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Grading the Broncos’ coach and culture in the 2023 season

Just under a year ago, Broncos Country thought the arrival of Sean Payton meant a new day for the franchise. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so how do you think Payton did in his first season?

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

When Sean Payton was asked last week to assess his year with the Broncos, the head coach offered a few evaluations and acknowledged that at least some things could have been better.

Particularly the offense.

“Starting with me—it wasn’t good enough. We didn’t take advantage of enough field position opportunities in games,” he said, adding a short anecdote about getting his eyes fixed because he once called the wrong play.

And he offered a specific part of the offense he deemed in dire need of attention - tight red zone.

“Our tight red zone was awful,” Payton said. “I have to look closely at my sequencing and what I’m doing and calling. What I mean by that is goal-to-go. ...Our opportunities, I think, were decent. I think we were 50-something [percent], and that measured ninth or tenth. Inside the ten, first and goal-to-go, that wasn’t good enough.”

And though he defends his early season prediction that the Broncos should be a playoff team, he admitted “we finished where our record was.”

“I would say we have to be great with the details, and obviously, we weren’t good enough with the details if there were certain mistakes that were repeating themselves,” he added. “That starts with the teaching, our coaching.”

Owner Greg Penner - who hired Sean Payton just under a year ago - saw important progress.

“I thought we took a big step forward this year,” Penner said.

But the new owner still recognized the expectations were much higher.

“I was encouraged by what I saw. Proud of the resilience that the players showed, as well as the leadership of [the head coach and GM],” he said, adding that he knows it didn’t meet fans’ expectations. “This is a proud franchise. We graded ourselves by our winning record, and this year, we didn’t meet our expectations.”

And he was particularly complimentary of his coach.

“Really good. I was impressed with [him] after the 1-5 start, his leadership to bring us back from that adversity and getting into a position to make a playoff push—very impressive,” Penner added. “Probably the biggest thing here, in terms of how I think about the future and this organization moving forward, is that he’s establishing a culture here based on performance, excellence, hard work and accountability. Again, his focus is on winning.”

Last week our SBNation “Reacts” poll showed that 59% of fans gave the team a C grade on the season. Sounds about right.

Since the Broncos’ record fell short of many of our expectations - but did improve - I think it’s worthwhile to do some slightly more nuanced “grading,” because developing a winning culture is possibly the most important goal Payton could (or should) have had this season.

Though the team fell short of a winning record, it did reach some milestones it hasn’t enjoyed in a while - finally beating the Chiefs, going on a 5-and-0 run and winning more games than it has since the 8-8 season just after Super Bowl 50.

Not terrible.

And Payton himself tried to reset the expectation in his end-of-season presser when he was asked about building on the foundation he laid.

“I don’t know if you’d say, ‘Laid the foundation.’ ...Were we as good as we expected or wanted to be offensively this year? Absolutely not,” Payton said. “I would say clearly [it’s a] heavy-duty work in progress. I would say we’re not building on that foundation yet; we’re still putting the freakin’ pilings in.”

So how do you grade the team/franchise/coach on the following (please elaborate on your grades in the comments!)

Poll

How would you grade Sean Payton on his play calling generally?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A
    (34 votes)
  • 34%
    B
    (389 votes)
  • 45%
    C
    (515 votes)
  • 13%
    D
    (150 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (33 votes)
1121 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How would you grade Payton on his in-game coaching and ability to adjust?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    A
    (41 votes)
  • 31%
    B
    (309 votes)
  • 42%
    C
    (416 votes)
  • 17%
    D
    (175 votes)
  • 3%
    F
    (33 votes)
974 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How do you grade Payton on the culture he has changed (or begun changing)?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    A
    (222 votes)
  • 47%
    B
    (468 votes)
  • 17%
    C
    (175 votes)
  • 8%
    D
    (87 votes)
  • 3%
    F
    (39 votes)
991 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How would you grade Payton on how well he worked with Russell Wilson’s strengths and weaknesses?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    A
    (89 votes)
  • 27%
    B
    (270 votes)
  • 25%
    C
    (251 votes)
  • 24%
    D
    (238 votes)
  • 14%
    F
    (139 votes)
987 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How would you grade Payton on his overall use of timeouts, creative plays and 4th-down calls?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    A
    (80 votes)
  • 30%
    B
    (287 votes)
  • 34%
    C
    (327 votes)
  • 23%
    D
    (221 votes)
  • 4%
    E
    (39 votes)
954 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Compared to other coaches in the league this season, where would you rank Payton for overall success this season (but not just. based on record)?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Top-tier
    (274 votes)
  • 62%
    No higher than mid-range
    (614 votes)
  • 9%
    Bottom-tier
    (92 votes)
980 votes total Vote Now