The Denver Broncos offense hasn’t been able to hold up with any consistency this season. Instead, the Broncos see flashes of great play, the closest they’ve come to any form of consistency being three drives against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As a result, offensive-minded Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett has been agonizing over his play calls and playbook in general. However, Denver’s cases there go beyond Hackett’s.
The Broncos lack the personnel to run a packet attack
Hackett is part of the problem, but not the biggest culprit. By studying the Green Bay Packers’ offense and what they did during Hackett’s tenure as offensive coordinator, their NFL playbook can work when you have players to execute. However, the Broncos’ playbook does not reflect what the Packers did, despite Hackett’s statements to the contrary.
Before we get to the passing game, it’s worth emphasizing that a Broncos run game is not an outside territory scheme. The outdoor area wasn’t the most Green Bay thing to do, the indoor area was the focus of the Packer Run, as it was in Denver.
In fact, as the season goes on, the Broncos use fewer outside runs, focus on inside runs, and increase man concepts. The outdoor area was the second most used concept in Denver, but that declined as the season went on.
This is because the Broncos do not have the personnel to properly run the outside zone scheme with poor tight end blocking, lack of mobility on the offensive line, and blocking issues from the receiver position.
Hackett seems to be getting away from what doesn’t work in the sprinting game. So why don’t the Broncos show the same signs of recognizing unless they’re effective in the passing game?
The answer is the same reason why the Broncos’ issues with the game’s rules go beyond Hackett.
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The answer is Russell Wilson. This isn’t to criticize the struggling quarterback, but it was just as clear how much voice he had when designing the Broncos’ playbook after his addition.
GM Geroge Paton, Hackett, and Wilson himself all talked about it during his introductory press conference, and we later heard plenty of talking points about the offensive “co-authorship.” Wilson played an important role in designing the Broncos’ playbook. Other players mentioned it, including wide Tim Patrick.
“It’s something different that we haven’t done yet. Then you have to think – we have Ross and we have Nathaniel Hackett,” Patrick said this summer. “They put both systems together, so it’s kind of a 1 on 1 offense. It’s not something that’s really been taught before.”
Then when you look at Wilson’s issues starting in Seattle, a lot of it had to do with the QB’s lack of input. He wanted to have a say in hiring the offensive coordinator. He wanted a voice in the game book and was getting scolded a lot. The times they went where Wilson wanted, he struggled, and Pete Carroll pulled the plug.
What crime did Wilson plead with? He wanted to sit in the pocket, in rifle formation, read the defense, and play. He wanted Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees-type quarterback. This is where the “Let Russ Cook” slogan came from.
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It was about Wilson wanting to be the going-to-pocket quarterback. He didn’t want to be a quarterback or a quarterback who relied on his legs. It was an important issue during his time in Seattle that led to ill feelings and his trade.
In February 2021, Wilson appeared on The Dan Patrick Show He spoke of his desire to be involved in personnel decisions, including the appointment of the offensive coordinator. However, later that month, Wilson was reported to have “walked out” of an in-season meeting when his ideas on how to fix the offense were rejected.
The Broncos’ passing game is heavily influenced by what Wilson wants to do, and they avoid what he doesn’t want to do. Those frustratingly long passing notions are what Wilson likes to do. While these plays are in Hackett’s playbook, they aren’t the crux of the matter, as they have been so far this season with Denver.
Hackett does not get a pass
Hackett is not blameless. He’s the head coach and he has to put his foot down.
The Broncos’ coaches know what Wilson can do, and when he does it, the offense is most effective. However, the Broncos don’t stick to it, and it’s understandable why. Wilson has that big contract locking him up in Denver for a few more years, and the Broncos orchestrated that huge trade to get him.
The Broncos are more committed to Wilson than they are to Hackett. Wilson is the Super Bowl-winning quarterback from a scheme he doesn’t want to manage, while Hackett is a first-time head coach.
The person least committed to the team will always be the downfall guy. The heat on Hackett’s bench is well deserved, but Wilson isn’t blameless in building pressure on the Denver head coach.
With the heat building on Hackett, you can tell things are souring on his ability to get a second year. The local media asks Hackett tough questions, always a sign of a possible shooting.
To save his job, Hackett may have to upset Wilson, but shouldn’t a win be more important than the quarterback’s feelings? What the Broncos do offensively doesn’t work, and what’s best for the team should take precedence over the player, something both Hackett and Wilson should recognize.
The 2021 Broncos offense has been more effective with Teddy Bridgewater than with Russell Wilson. Brett Ripien, who started with Wilson, did more than that effective from wilson. It doesn’t happen if Wilson isn’t part of the problem.
The quality of play at the quarterback should be much better this year than in 2021 due to the quality of the player Wilson is being compared to Bridgewater. With Bridgewater, however, he stuck to what he could do and, despite all the problems, led a more effective offense than Wilson, ostensibly out of obstinacy at being a quarterback he is not.
The Broncos offense has many issues, and blaming Hackett is easy and fair. But the simple fact is that the problem goes beyond Hackett.
Good quarterback play can beat bad play calls and playbooks, but bad quarterback play will make them look worse. It’s worth remembering that a failed play doesn’t always mean it was a bad call.
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