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‘It starts with leadership’: Broncos safety Justin Simmons vents frustration after another ugly loss

First-year Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett is showing himself to be less qualified for his position with each passing week

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There are not a lot of words to describe the Denver Broncos latest debacle, a 19-16 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, in a series of debacles that have been their 2022 NFL regular season.

One thing is pretty clear, though: this is a terribly coached, terribly prepared team on offense who continues to shove a middle finger to the face of its elite, defensive counterpart.

All-pro safety Justin Simmons, who saw his first action since a quad injury sidelined him in week 1, finished with 5 tackles and was left visibly and audibly frustrated by yet another inept offensive performance led by head coach Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson.

“It starts with leadership,” he said after the loss. “We all know what the definition of insanity is. We can’t keep doing the same thing week in and week out and think things are going to change.”

Those able to hear the words in person were sure to let everyone else know Simmons was very much NOT in good spirits.

The Denver Broncos have been a mediocre-at-best, bad-at-worst team since Peyton Manning retired in 2016, but the level of ineptitude, confusion, and total lack of anything resembling discipline this season is the likes of which Broncos Country has never seen.

This was supposed to be a game where the Broncos finally clicked offensively, as having 11 days off may as well be a mini bye week, so the opportunity for improvement was there for the taking. And for a brief moment, it seemed as if they had capitalized.

Wilson was white hot to start the game, going 10-for-10 for 116 yards and a touchdown, and outside of missing a wide open Greg Dulcich on a third down look, he looked like the QB Broncos fans thought they were getting. Following that stretch, though, the offense went into full meltdown mode.

Wilson finished the game 5-18 for 72 yards. Despite having an impressive debut with 66 yards on 15 carries, Hackett refused to give the ball to running back Latavious Thomas on third-and-short situations, instead going for passes out of the shotgun.

The offensive line was awful in pass protection, getting Wilson sacked 4 times in the game (although it can be argued that one was on Wilson after not seeing an obvious blitz pre-snap). The team also committed 10 penalties for 151 yards.

Then of course there’s the continued third-down woes, where again, the Broncos offense was terrible, converting just 4 of 14. The team finished with 4 three-and-outs, including one to open up the second half. They also failed to capitalize on a Baron Browning interception, gaining zero yards in 3 plays, capped off by a sack on Wilson and settling for a field goal.

Simmons didn’t specify what or who he meant by “leadership”, but it doesn’t take a genius to break it down. The Broncos defense, once again, was phenomenal, giving the offense every chance to make something happen.

The pass rush was effective in getting Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert uneasy, especially in the second half. Defensive back Pat Surtain II completely locked down his side of the field, rendering wide receiver Mike Williams essentially useless. And filling in for injured Josey Jewell, linebacker Alex Singleton played admirably with 19 tackles.

Again, it’s not defensive leadership that’s likely on his mind.

So that leaves two likely candidates, Hackett and Wilson. And given the level of undisciplined behavior on offense, lack of preparedness, terrible pass protection, the inability to adjust a game plan when the opposition does, and the complete absence of any kind of play calling that generates 6 points, it seems to fall on Hackett.

It’s not that Wilson is blameless. He isn’t. He definitely missed some guys and was slow to go through his progressions in the second half. He seemed too comfortable staying in the pocket during collapses rather than rolling out. His miscues with his receivers and head scratching moments of not seeing open receivers continued. Yet, his receivers did nothing to get themselves open in the second half. His offensive line seems hellbent on getting him killed. And the play calls for him on third down did nothing for him.

Wilson showed in the first half he still has the chops to be a good QB, but watching him try and execute whatever it is Hackett is trying to pass off as a game plan is just excruciating to watch.

It is now 6 weeks into the season. The halfway mark is approaching. And while the Broncos have seemed so close to clicking offensively and seemed just a quick adjustment here or there away from taking off, it’s clear now it’s an “it is what it is” situation. Simple football seems to evade this offensive unit, and it doesn’t seem particularly fixable with the personnel currently employed.

Hackett again took the blame after the game, but at this point, those words are meaningless when the same mistakes continue to be made and points continue to be left on the field. Enough talk, it’s time for action, and since it isn’t coming from the sideline, maybe it’s time to start wondering when it should come from the front office.

When one of the most respected players in the locker room is speaking openly about needing leadership, that is something general manager George Paton and new owner Rob Walton should be paying very, very close attention to.