The one indisputable opinion Denver Broncos fans and media personalities alike agree upon is that current head coach Nathaniel Hackett is an unmitigated disaster and should be removed from his position no later than the end of the regular season.
If anyone is still on the fence, please direct your attention to the tweet below.
The Broncos currently rank last in scoring and 1st in points allowed. That's unprecedented in the 32 team era.— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) November 14, 2022
In fact, the last NFL team to finish with the fewest points scored and fewest points allowed was the 1946 Steelers.
Yeah...what the Denver Broncos offense has done to the Denver Broncos defense can only be described as criminal behavior that deserves prosecution to the fullest. Yet, this is the NFL, and things aren’t governed that way, so at least until Hackett is let go, the defense is going to have to carry the load and be the hunter to the offense’s gatherer.
Again though Hackett’s failure is obvious to all of us, and we all have to suffer through his weekly “accountability starts with me, but things will be kept status quo” cringeworthy routine, What is not unanimously agreed upon is if how much blame the level of play at the QB position should shoulder.
Russell Wilson came to Denver at the cost of two first-round picks, and general manager wasted no time extending him for five years for nearly quarter of a billion dollars. While his $165 million guaranteed isn’t exactly the same level of insanity as Deshaun Watson’s $230 million guaranteed, it was a huge chunk of change for a guy who had yet to take a snap for the Broncos.
On the surface, it didn’t seem like a bad deal, as Wilson was a Super Bowl-winning, nine-time Pro Bowl QB consistently considered among the league’s elite at the position. The Broncos had been hungry for a franchise QB since Peyton Manning retired, so why not acquire the guy who stood in the way of Manning’s first Super Bowl attempt with the Broncos?
If we only knew...
It doesn’t need to be rehashed in detail, but Wilson is off to his worst statistical start in his career. His most staunch defenders will point to the injuries he’s suffered (shoulder and hamstring) as the perpetrators, but there is more to it.
Kurt Warner broke it down in more detail than anyone needs on his YouTube channel.
It’s a half-hour worth of analysis, so view it at your own leisure, but his message is pretty simple: the guy is simply missing easy reads and open receivers. He’s making poor decisions and just isn’t playing like the same QB he was in Seattle. And that’s regardless of injury status.
Again, much of the blame here can again be attributed to Hackett’s offensive “system”, and that with Wilson, he’s jamming a square peg into a round hole. It can also be said that Wilson is not only suffering from his own injuries, but his teammates’ as well.
WR Tim Patrick is out for the year, oft-injured WR KJ Hamler has been...well...oft-injured, and WR Jerry Jeudy has been fighting injuries throughout the season as well. And the offensive line has been decimated by injuries, as Wilson has been running for his life lately. But as Tim Jenkins said here, that can be mitigated with the proper play calling (and again we’re back to Hackett).
These are tough obstacles, but not impossible to overcome for the game’s best.
Wilson isn’t the first QB to face injury unfairness. Or even one who has lacked worthy WRs. Before Randy Moss and Gronk, most reading this probably couldn’t name Tom Brady’s best WR corps in New England. Some still probably don’t know the names of the guys Aaron Rodgers is throwing to.
And even Peyton Manning with the Colts would put up huge numbers to multiple receivers who would go on elsewhere only to do nothing without #18 throwing them the rock. The point is that the greats find ways to make offense happen, and Wilson to this point has not.
Like Warner’s analysis points out, Wilson is missing reads. He is missing open receivers. He does seem at times to determined to be a pocket passer more so than a mobile improviser. Even with play-calling ineptitude, he is not without blame, and his stats show it.
Broncos primary starting QBs and their passer ratings in the first nine games of the season (since 2016):— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) November 15, 2022
Russell Wilson, ’22: 81.4
Teddy Bridgewater, ’21: 101.3
Drew Lock, ’20: 66.5
Joe Flacco, ’19: 85.1
Case Keenum, '18: 83.9
Trevor Siemian, ’17: 76.8
Trevor Siemian, ‘16: 86.2
Yet, this piece isn’t to determine whether Wilson still “has it” or not. Rather, it’s to determine how the Broncos need to move forward with the position following the season.
George Paton is in potentially the most unenviable position of any front office executive in the NFL with regards to this scenario.
He chose to pass on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft in favor of Pat Surtain II. While PS2 is becoming the best corner in the NFL, corners don’t win Super Bowls, and if Fields continues his ascent he’s been on this season, the pick may come back to haunt him. Had he made the Fields pick, perhaps the team isn’t in this situation.
Now, he has new ownership who is not exactly known accept failure, and they inherited a GM who prior to their arrival awarded a quarter of a billion dollar contract to a QB who never took a snap, is now 3-5 as a starter, and is among the worst statistical QBs in the league.
The group will move on from Hackett, there is almost no doubt in that, but the next hire is where it gets tricky.
The easiest, most obvious choice seems to be to bring in Dan Quinn, the presumptive favorite this past cycle, and along with him, Brian Schottenheimer, now an analyst with the Dallas Cowboys but who as offensive coordinator led the Seattle Seahawks from 2018-20 to one of the most powerful offenses in the league.
Yet, Quinn as a head coach was .500 or worse in 3 of 6 seasons for the Atlanta Falcons. What if the new ownership group wants a young up and comer, like a Kevin O’Connell type who the Broncos interviewed last season and has led the Minnesota Vikings to an 8-1 start?
And what if that coach, say someone like Shane Steichen or DeMeco Ryans, doesn’t want to be handcuffed to Wilson and would rather dip into the draft to find someone to build with?
Therefore, the choices could be a veteran guy who was just mediocre in his first stop as head coach but might (key word) know how to get the best out of Wilson, or a fresh, unproven face (kind of like Hackett) who wants to start from scratch. Who do you hire?
Do you ignore the red flags from Wilson as a symptom of Hackett’s play-calling and strategy and bring in Quinn? Or do you burn it, eat the salary hit, and start fresh with a young coach looking to build his own brand? This is of course ignoring the potential that a young coach would want Wilson as his QB, but after this season, it may be a tough sell.
The safest, most logical choice for this writer would be to roll with the Quinn/Schottenheimer/Quinn trio, but I’m not the one making the call.
It is an unfortunate turn of events for Paton. He passed over a potential franchise QB for a defensive back with his mind set that he could find a franchise passer in free agency. He thought he did with Wilson, but now he has to decide if that feeling was the right one and how it plays into his next move.
An unenviable position, indeed.