The Denver Broncos did the unthinkable Sunday morning (or afternoon...night...whatever time it was in Europe).
Yes, the team managed to score more than 20 points and actually win a game, but that’s what’s unthinkable. The unthinkable is that it was a performance that made fans rejoice and regain at least a small sliver of belief.
For a fan base desperate for any kind of offensive showing, it’s fair to get excited. Russell Wilson looked good. The play execution was the most efficient and successful it’s been all season. It looked like the offense Broncos Country hoped they were getting in the offseason may just be showing signs of putting it together in a better-late-than-never scenario.
Yet, just as much as there seemed to be signs of improvement existed the same slow, stalling, go-nowhere offense that has plagued the team since week 1. So is it really based in reality to get hopes up and to expect at least somewhat of a second half rebound?
Looking at it one way, it absolutely is. Looking at it another, it seems like wasted energy setting up for disappointment.
The Broncos put up 300+ yards of total offense for just the fourth time this season, and better yet, they got into the end zone on all three of their red zone appearances.
Of the 12 offensive drives for the Broncos, they accumulated 253 of their total offensive yards on 3 series. The other 9 series produced just 53 yards, and 36 yards came on 1 series.
Russell Wilson finally, after a week to heal up, showed signs of looking like his old self, including orchestrating a 98-yard touchdown drive, finding multiple wide receivers deep, and not just relying on Courtland Sutton as he spread the ball around.
Wilson also, on his first 2 passing attempts, threw directly to defensive backs in man coverage, the second of which was picked. He also, at least until the third quarter, once again seemed determined to stay inside the pocket rather than to play to his strength and roll out and create in open space. And on those go-nowhere drive mentioned above, he is not immune from fault.
The offensive line started out rough, but after an unfortunate injury to center Lloyd Cushenberry III, Graham Glasgow stepped in, and the unit seemed to rally, allowing more time for Wilson to throw and even creating room for the backfield to run, who had been getting hit behind the backfield far too often early on.
The aforementioned hits behind the line of scrimmage on the backs still can’t be ignored, and the Jaguars, entering the game in the bottom of the league in sacks, still got to Wilson 3 times.
KJ Hamler, one of the most underutilized weapons the Broncos have, and rookie tight end Greg Dulcich, seemingly emerging as a future elite receiving threat from the position, each stepped up to make perhaps the plays of the game. Dulcich hauled in a 38-yard pass to set up a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, and Hamler beat his man deep for a 47-yard reception to set up another go-ahead sequence in the fourth. Each looked the part of major offensive difference makers.
Despite their obvious effectiveness, the duo was targeted a combined 8 times in the game, which is actually an improvement from prior contests.
The frogurt comes with your free choice of toppings!
The toppings contain potassium benzoate...
Whoops, sorry, got too into the pop culture reference I was going for there.
Anyway, here’s the thing. The Broncos did show improvement on Sunday. Scoring 21 points and eking out a win vs. a 2-5 team isn’t usually the sign of progress or success associated with successful offenses, but the Broncos did what they hadn’t been doing in prior weeks.
They scored in the red zone each time there. There were instances of excellent play calling, like the perfectly executed shovel pass to Jeudy for the first touchdown. Wilson found his deep ball twice and nearly a third time (he just missed Dulcich inside for a big gain) while looking more comfortable with the ball in his hands. He also deserves a shoutout for using his legs to keep drives in tact.
Yet, this game was won on 3 drives...of 12. Being successful on 25% of offensive drives usually won’t work against good teams, like the Chiefs and Ravens, both of who await the Broncos in the coming weeks. And penalties continue to pile up to kill drives.
In fairness, the majority of flags against the Broncos on Sunday were a result of the defense, but there were multiple false starts that took the offense out of 3rd-and-short and 4th-and-short scenarios.
This bye week will be the most important week of the Broncos season. There is hard, fool-proof evidence of what the offense is capable of when put in the right position, and there is also hard, fool-proof evidence that the same inept play calling, lack of discipline and communication, and poor execution still plague this team.
The goal now becomes to study the game tape and figure out how to turn that 25% success rate into 50% (let’s not be insane and think the light is going to go completely on after 1 bye week), then 75%, then 90+%.
In other words, to salvage this season and finish strong, and potentially save Nathaniel Hackett’s head coaching position, they are going to have to put forth hard evidence that the offense is closer to those 3 series than to the other inept 9 that went nowhere.
Using the prior 7 games as a benchmark, the skeptical type will be more likely to call those series a fluke, while the optimist will see light finally shining down. Either way, the offense should feel extra motivated after today.
General manager used his magic to ship off outside linebacker Bradley Chubb to the Miami Dolphins for a first-round pick via the San Francisco 49ers. And given how Jimmy Garoppolo is...well...Jimmy Garoppolo, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the 49ers start to nose dive in the second half, giving the Broncos a top-15 pick. And make no mistake about it, Paton has the ammo to move up should he so choose to do so.
Therefore, for a guy like Wilson, who probably found himself as safe as anyone given that the team didn’t have a first- or second-round pick, ownership will not tolerate ineptitude for long. Hackett would almost certainly be the first domino to fall if things don’t rebound, but if he goes, a new coach will be brought in, and what if he doesn’t want to work with Wilson? What if he would rather be aggressive and see the team bring in a guy like Hendon Hooker or Bryce Young?
Don’t bet against the Walton-Penner group to eat the rest of Wilson’s salary if they don’t think he can get it together.
That should, SHOULD, be all the motivation Hackett, Wilson, and the offense needs to continue to execute with efficiency and success. And in the coming weeks, they will have to, as the defense can’t carry them all year long.
The defense struggled with Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders, so Derrick Henry of the Titans will be no easy feat, especially if the team is without Randy Gregory and obviously Bradley Chubb. The Ravens dynamic and hard-to-prep-for offense awaits, as does the Chiefs, twice.
The team gave reason to believe Sunday that the offense is not the dead fish the first 7 weeks made it out to be and that Russell Wilson still has the playmaking ability that made Paton give up two first-round picks for him. Now, he has one back, and if this team wants to save face, and certain individuals want to save their jobs, then it’s imperative to prove to all that this was a sign of progress... not a lucky handful of sequences vs a mediocre defense.