This is a long-anticipated game for us fans, the Broncos players and coaches, and even the Seattle Seahawks themselves. As we know, these two teams made a blockbuster trade that sent future Hall Of Fame quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. Now, in his first game with the Broncos, he will be playing against his old team and in front of the fans that cheered him on for a decade on primetime television. The script writes itself sometimes.
This is a big game for both teams. Obviously, Wilson does not want to lose to his old team, Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett wants to start out 1-0, and this is likely the Seahawks' Super Bowl. So, we should see both sides motivated and emotional for tonight’s game.
With all that said, I give you five things to watch for during tonight’s regular season opener vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
1. Russell Wilson vs. The Seahawks
Win or lose, this will be the top storyline coming out of this game for both sides.
For Wilson and the Broncos, hostility awaits them tonight when they take the field. Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll basically invited the fanbase to boo their former quarterback Russell Wilson. The local media there echoed Carroll’s thoughts and invited fans to take out their anger on Wilson and the Broncos.
There will be many years to cheer for Russell Wilson when his career is over. He did amazing things for Seattle.— Aaron Levine (@AaronLevine_) September 9, 2022
But boo him relentlessly on Monday. He’s big on image, optics. Unanimous hostility from the get-go might surprise him.
Love ya, Russ. But #AlwaysCompete #Seahawks
So, how Wilson and the Broncos handle this noise, especially early on, will be an important storyline in this game. The 12’s in Seattle are known for being among the loudest fan bases in the league and playing in Seattle is considered one of the toughest environments for an opposing team to play in. So, the Broncos have to quiet the crowd early on or face allowing them to take over the game and help motivate the Seahawks early on.
Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett understands the adversity that awaits him and the team, but he said that it’s an “exciting challenge” for him and the team to face.
“It’s going to be exciting. There is a lot of unknown, and I think that’s why it is so exciting. The guys have worked so hard together, so I think it is going to show on Monday night. There are going to be ups and downs. In this game you face adversity, so I am just as excited to see how they respond to those different things that don’t go our way. When it’s going good, it’s easy. Everybody is talking and having fun and all that kind of stuff. But it’s not going to be easy. It’s a very good football team in a hostile environment. How everybody reacts to true adversity is where you get to learn about them.”
Wilson has a lot of pressure on him heading into this game and it is something that he probably welcomes. He is a true competitor and this is likely one of the bigger non-postseason games in his career.
What I want to see from Wilson is this. We need to see him operate Nathaniel Hackett’s offense while dealing with the crowd noise. He needs to limit mistakes, get rid of the ball quickly, extend the play if needed and find a chunk play down the field. Get points up on the board, quiet the crowd and look smooth and hopefully avoid the sluggish play they reportedly had during training camp.
How Wilson handles all of this, good or bad, will be the headline after the game.
2. How do the Broncos starters play after sitting out the preseason
This has been a talking point all summer for Broncos media. Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett decided that the vast majority of his starters would not play a single snap during the entirety of the preseason. He believes the risk of a season-changing injury outweighs whatever gain they would get from this. So, the first look we get of the Broncos' starting offense and defense will come tonight when they take the field.
Hackett mentioned the risk/reward he emphasized all summer when asked about how physical the starters will be despite not playing in the preseason. However, he mentioned that the players played a lot of football during their lives and that they stressed physicality in practice. With all that said, he said that there will be some ups and downs but that is just part of it.
“At practice, we always want to preach that physicality. I don’t think you can ever simulate anything until you get into a game. And again, it goes back to that risk-reward. You look at just across the league—sometimes you don’t have a great opener, sometimes you do. In the end, those guys have played a lot of football, and we’ve had a lot of guys that have played football. They know they’re going to be able to be physical right away. We have to be great at that. We have to challenge them for that. There’s going to be some ups and downs, but that’s part of it.”
How the Broncos look early on will decide how this narrative is pushed by the fans and media. If we see them get pushed around in the trenches, missing tackles, and just looking rusty, the questioning of Hackett’s conservative philosophy will get quite loud. However, if they come out and look great like they did against the Cowboys in the joint practice, this narrative will be shelved for good.
Hackett is a first-time coach so he likely will adjust his philosophy moving forward, but I hope we see a healthy, fresh, and physical Broncos squad to quiet the doubters.
3. Randy Gregory and Billy Turner
The Broncos' biggest free agent acquisition was stealing away edge rusher Randy Gregory from the Dallas Cowboys. He is expected to replace Von Miller’s role in the Broncos' defense, however, he missed all of the offseason and most of the summer due to rehabbing an injury.
