What ingredients does Russell Wilson need so he can cook as a Bronco?
The Denver Broncos finally have a real franchise quarterback. General manager George Paton made a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks to secure the services of quarterback Russell Wilson. Broncos fans are going crazy because Wilson gives them a chance to make a deep playoff run – perhaps sooner than some analysts think.
Wilson is a superstar quarterback, and with the right pieces around him he could get this team back to the Super Bowl. He’s been to two Super Bowls, winning one and losing one, earlier in his career but things in Seattle were trending in the wrong direction for years. Seattle did not “let Russ cook” as they tried to force him into an offense they felt better about running and did not let Wilson just run the show as he wants.
The Broncos have to find the right fit for Wilson, but in addition to that we need to see them add more talent to the offensive side of the ball. I think the Broncos are immediately in a Super Bowl window with Wilson, but they are not done putting together the team for the 2022 season. They’ve got the biggest piece – a franchise quarterback – but other things are needed for them to truly make a run at a title.
So, what does Russ need to cook? Let’s go over the ingredients.
The first thing Broncos fans (or bitter Seahawks fans) point out as a need is an upgraded offensive line. Wilson was running for his life behind a bad O-line in Seattle, and he was one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the league over the last few seasons. Because he was hunted down by opposing pass rushers, Wilson got banged up, but outside of three games over the last two seasons he played with various ailments.
The Broncos left side of the offensive line is set with Garett Bolles at left tackle and Dalton Risner at left guard. The center position is up in the air, although Lloyd Cushenberry should be the starter. He will get pushed in training camp by veteran Graham Glasgow – who could also just keep his starting right guard position. If Glasgow wins the center job (or doesn’t look good at guard), then second-year pro Quinn Meinerz could step in and start. The talent is there up front, but a few things have to be worked out in training camp.
In addition to competitions at positions, the Broncos need to find a starting right tackle. Bobby Massie was fine in that position last year, but an upgrade is needed as he’s a free agent. There’s a chance the Broncos could just bring him back, although I expect them to let him explore the market while they also see what else is out there. Perhaps free agency is not the answer at right tackle and the Broncos go for a right tackle in the 2022 NFL draft. They don’t have a pick until the last pick in the first round with the trade for Wilson, and the tackle class does dry up quickly – and faster than edge players. I think free agency, Massie or Germain Ifedi, could be the best bet to solve this issue.
Focus on the Ground
A strong rushing attack will help Wilson play his best football. This means the Broncos could feature Javonte Williams as the centerpiece of their offense. Play-action passing is what Wilson thrives on, and the Broncos need to run the ball so they can execute that type of passing attack to the highest degree.
Running the ball pulls the defense closer to the line of scrimmage. Wilson throws a pretty deep pass, and he’s not afraid to test a defense deep. If his receivers get to full speed, and he’s got enough time to throw, then Wilson will find them and make big plays with his arm. The start of those big plays begins with running the ball effectively.
Wilson himself is a threat to rush, and that makes a defense play true 11-on-11 football. Against quarterbacks who are not mobile, and defense has the advantage as the quarterback is not a threat as a runner. With Wilson, defenders must be ready for him to rack up rushing yards on any given play. I know everyone is excited about Wilson slinging the rock, but focusing on the ground game will help set him up better.
Finally, Wilson needs to be on the same page as new head coach Nathaniel Hackett. It’s arguably the most important ingredient when discussing what could make Wilson the most successful he can be with the Broncos. Just like Paton and Hackett need to be on the same page, with one shopping for the groceries (Paton) and one cooking in the kitchen (Hackett) – Wilson and Hackett need to share the same mindset about what this offense can do.
The best thing former head coach John Fox did when Peyton Manning arrived in the Mile High City in 2012 is set him up with his favorite plays. In fact, the Broncos were the only team interested in Manning who told him they’d let him put in whatever plays he felt best fit his skill set. The entire NFL is built on “fit” and it’s important for Hackett to mold his offense around what Wilson wants to do – and what Wilson does best.
With the assets given up acquiring Wilson, there is little doubt that Hackett will be on the same page as his quarterback. Hackett has talked about crafting his system to the skill of his players, and now it’s time to back that up with action. Things fell apart in Seattle because Wilson and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll could not come together on what kind of offense was best for them. Carroll wanted to run the ball early and often, minimizing the impact of Wilson after a few seasons of being a pass-happy team. Wilson wanted to keep filling the air with footballs, and this is where the problems began. It’s important for Hackett and Wilson to see things the same way, and I have a feeling that’s exactly what they’ll do in 2022 and beyond.