Every team in the AFC West made big moves in the offseason. In a race to catch the Kansas City Chiefs atop the division, the Las Vegas Raiders made a massive trade for Davante Adams and the Los Angeles Chargers acquired Khalil Mack. However, the biggest move this year came from the Denver Broncos when they acquired quarterback Russell Wilson from Seattle.
After acquiring Wilson’s services, the Broncos’ management made sure to secure him with a long-term commitment. The five-year, $245 million contract extension made headlines. More importantly, Denver now believed they had finally solved their quarterback woes. Early on, the returns have been less than promising. Through three games, Wilson has 743 yards passing, two touchdowns, and an interception. While the team is 2-1, the offense as a whole has looked out of sync.
Clash Of Ideals
Of course, the Broncos are also undergoing a coaching change, with Nathaniel Hackett now at the helm. After two seasons in Green Bay, serving as the offensive coordinator for Matt LaFleur, he took the job as head coach in Denver.
Quickly, the Broncos have run into a clash of ideals. While in Green Bay, much of the offense took place over the middle of the field. With Aaron Rodgers under center, LaFleur and Hackett were able to utilize the entire field. However, Wilson has long been known for being unwilling to throw the ball over the middle.
Perhaps the most frustrating part about this tendency for Wilson is how good he is at it. In 2021, Wilson ranked far above average on passes to the intermediate levels of the field. Alas, he has never attacked that area as often as he should.
In Week 1 against Seattle, the two were clearly still feeling each other out. Wilson played pretty well despite the loss. He went 29 of 42 for 340 yards and a touchdown. In Week 3, Hackett began forcing the issue and called even more plays to attack the middle of the field. Wilson would finish this game 20 of 33 for 184 yards as his hesitancy to attack the area right in front of him routinely showed up.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks…
The biggest struggle for the Broncos’ offense has been adapting to Wilson’s playing style. One of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the last several seasons, he is unlike any other in the league as well. Simply put, Wilson plays with almost no sense of timing. Known for his acrobatics in the pocket, he easily makes plays off schedule.
Regardless of who is coaching, this can make life hard on a play caller. While you certainly love to see him make plays out of structure, it can become aggravating to watch him miss the easy ones because he is not in tune with the rhythm of the offense.
Yet again, this is an area where Wilson and Hackett will have to learn from each other. While Hackett certainly watched Rodgers make plays off schedule over the years, it did not happen at nearly the same level. So, while Wilson starts to make plays from the pocket for his coach, Hackett will also have to let him loose a bit sometimes.
Matching up with the Raiders’ defense
Going forward, the Broncos need to just allow Wilson to be himself. A zebra doesn’t change its stripes, and Wilson has shown us clearly who he is at this point. Luckily for the Broncos, he’s a tremendously talented quarterback whose skillset is still valuable.
While Hackett’s bread and butter might come over the middle of the field, that is not going to work with Wilson. Where his quarterback succeeds is down the field and towards the sideline. Possessing talent all over the skill positions, the Broncos can easily become a top-tier offense. With Courtland Sutton already playing the same downfield role that D.K. Metcalf played, look for him to get even more looks going forward. Unlike most struggling offenses, the resolution is simple, and the blueprint has already been laid out.
Heading into Week 4, the Broncos are lined up for a great matchup offensively. Facing off against a Raiders defense that has allowed teams to throw the ball all over the field, the Broncos will hope to use this game to get Wilson and the receivers going.
*Top Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post