BRONCOS

Dwayne Stukes’ rant about Denver’s special teams struggles is all about pride

Nov 23, 2022, 2:08 PM
Dwayne Stukes...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — You have to scroll all the way down to find where the Denver Broncos stand on kickoff returns: dead last, with a 15.9-yard average.

The effect of that is minimized a bit because the Broncos have just 14 kickoff returns this season, the fourth-fewest in the NFL. But in last Sunday’s 22-16 overtime loss to Las Vegas, the Raiders challenged the Broncos.

Instead of having Daniel Carlson blast the football into the end zone, Raiders special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon — who most recently worked four seasons for the Broncos in the same position — had Carlson aim for kickoffs short of the goal line. McMahon used this tactic at times in Denver, to mixed results.

Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High, it worked brilliantly for McMahon. Carlson had five kickoffs Sunday. Washington fielded three at the goal line or inside the 5-yard line. And all three ended shy of the 20-yard line; the Broncos’ average drive-start position on those kickoffs was their 15-yard line.

It was a sound tactic, given the Broncos’ struggles on returns. And the fact that it was the right call rankles Stukes.

“Can I be completely honest with that? It makes me freakin’ sick to my stomach to get challenged by another team or another individual — I’m talking about on the football field. We gotta take pride in that,” Stukes said Wednesday.

“… And I have to relive this over and over again because I watched the film several times to see how we can improve.”

Montrell Washington’s recent struggles dominate the public special-teams conversation. And he did muff a kickoff last Sunday.

But he also had little room to operate — a common issue on Broncos kickoff returns throughout the season to date.

“The guys have to do a better job blocking for him,” Washington said. “I told those guys in the meeting — and forgive me for saying this — I told ’em, ‘Whoever you love the most back there — whether it’s your mom, your parent, whether it’s your mom, your parent, whoever it is — block like it’s your parent back there returning the ball. You know what I’m saying?

“If you can’t get the job done because it’s Montrell, visualize somebody who you feel like is very important to you and protect that person. But at the end of the day, if we have a double-team, we have to get that block done. There’s no way you can spend two guys to block one and still miss a block. That’s unexcusable.”

Kickoff returns aren’t the only issue. Stukes’ special teams currently sit 32nd of 32 teams in special-teams DVOA, as ranked by Football Outsiders.

Such a position is typical for the Broncos. Last year with McMahon, they ranked 30th. They haven’t finished higher than 24th since 2015.

Constantly changing personnel is a root cause of the issue, but Stukes won’t lean on that.

“I agree with that, but I try not to use excuses, right? These guys are in the building because we feel like they can play football. We practice every week kickoff return. We practice every week kickoff. We practice every week punt, et cetera.

“As a man — and I’m talking about as a man on the football field — you have to take pride in saying, ‘I’m not gonna allow my guy to make this tackle. I’m gonna do my job on this particular play. I know how important it is for our team to get this field position for our offense to score points. All that has to come into account.”

So, Stukes put forth a task for his players.

“And with that being said, I also challenged the guys to watch extra film this week. If you’ve been watching film for 10 minutes, maybe bump that up to 15 minutes. Maybe bump that up to 20 minutes. And now, not only am I studying Carolina’s scheme, but I’m studying my potential matchup, and I’m taking on notes on that individual player on how I’m going to block him. We have to get get kickoff return started. We have to do a better job on kickoff return for our team to have success and for our team to win.

“I’m going to try to get it right. I’m trying my best to get it right.”

***

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Dwayne Stukes’ rant about Denver’s special teams struggles is all about pride