numbers were terrific … He got away with a few tipped passes today, and he hasn’t gotten away with that before, but that’s part of playing quarterback. He works hard."
Still, mistakes, coverages, and free blitzers haven’t fazed him.
The result of the above play was an illegal contact penalty, which bailed out an otherwise bad throw, but the way he stepped aside from unblocked Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey showed a poise few quarterbacks display in their third NFL start.
Siemian is also helped out by the fact that the Broncos invested heavily at the wide receiver position, giving Demaryius Thomas a five-year extension last summer and Emmanuel Sanders a four-year extension earlier in September. On Sunday, both Thomas and Sanders caught deep touchdown passes down the left sideline after getting behind Bengals cornerback Adam Jones on nearly identical looking plays.
The Broncos are a team that relies on their defense and grinding rushing attack to wear away at teams. Nothing would make them more dangerous than a quarterback able to strike deep a few times a game.
On both long touchdown passes, Cincinnati stacked defenders close to the line of scrimmage for a third down and sent extra pass rushers on a blitz. Taking a shot over the top and connecting for a big play makes a defense think twice about pressuring a quarterback or stacking the box to defend against the run.
If Siemian can avoid mistakes and keep defenses honest, it’s more than enough for the rest of the team to mow through opponents. If he can also complete game-changing plays, it’s tough to imagine the Broncos picking up many losses in 2016.