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Payton calls out his defensive coordinator, quarterback: ‘Defense was poor; communication was slow’

The head coach had no problem identifying the breakdown on Sunday.

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Washington Commanders v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

After the Denver Broncos lost an 18-point lead in the span of a few minutes Sunday, head coach Sean Payton was visibly annoyed at his team’s performance.

And in a world full of PR coach speak, Payton essentially calling out his DC and QB was kind of refreshing.

Though it kinda lacked an accountability factor you’d like to see from the guy in charge of it all.

“The No. 1 key in this game with this team ... every one of their games last year where they didn’t have a takeaway, they lost the game. We give them the ball at midfield, and that momentum shifts at that point with the fumble,” Payton said, referring to Russell Wilson’s fumble midway through the second quarter (which should have had a facemask called, by the way).

“I didn’t think we played well defensively,” Payton continued, adding that just about every time the Commanders made it to the red zone, they scored a touchdown. “Offensively, we were slow with our communication. That was frustrating. That has to start with us, with me. We never got the momentum back. It was disappointing.”

Payton elaborated on the poor defensive effort that clearly reflected the defensive coordinator’s scheme.

“I thought we were poor,” Payton said, noting field position didn’t help due to turnovers, but red zone defense in general was way below expectations. Payton also didn’t like the ratio of rushing the passer in the second half compared to the first. “I didn’t think we played well, and we’re going to see a lot better offenses than that.”

The head coach, who earlier this summer told USA Today’s Jarrett Bell that former head coach Nathaniel Hackett was responsible for “one of the worst coaching jobs ever,” found himself in a somewhat similar quandary on Sunday when his team fell apart, committing multiple penalties in a row and getting plays in late.

“There were a number of drives where we were late with personnel; getting out of the huddle, we took a while. That has to change. We had to burn timeouts in the first half, and I’m not used to doing [that],” Payton said, putting some responsibility on himself. “We have to be better. I have to be better.”

But the insinuation that the blame falls on Wilson was clear. Payton even commented on using a wristband for longer plays if necessary.

“Russ has to be sharper with getting the play out, and then we have to look at how much we have in,” he said. “If we need to wristband it, we will.”

Payton explained his thinking again on Monday, noting that reducing the variables with fewer plays might be the first step.

“If we have a longer play, then we can easily get to a wristband. We have to reduce the variables,” Payton said. “I just finished saying this in the team meeting - if we’re making [mental errors] defensively and offensively, we’re having trouble breaking the huddle and getting lined up, then we have to look at if have too much in.”

Reducing the verbiage at the line of scrimmage, or in the huddle, is the next step, he added.

“Because it goes from me to the QB, the QB to the offense, and then here we go,” he said. “That’s going to improve. How we do it—one of the methods is to reduce verbiage. The other is to get to the line of scrimmage spontaneously. The other is to wristband certain plays that are longer calls.”

Payton also detailed just how it was the quarterback’s mistake - the fumble - that served as a gigantic momentum shift in favor of the Commanders (though he failed to include the missed facemask penalty against Washington on that tackle).

“I thought yesterday, the momentum shifted in that game midway through the second quarter. Our kicking game was outstanding. We got a big punt return. We have it on their end of the field, and we’re already up 21-3. At that point, we go backwards with the penalties, then we turn the ball over,” Payton said, pointing out that the next chain of events was 18 unanswered points from Washington. “They ended up scoring [on] five of the next six drives.”

One of the biggest areas of concern for Payton is the number of penalties the team has - 19, tied for most in the NFL.

“Before you talk about how to win games, you also have to understand how not to lose games,” Payton said. “We’re currently tied for a league-high 19 penalties. We lead the league in defensive fouls called with 12. [We have] five personal fouls. We have a number of plays where we’re off the field on third down, but there’s a flag on the turf, there’s holding or defensive pass interference, which makes it an automatic first down.”

So now instead of getting off the field, the defense just gave its opponent a fresh set of downs to move the chains.

“Those are turnover penalties,” Payton said. “We have to be better and more disciplined in that area, and that starts with us as coaches.”

Turning it around in Week 3 against a red-hot Miami Dolphins team would be no small feat - as Payton seems to realize, perhaps more than he wants to admit (after all, he also told USA Today in July that he “would be pissed off if this is not a playoff team.”)

So once again the head coach is putting the responsibility mostly on his players for turning this around. And ultimately he’s not wrong, there. Though, he might have forgotten that he’s responsible for the whole product.

“Being able to tune out the distractions when you lose two games like this is challenging, “ Payton said. “But they have to be able to do that.”

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