This season is a bottomless pit of despair and this last week saw a new low on a continued descent downward. One week after losing to Sam Darnold in his very first start of the season, Denver looked to take on the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson. On paper, this seemed like a no-brain victory for Baltimore, but early on Denver held a lead and Jackson endured a knee injury that would force him from the game and bring in the third-year backup QB Tyler Huntley.
Denver’s defense continued its dominance over the entirety of the league allowing only 10 points on the afternoon and even generating multiple turnovers, one of the few areas where Denver’s defense hasn’t been a league leader this season.
Jerry Jeudy made his return after getting minimal work in practice throughout the week and managed to generate a large reception even though he is hobbled with his ankle injury, and even though Klint Kubiak’s play calling was formulated around the run game and limiting the impact of Russell Wilson I’d argue this game had some of the most promising moments from Russell this season.
So to summarize; Denver for the majority of the game faced a backup quarterback. Their defense performed even better than they have all season, limiting their opponent to only 10 points while winning the turnover battle two to nothing. Russell Wilson managed to have multiple big-time throws with an offensive line that didn’t submarine the entire game plan…
And they lost 9-10 coming up short on a 63-yard field goal.
The Denver Broncos are inventing new games to lose football games and it feels as though everything that could go wrong this season, has.
I’d like to claim they’ve reached rock bottom. I’d like to believe that it’s only up from here and it genuinely can’t get any worse. But at this point, it feels foolish to put faith in this operation improving as everything currently stands.
Nathaniel Hackett and most of the staff will be moved this offseason. Most of the players here will be going on their second or third Broncos head coach in as many seasons. Russell Wilson isn’t getting any younger and appears to be, at best, a serviceable starter. George Paton, the guy who hired Hackett, is in charge of finding his replacement and reconfiguring this team with this new coach’s image with minimal draft capital and a weak free agent class.
These coming months might not be the most hopeful time to be a member of Broncos Country but there are still standout players putting good things on tape every week. Against the Ravens, those standout players were Greg Dulcich, Russell Wilson, and Justin Simmons.
Greg Dulcich clips vs. the Baltimore Ravens pic.twitter.com/fJ51NcYHq3— Frankie Abbott (@FrankiesFilm) December 6, 2022
Since Greg Dulcich was inserted into the Broncos’ lineup he has been the most reliable set of hands Denver’s offense has been able to field. Every week we’re seeing his usage and alignments expand, and the coaches are trusting him to run a very diverse route tree which is maximized by the trust he’s gained from Russell Wilson.
Denver started the game by getting Dulcich heavily involved with six targets in the first half on things like boot outs and sit-downs over the middle. This allowed Russell to get into an easy rhythm in the passing game and gain some confidence in his receivers to make a play. Dulcich provides a level of comfort in the Broncos’ passing game that they’ve missed since the injury to Tim Patrick, which is exceptional to see out of a rookie tight end which is typically one of the longer development curves position-wise in the league.
Dulcich is great at running crossers and catches everything with his hands while tracking passes well through contact. This week we saw multiple long receptions along the sideline on these crossing patterns, and we continue to see him be Denver’s best option when facing zone coverage. He has a great knack for finding space between defenders and continues to grow as a RAC threat, even starting to receive targets in the screen game.
Where Dulcich struggles is with his play as an inline blocker which was on full display against the stout Ravens defensive line. Players such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Odafe Oweh, and Tyus Bowser spent the game using Greg as a blocking sled, knocking him around off the snap (sometimes directly into Broncos runners) and neutralizing the Denver rushing attack.
Justin Simmons clips vs. the Baltimore Ravens pic.twitter.com/GmkK7WHQS6— Frankie Abbott (@FrankiesFilm) December 6, 2022
Justin Simmons had his best game of the 2022 season against Baltimore, playing a huge factor in defending both the run and pass Simmons did everything that can be asked of the best safety in the league.
It’s no secret the Ravens want to pound the football and once Lamar Jackson went down that didn’t change. Simmons was an animal coming downhill forcing negative plays on screens, reverses, and even mixing it up along the interior for defensive stops.
When Baltimore did attempt to utilize the passing game, Justin Simmons was there. Snagging two second-half interceptions on consecutive Raven drives one of which had progressed into scoring range.
The first: Simmons ranged to cover Mark Andrews in the flat and baited Huntley into a throw along the right sideline for the stumbling pick. The second came on a much wackier play which saw the Ravens attempt a WR pass with James Proche, who after tapping the ball and stepping into the throw about as confidently I’ve ever seen, launched a bomb into triple coverage and the endzone which was easily intercepted by Justin Simmons.
Even on Baltimore’s go-ahead drive, Justin Simmons laid his helmet perfectly on the ball forcing what would’ve been a game-deciding fumble that sadly rolled out of bounds. Justin Simmons played as well as can be asked, and it’s devastating that a performance like this isn’t able to be celebrated with a victory, a feeling I’m sure has grown all too familiar for Simmons over the years.
Still, it’s nice to see Justin Simmons have a performance like this in a season of disappointments.
Okay I lied. This throw from Russ later in the game is better. pic.twitter.com/03qDmFxF9K— Frankie Abbott (@FrankiesFilm) December 6, 2022
I didn’t think it would take me until week 13 to highlight some great plays in the passing game from Russell Wilson… but here we are.
Russ didn’t cross 200 passing yards and he didn’t complete a single passing touchdown. He didn’t finish the game-winning drive. He didn’t produce a 100-yard receiver. I don’t want to make it sound like Wilson had a bounce-back for the ages.
But what we saw from Russell Wilson on Sunday gave me at least a glimmer of hope that under new coaching, with hopeful improvement along the offense, and by the grace of the football gods some decent injury luck. The next season of Russell Wilson football might be at the very least watchable. We saw his mobility less limited, we saw decent trust in his line and weapons, and we saw the deep accuracy seem to return. Russell extended and created multiple plays that we’ve come to expect out of the eventual HOFer. It wasn’t perfect… but it was something.
Russell layered multiple throws between defenders to Greg Dulcich on key downs, and his biggest completion of the day came on a deep post to Jeudy which he placed perfectly over the outstretched hands of the CB. We saw him stand him and deliver passes through defensive hits, and we saw him make a huge scramble for 17 yards late in the game that saw him looking a little nimble.
Wilson did all of this with a limited Jerry Jeudy, Kendall Hinton, and the practice squad WR core once Courtland Sutton exited the game and Kubiak’s gameplan which clearly emphasized running the ball while playing ‘Keepaway’ from the Raven’s offense. But I won’t pretend there weren’t plays missed by Russell as there were as there has been all season.