The Broncos from the beginning said that Gregory would be good for week one. Now, here we are hours from the kickoff of their week one game and we have questions about his availability.
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett has professed optimism throughout camp/preseason on OLB Randy Gregory playing in the season opener, but asked Saturday about listing Gregory as questionable now: "We're still working through it.''— Jeff Legwold (@Jeff_Legwold) September 10, 2022
The Broncos are listing Gregory as questionable for the game and Hackett did not seem optimistic about him playing or at least playing without limitations. It does not sound like he suffered any setbacks, but he may not be fully ready to handle a full workload. This means we could see Baron Browning get the start after having an impressive camp and preseason with Gregory spelling in on occasion.
This is all a guess on my part, but Gregory’s impact or lack of impact in the game will be a storyline after this game.
As for Billy Turner, he has the same level of uncertainty about his availability. He is listed as questionable and we do not know if he will be starting or not. He was signed to be the Broncos' right tackle this offseason but he missed all offseason and most of the summer as well. So, it is unclear if he will be ready to help protect Russell Wilson during tonight’s game.
Much like Gregory, how Turner plays or doesn’t play will be a storyline for the team heading into week two of the regular season.
4. Do not let Geno Smith beat you
The Seahawks had a quarterback competition this offseason between veteran Geno Smith and former Denver Broncos quarterback, Drew Lock. After a terrible preseason finale by Lock, Head Coach Pete Carroll announced that Smith has won the starting job and will face the Broncos in the season opener.
However, Geno Smith is a career backup who has started just five games since 2015. He has also thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns during his career and is someone you cannot let beat you in a game. The Broncos' defense needs to stop the Seattle run game and make Smith beat them. They do have two talented receivers and an athletic tight end in Fant, but you still cannot let Smith beat you. If he does, you are going to have a long night that likely ends in defeat.
Broncos safety Justin Simmons talked about what Smith brings to the field and what challenges they will face going up against him.
“Geno is a great quarterback. When he drops back, a lot of the times he knows exactly what he’s getting. Like I said, when you have a good running game, which Seattle has, it makes your timing passes that much more important. For him when he’s out there, he’s got that mental clock and DK and Lockett do such a good job of getting open. Now, adding a wrinkle in with Noah. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a great tight end in this league. He adds an extra layer to their pass game and it’s going to be a challenge for us in the backend. Obviously, Geno is a great quarterback. He’s been in the league for a long time. He knows what he’s doing, knows what he’s looking at and it’s going to be fun to get after it.”
I hope the Broncos' front seven gets after Smith constantly in this game. They are starting two rookie tackles and the edge rushers should be able to take advantage of that. Also, the Broncos' secondary is talented and should be able to force some turnovers and force some coverage sacks as well.
I think Ejire Evero will have a successful debut tonight as the Broncos' defensive coordinator.
5. Replacing inside linebacker Josey Jewell
During the offseason, Denver Broncos GM George Paton called linebacker Josey Jewell the “glue” of the defense. This led to the Broncos re-signing the linebacker after he missed the majority of the 2021 season and having him be a key member of the defense. He was expected to have the green dot on his helmet and make the calls for the defense. However, a calf injury that he suffered during the week will sideline the Broncos linebacker for tonight’s game.
Josey Jewell has been downgraded to OUT for the game Monday at Seattle. Calf injury in practice Thursday. Alex Singleton, Jonas Griffith expected to be starting ILBers. #9sports— Mike Klis (@mikeklis) September 11, 2022
With the Seahawks expected to feature their run game, Jewell was expected to be a key contributor to their run defense, Now, that duty falls on veteran Alex Singleton and promising young linebacker Jonas Griffith.
Singleton signed as a free agent this offseason and has multiple 100+ tackle seasons under his belt. However, he was expected to mostly contribute to special teams. Meanwhile, Griffith is recovering from an elbow injury but was expected to be the starter next to Jewell. So, it sounds like these two will handle the duties in the middle of the Broncos' defense and will attempt to slow down the Seahawks run game.
Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero was asked about his confidence level in the Broncos' depth at inside linebacker. The first-year coordinator told reporters that he has a “very high confidence level” in the Broncos' depth at that position.
“Very high. Very, very high. We feel like we have a good group of guys that can more than replace. Obviously, we’re going to miss Josey Jewell if he is unable to play on Monday but that’s part of the league. All the backups have to be ready to go.”
There has been concern about the Broncos' depth at inside linebacker throughout the offseason and we will see it tested right away in week one.