Three signs that the Broncos offense is actually improving
The Denver Broncos are 2-1. But over the first three games of the 2022 season, their offense has struggled to score points.
In three contests, the Broncos have scored just 43 points. When the Broncos traded for quarterback Russell Wilson, and when it was revealed they would “let Russ cook,” many felt that 43 points could be a point total for them in one game – not three combined.
On Monday, Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett explained if the struggles of the offense was just Wilson getting used to the new system.
“When you look at it, you look at Russell (who has) been in one place for his whole career. Then he comes here, he’s got a new coaching staff, new city, new fans, new press, new system, new people that he’s going out there and playing with. So it’s not as easy as just going out there with anybody and playing ball,” Hackett said.
Against the 49ers, the Broncos had nine three-and-outs, Wilson had just 126 yards passing, and there were zero touchdown passes. However, the offense came to life near the end of the game, and there are signs of better things to come.
Here are three signs the Broncos offense is improving and on the right track.
Run Russ, Run!
The Broncos starting quarterback can still be dangerous as a runner. Sure, he’s not the same player he used to be in terms of running the football, but that doesn’t mean he’s a statue after the snap. Wilson used to run around 10 times per game during his younger days. Last year, when he was injured but playing through it, Wilson ran about three times a game. Last year, when he was fully healthy, Wilson ran around five times per game.
That’s the total I thought he would have this year on average because of what I saw when Wilson was performing at training camp. In the first game, Wilson ran just one time. In the second game, Wilson ran two times. However, when the chips were down against the 49ers in the third game, Wilson ran more to get the win. In Week 3, Wilson had six rushes for 17 yards.
Most of that came on a 12-yard scramble late in the game, on the Broncos 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that helped seal the win. The yardage total doesn’t matter as much as the number of carries. So long as Wilson feels empowered to run the ball when he needs to, he will have success on the ground. He’s not going to run as much as he used to, but Wilson will take the game over – and I’m expecting him to do more of that as he gets used to Hackett’s system.
“So we’re all working through all kinds of things. I’m working through things with him. I’m making sure I’m calling the proper plays for him, that the players are running the right routes, and it’s just that whole thing. Everybody working together and there’s been some good and there’s been some bad. We just have to make sure we have more good than bad as we continue to move forward,” Hackett said.
The Broncos were the most-penalized team in the league after two weeks. Over the first two games, the Broncos had a whopping 25 accepted penalties. It’s a start, but in Week 3, the Broncos offense had fewer penalties than what we saw them get in the first two games. They still lead the league in penalties (30), but they’ve cut down their mistakes and it shows.
Most importantly, the Broncos didn’t have any delay of game penalties against the 49ers. They had four going into Week 3, double the total of delay of game penalties they had in the entire 2021 season. In Week 2 against the Houston Texans, things got so bad the crowd had to countdown for the team when the offense was on the field. The players did not like that, but the crowd was doing it as a reminder for the offense and out of frustration of watching their lack of discipline.
Things were so bad, Hackett hired long-time coach Jerry Rosburg as a senior assistant to help on game day. Rosburg has been an assistant head coach for the Baltimore Ravens, and his presence was a calming influence on the entire team. On offense, the Broncos were dialed in when it came to play calling in a way they didn’t seem to be in the first two games. I can credit that to Rosburg, and to Hackett for admitting he needed help.
“I thought everybody, the whole staff, everybody I thought worked so well together. We knew that we had some things, especially myself, that I had to address. Then being able to get Jerry in there and work with the people that we have. We had a nice group of topics, they were giving the information quickly, and efficiently to me. Which made me make a quick decision instead of being emotional for something that might have happened that I was frustrated with or excited about it. It made me lock in and hear the information to make the best decision. So, I appreciate all those guys and all the extra work they put in this past week to get that process going the right way,” Hackett said.
No Shotgun Near Pay Dirt
Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, the Broncos tried running the ball near the end zone from the shotgun formation with zero success. In fact, there were miscommunications that led to a fumble by Javonte Williams on one of those carries. Another carry was another fumble, but this time by Melvin Gordon.
Running from the shotgun formation doesn’t work when you’re near the end zone. A defense knows that you’re either running up the middle on a draw-type of play, or you’re running to the opposite side of where the running back lines up. This tell makes it easy for defenders to guess where a back is going. When you’re under center, a defense does not know the direction the play is going. Against the 49ers, the Broncos only got near pay dirt once – and they made it count with a run by Gordon where Wilson began the play under center.
The Gordon touchdown was the only trip to the end zone of the day. It came at the right time, and it was clearly the difference in a tight game. The Broncos need to forge an identity of toughness, and they need to do that with a bully rushing attack that starts with the quarterback under center. The success they had against the 49ers running the ball – and the way they ran the ball – could mean the Broncos go back to the well time and time again in the future.
“I thought that touchdown was important for all of us. One for one in the red zone, which was great to see. The guys I think really stepped up to the challenge versus a really good defense and got the ball in the endzone. For any guy, whenever things like that are happening—sometimes they press, sometimes they want to try to do more, they want to make a play. That happens and I think that you just have to continually talk to them to make sure that they understand that the most important thing is the ball, and you can’t put it on the ground. It’s that simple. Nobody can because that’s the number one stat that you win and lose football games with. So, we just have to keep talking about that and make sure that we’re not pressing and we’re just living within the system. He got a lot of good runs and had some good plays, and we just have to keep that as the main thing,” Hackett said.