Through two weeks of the NFL season, there hasn’t been a bigger disappointment than the Denver Broncos. OK, maybe the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Broncos are a close second.
With flashy new tools at quarterback and head coach, plus a litany of young weapons in Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Javonte Williams, the Broncos were hoping to compete in what was bound to be a tough AFC West division. They had an easy schedule out the gate and were looking to gain some confidence heading into the tough part of their schedule between Weeks 3 and 6.
Instead of confidence though, all head coach Nathaniel Hackett has inspired is doubt. His team looked awful in their opening-week loss to Seattle, a team they should have demolished. They arguably looked even worse against the Texans, and Nathaniel Hackett is taking the brunt of the blame. As he should honestly, did you see some of those play calls against the Texans?
The most egregious was this third-and-1 option run with fullback/tight end Andrew Beck.
I mean...it’s an outside run which means you want speed to get around any would-be tacklers, so opting for a fullback to carry the ball probably isn’t a good start. But hey, at least he’s got his backup plan, Javonte Williams, running alongside him. You know, the same Javonte Williams that was averaging nearly seven yards per carry up to that point. The same Javonte Williams who hadn’t had a single rush go for less than a yard to that point. In fact, the only rush where he had less than two yards was pulled back due to offensive holding. So, of all the runs that counted, Williams had yet to not pick up two yards, aka twice the distance needed for a first down, but no, Andrew Beck is the call there. Gotcha coach, what a play!
I’m not even talking about his clock management blunders which have been well-documented.
I’m talking about how Hackett uses his best players, ineffectively and without playing to their strengths. In Seattle, Wilson was never forced to push the ball downfield. In 2022, through two games, Wilson has an aggressiveness percentage of 23.3 percent, the third-highest in the league behind only Dak Prescott and Mitchell Trubisky, meaning that Wilson is throwing into tight coverage far more often than he used to. In 2021, Wilson ranked 20th. In 2020, he was 41st — last among qualified passers.
Now let’s take a look at how Hackett is using Wilson in specific situations. This goes back to Williams’ usage as well. Hell, I’ll even throw Melvin Gordon in there, too. Does Hackett use either of them well? No. During their game against the Texans, the Broncos had 13 plays with three-or-fewer yards to go before a first down or touchdown. Only five were runs. Oh, and one of them was the option with Andrew Beck. Guess what, the Broncos converted two of those other four runs (two by Williams, one by Gordon, one by Jeudy) in short-yardage situations for first downs. How many first downs in short-yardage situations do you think the Broncos picked up via the pass? Hmm? Any guesses? They had eight attempts. How many went for at least three yards? Four. That sounds good, right? Well, not exactly because three of those first downs came via penalty. They were incomplete passes that advanced the drive because of defensive mistakes. In the boxscore, Wilson went a much more respectable 1-of-5 for six yards in three yards or less-to-go situations, but was saved three other times by defensive penalties.
JUST RUN THE DAMN BALL!
I understand wanting to fool the defense and pick up yards occasionally, but at least make it balanced then, perhaps even go slightly run-heavy. You’ve got a very talented halfback who, prior to the final drive of the game, had only been stuffed at the line twice across both games this season. Stop overthinking the play-calling by trying to run options with your fullback, or forcing Russ to pass when one of his top receivers is out with a rib injury.
It’s too early to chant “Fire Hackett” at Mile High Stadium in my opinion. Even Urban Meyer got 13 games. Should he have gotten fired sooner? Hell yeah, but Hackett isn’t kicking his players, demeaning his coaching staff, or ditching plane rides home in order to have a much younger woman sit on his lap at a Cincinnati bar yet, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. On the bright side, Hackett did take most of the blame in his post-game press conference following the win against the Texans. That’s a good sign of humility and an awareness that things need to change.
However, unless we start seeing improvements in the offense soon, especially as the schedule gets tougher, Hackett’s tenure in Denver could wind up being very short.