Nathaniel Hackett’s decision to rest Russell Wilson is a good sign, because he made the call that Vic Fangio wouldn’t
DENVER — In the throes of a sluggish start with a bottom-dwelling offense, it’s fair to wonder whether the Broncos actually upgraded at head coach when they exchanged Vic Fangio for Nathaniel Hackett.
On Saturday, the Broncos got a sign that they did.
Because at the same juncture last year, with a starting quarterback in whom the club had considerably less invested, with a backup who supposedly practiced well enough to where there was “not much separation” between him and the starter … the previous coach shoved the starter onto the field.
This is a low bar, yes.
But in the wake of a 2-4 start, the Broncos’ hopes rest in part on Hackett showing that he can grow and proving that he’s different from the two coaches that preceded him.
In Week 7 last year, Teddy Bridgewater could barely move. Even taking a step onto the podium at which the Broncos do their outside press conferences was laborious. A quick-arriving Thursday-night game in Cleveland loomed.
Two months earlier, Fangio declared Bridgewater the starter, but in discussing the deposed Drew Lock, he described the passers as “two good quarterbacks — two quarterbacks that we can win with.”
Yet the stubborn coach who had a habit of taking passive-aggressive shots at his 2020 starting quarterback threw the gimpy Bridgewater into action. The results were predictable; Bridgewater threw a second-quarter interception and the Broncos generated just 14 points in a 17-14 defeat.
That same night, Cleveland sat its injured quarterback, Baker Mayfield. Case Keenum, established as a journeyman backup, stepped in and guided the Browns to the win.
In a game between two teams that were basically equal — each went 7-9 in the other 16 games — the Browns’ decision to play a healthy quarterback instead of an injured one was a difference-maker.
The Broncos chose to let Russ sit. I explained why this would be the right call in Friday’s edition of Orange and Blue Today:pic.twitter.com/kXVGCBklkX
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) October 22, 2022
A year later, Wilson didn’t have the same issues walking up to the podium that Bridgewater did. But his movement in practice was stilted. In a toss-sweep/bootleg drill Thursday, Wilson executed only the pitchout part of it. Unlike backups Brett Rypien and Josh Johnson, he didn’t roll out and throw.
Hackett made the call on Wilson that Fangio was unwilling to make on Bridgewater. And he did so with a backup who, unlike Lock, wasn’t considered to be “even Steven” to the starter in training camp, as Fangio said Lock was.
In Week 7 last year, the Broncos had every reason to rest an injured starter, and did not.
In Week 7 this year, they did.
And if you’re looking for flashes of daylight to show that Hackett could be like Nick Sirianni or Robert Saleh — two coaches who struggled and appeared lost in their early weeks, only to find their way and become capable leaders of their teams –this decision provides one of them.
Hackett and the Broncos saved Wilson from himself. And in doing so, they might have given the entire team a better chance to win.
But what’s more, Hackett showed that he could tell Wilson, “No,” save the player from himself and make the right call for the team at large.