Maybe the Broncos problem isn’t the head coach or the quarterback?
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Welp, I guess it’s not the quarterback. After a week of hearing that the best thing for the Broncos offense would be to have Russell Wilson take a week off, Denver went out on Sunday against the Jets and did what they’ve done repeatedly this season. They laid an egg.
That leads most people to believe it’s on the head coach. After all, Nathaniel Hackett is the play caller. While not the offensive coordinator in title, that’s Justin Outten, it’s Hackett who is dialing things up during the week and on Sundays.
There is certainly a lot of validity to that claim. Hackett’s offense has been awful, as the Broncos remain the lowest-scoring team in the NFL, by a relatively wide margin.
Through seven games, Denver is putting up just 14.28 points per game. At home, they’ve been even worse, averaging only 11.25 points per game. Against the Texans, 49ers, Colts and Jets at Empower Field, the Broncos have scored just 16, 11, 9 and 9 points, respectively. It’s remarkably bad.
In the modern NFL, a league where almost all of the rules are tilted toward the offense, Denver is anemic on that side of the ball. It’s beyond pitiful.
Hackett is in charge of it, so he’s to blame for the mess. Ultimately, the head coach is responsible for a bad offense that has somehow regressed.
Up to this point, he’s fallen on the sword. He’s taken the blame. But after the loss to the Jets, Hackett turned the finger of blame toward his players.
“I’m sick of being up here saying the same thing over and over again,” the coach said. “The opportunities are there. At some point, we have to take them.”
For good measure, he essentially repeated himself.
“It’s frustrating being up here, having to say the same things,” Hackett offered. “The opportunities are there. We have to make them. It’s going to be hard. It’s the NFL.”
In other words, someone on his offense has to make a play. It can’t always be “perfect plays,” as the head coach explained; sometimes, players have to make something happen.
Who is he talking about? Well, he didn’t dislike Brett Rypien throwing the ball into the end zone for Courtland Sutton on fourth-and-three in the fourth quarter. Essentially, Hackett liked the odds; his wide receiver needs to make a play.
Perhaps he’s talking about Jerry Jeudy quitting on plays before they’re over. Maybe he’s referring to quarterbacks missing wide open receivers. It could be that he’s talking about running backs who show almost no ability to break a tackle or make someone miss.
“There are plays to be had,” Hackett added.
Fair enough. Maybe it’s not all on him. A look at the roster certainly suggests that the Broncos aren’t exactly stepping onto the field with the type of talent the team rolled out during their halftime tribute to the Super Bowl XXXII champions.
That squad featured four future Hall of Fame members on offense – John Elway, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe and Gary Zimmerman. It also had Ring of Fame inductees Tom Nalen and Rod Smith, as well one more who should be on the facade, Mark Schlereth.
This year’s team has Wilson, who is still a very good quarterback, despite what the early returns have shown. He’s just surrounded by a bunch of mediocrity.
Even with Garett Bolles, the offensive line is so-so at best. Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Quinn Meinerz and Billy Turner were fine on Sunday, but they weren’t dominant.
Sutton just isn’t the same player he was before tearing his ACL in 2020. The former Pro Bowl wideout used to dominate 50/50 balls, making acrobatic catches look routine. Now, he’s essentially a possession-type receiver.
Jeudy has been a complete bust. His standout moments come around about as often as a total eclipse.
Melvin Gordon is no longer a game-breaking runner. He’s lucky to average 3.0 yards per carry in a game.
Latavius Murray is a big back, but he isn’t going to run away from anyone. K.J. Hamler can, but he’s a small receiver who doesn’t create a lot of separation.
And the tight end room is filled with a hodgepodge of misfit toys. Some guys can run. Some can block. But none can do both.
The list goes on and on and one. There’s no one on the Broncos offense that causes opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep during the week before facing Denver. Not one.
They don’t have Davante Adams or Tyreek Hill out wide. There’s no Derrick Henry or Dalvin Cook in the backfield. They don’t line up Travis Kelce or Darren Waller at tight end.
It’s just a bunch of guys. And it has been for awhile.
That’s why the Broncos can change head coaches (three), offensive coordinators (five) and quarterbacks (12) and continually get the same result. While some or all of those guys might not be the solution, they certainly haven’t been the only problem.
How many players on the Broncos offense would start for every other team in the league? Zero. How about for half the teams? A quarter? The number isn’t very high.
Yes, Hackett hasn’t cooked up very good meals this season. But the coach didn’t open up the cupboard and find a bunch of great ingredients. He has some staples, but nothing exotic, interesting or tasty.
That said, the Broncos offense was better last year under Pat Shurmur, with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock at quarterback. So Hackett has fallen short. By a lot.
But he’s not the only problem. Neither is Wilson.
The Broncos don’t have enough special talent on offense. They don’t have playmakers. That’s just the harsh reality, something the head coach finally admitted on Sunday.