Good, bad and ugly for Russell Wilson and the Broncos offense entering Week 3 against 49ers
Fri, Sep 23, 2022
NFL News (AP)
Expectations were high for the Denver Broncos coming into this season. After acquiring Russell Wilson via trade and hiring former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their new head coach, the Broncos looked like they could at least make things interesting in football's best division -- the AFC West. Maybe they wouldn't finish ahead of the Chiefs or Chargers, but they'd at least make them sweat, and be among the league's most electric offenses due to all the talent on hand.'
Through two weeks, things have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. The Broncos lost the season opener to the Seahawks in embarrassing fashion. They trailed the Texans for much of last week's game (with Wilson looking horrendous along the way) before finally getting their act together in the fourth quarter. They've scored just 32 points combined in those two contests.'
But are things really as bad as the surface level results would indicate? In advance of their Week 3 "Sunday Night Football" date with the San Francisco 49ers, let's take a gander at what has gone right, what has gone wrong, and what has been downright awful -- specifically for the offense for which there were such high hopes -- through the first two weeks of Denver's new era.'
The Broncos have actually gotten pretty decent offensive production overall. They're averaging 6.07 yards per play, seventh in the NFL. They're at 41.2 yards per drive, tied for third in the league. Their EPA-per-play average is 10th-best in football. They've punted on only 31.6 percent of their drives, the sixth-lowest rate in the league; and they've gone three-and-out 15.8 percent of the time, third-lowest in the NFL. They just ... haven't finished these drives with enough points. Yet. (More on that below.)'
Javonte Williams looks as good as advertised. He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry through the first two games of the season, and 3.86 per carry after contact -- 10-best among 52 qualified ball-carriers, according to TruMedia. He's at 6.8 yards per carry on first down and 4.5 per carry against eight-man boxes. Just two of his 22 carries have gone for negative yardage, while 10 have gone for five or more yards (45.5 percent, league average is 37.4 percent) and three have gained at least 15 (13.6 percent, league average is 8.5 percent). He's also caught 12 of 16 passes thrown his way, for 75 yards through the air.'
On late downs, Wilson has been electric: 16 of 22 for 280 yards and a touchdown on third and fourth down, with the fourth-best EPA per dropback among qualified quarterbacks. Against the blitz, he is also fourth in EPA per dropback, completing 9 of 15 passes for 136 yards and a score.'
We have to talk about the red zone/goal line stuff. The Broncos are pathetically 0-for-5 in turning goal-to-go situations into touchdowns. Williams and Melvin Gordon each fumbled away potential touchdowns in Week 1. Denver has kicked field goals of 26, 20, and 24 yards. That's nine points on five goal-to-go opportunities. That is all flat out unacceptable.'
The early-down passing attack has been abysmal, with Wilson completing just 27 of 51 passes for 279 yards, a touchdown, and an interception on first and second down. He's 23rd in EPA per dropback among 34 qualified quarterbacks. On plays where he has not been blitzed, he's been off target with 15.5 percent of his throws, more than 3 percentage points higher than league average. Worse yet, the pass catchers are not really getting open: Wilson has had to throw into tight windows on 23.3 percent of his throws, according to NFL.com's Next Gen Stats -- the second-highest rate in the NFL.'
Injuries have been an issue, with Tim Patrick tearing his ACL during preseason, rookie tight end Greg Dulcich opening the year on injured reserve, K.J. Hamler missing Week 2 (apparently as part of his injury recovery but who knows), and Jerry Jeudy suffering a chest/shoulder injury against the Texans. Tyrie Cleveland and Kendall Hinton were playing a lot of snaps against Houston because of all the injuries. Oh, and Albert Okwuegbunam put up a goose egg last week after his poor preseason, which is less than ideal.'
The coaching (Hackett) and game management (Hackett and Wilson) have been an absolute disaster so far. If there were just one or two miscues, that'd be one thing. But this is like an avalanche already.'
Let's start with Russ. As you can see from a video on the Seahawks' official YouTube page, Wilson's usage of the same hand signals that he had in Seattle tipped off the Broncos' Week 1 opponent to what routes were coming, and when. That's ... not great.'
The Broncos have been incredibly lacking in discipline, which has to fall at least in part on Hackett. In Week 1, they took 12 penalties for 106 yards. In Week 2, it was another 13 penalties for another 100 yards.'
They have also been unprepared to handle multiple situations and taken so many delay-of-game penalties that their home crowd started counting down the play clock in unison during their Week 2 game. Then there was the calamity at the end of the game against Seattle, where the Broncos let 40 seconds run off the play clock on fourth-and-5 and then tried to kick a 64-yard field goal instead of letting Wilson try to pick up a first down and make things easier. Last week, they took way too long to decide whether or not to kick a 53-yard field goal against the Texans, and ultimately took a delay penalty. Instead of trying a 58-yard kick, they chose to punt. (And that came after they tried to run it with fullback Andrew Beck on third-and-short.) They also had to burn a timeout because the punt return team did not have a punt returner on the field.'
I feel exhausted just listing all of those things, and I'm still pretty confident that I'm forgetting some stuff. It's been that bad. If it doesn't improve, and quickly, the things the Broncos do well elsewhere on the field won't matter nearly as much.'