Russell Wilson-Led Broncos Offense Is Broken, And Here’s How To Fix It

The question of how Denver Broncos first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett turned one of the fastest-starting quarterbacks in the history of the game, Russell Wilson, into a plow horse is a dreary tale.

What should Hackett do to fix it before the relationship (and 2022 season) goes sour? To several people, the answer is to stop trying to make Wilson fit into an offense designed for a different type of player.

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“Russell is not Aaron Rodgers, and they need to stop handling him that way,” said one AFC offensive coordinator who is very familiar with the scheme Hackett is using. It’s the same scheme Hackett used in Green Bay the past three years when he was Packers offensive coordinator.

Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson. (Getty Images)

This is not a debate about whether Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers is a better player. It is about style of play. While both are mobile quarterbacks, there are distinct differences in how they are most effective. Two assistant coaches talked to OutKick about the problem. And former New Orleans coach Sean Payton also discussed what he would do to solve both Wilson and Denver’s slow start.

‘Wilson Needs To Change Platform More Than Rodgers’

Through four games, Wilson has only four touchdown passes and a rating of 91.1. It’s the lowest TD total for Wilson in the first four games since he was a rookie in 2012. As for his rating, it’s the worst since 2013, his second season.

Over the previous three seasons, Wilson averaged 11 TD passes and a 126-plus rating in the first four games. In six of his past eight seasons, he had a rating of better than 100 to open the season.

The problem the other coaches see is how Russell Wilson is being used in an offense that neither takes advantage of Wilson’s movement ability nor compensates for his lack of height.

“We’re not talking about (Tom) Brady versus (Patrick) Mahomes, where the differences are really big,” the offensive coordinator said. “What (Hackett) hasn’t figured out yet – and I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t – is that Wilson needs to change platform more than Rodgers. Wilson is best from the pocket, but you need to move the pocket so that the defense doesn’t clog up his vision.

“It’s pretty simple. Rodgers is taller. He can see things more easily. Wilson is shorter. You have to clean up the mess that people put in front of him.”

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Or as a NFC defensive line coach said: “If you know where Russell is going to be all the time, you play him a certain way to make it harder for him to see. Seattle was smart in that they’d use the read option … to get him out of the pocket so that we were always guessing. That little bit of hesitation was big. I don’t see Hackett creating that hesitation from the defense.”

How Sean Payton Would Fix The Problem

On Tuesday, Payton alluded to that same idea when talking with Colin Cowherd on FOX Sports Radio. Payton emphasized the big pass plays that have been largely missing from Russell Wilson’s play so far this year. 

“I’d want a cut up of all Russell’s pass plays of 30 or more yards from the field, and I’d want to see are there some schemes that he felt very comfortable with,” Payton said, via Pro Football Talk. “Like, I know that they did a great job in Seattle of bringing him off of a naked boot and then pulling up. And we all saw that like throw back to (wide receiver Tyler) Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air.

“Then, I’d want to look at another film of his red-zone touchdown passes inside the 20. And so what I’m asking for from assistants, I’m asking for some of his greatest hits and to make sure we have those song lyrics available. And if not, let’s put them in.”

The question now is whether Hackett will embrace that kind of thinking and implement the changes. If not, his relationship with Russell Wilson and the Broncos season could go south in a hurry. And the Broncos are far more invested in Wilson compared to Hackett being the future of the team. 

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.

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