DENVER (AP) — Aside from their shared optimism, Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson have proven to be a less-than-ideal fit so far.
Shotgun formations are the wrinkle in the rookie head coach's West Coast philosophies, and they haven't meshed well with Wilson, who shows off fantastic footwork and meticulous mechanics from under center but looks lost in the shotgun.
Denver's coach said Friday he'd be willing to let Wilson run more of the plays he's accustomed to, but he noted the Broncos offense is already a hybrid of the two styles and what would really help is better execution and fewer penalties.
“I think we definitely want to take a hard look at everything that he’s done successfully and make sure we’re accommodating him as much as possible so that he feels comfortable," Hackett said. "But at the same time, we want to do things that our players do. It’s a different team than the team that he was on in the past. So we just want to make sure we’re doing all the right stuff.”
Bothered by a sore right shoulder and leaky O-line, Wilson threw two bad interceptions and didn't see a wide-open receiver on the Broncos' final play Thursday night, an incompletion to a well-covered Courtland Sutton on fourth-and-inches from the 5-yard line.
That sealed the Broncos' 12-9 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts, which snapped the franchise's 42-game winning streak dating to 1986 when Denver held its opponents out of the end zone and surrendered fewer than 10 points in regulation.
Twice in 65 NFL games so far this season teams have gone 0-for-4 in the red zone and both of those were by the Broncos (2-3).
Hackett's play-calling came into question again Thursday night with the Broncos ahead 9-6 and facing third-and-4 from the Indy 13 with 2:19 remaining and the Colts out of timeouts.
Instead of a run that either would have led to victory formation or a chip-shot field goal and a six-point lead on a team that hadn't come close to the end zone all night, Hackett dialed up a pass into the end zone for Tyrie Cleveland, who hadn't been targeted all night, and Stephon Gilmore intercepted it.
That led to the game-tying field goal that forced overtime, where Gilmore knocked away Wilson's shotgun pass to Sutton in the end zone on fourth-and-inches from the Indianapolis 5 when a QB sneak or handoff might have bought the Broncos four more chances at the game-winning touchdown.
Wilson has now completed just two of 18 passes into the end zone.
Asked in hindsight if he wishes he had called a run play on third-and-4, Hackett said, “I second-guess everything that I call because I always want it to be as good as it possibly can for the players and for the team.”
Bad decisions by both coach and quarterback, bad calls and bad plays have led to so much bad mojo and even this inevitable question in Denver: Was Wilson a bad bet for the Broncos?
Wilson has just one game with more than one TD pass so far, but both he and Hackett can take solace in this fact: Aaron Rodgers had nine games with zero or one TD pass in 2019, his first year with Hackett as his offensive coordinator in Green Bay. He followed that with back-to-back MVP seasons.
“I think there’s solace in the fact that going to Green Bay, it was someone who had been in a system for a long time and the system was changing. At that time, at least all those guys had all played together," Hackett said. “I think this is even more of a unique situation because it is a new offense and Russell comes from a different place. He hasn’t played with any of these guys.”
All the newness is no excuse, Hackett stressed: “We still have to execute at a higher level. We just need to continually get better and it does take time.”
WHAT NEEDS WORK
The Broncos offense was so bad that thousands of fans streamed to the exits before referee Brad Rodgers had even flipped the coin in overtime. It's already looking like a big mistake for Hackett to have ditched the training camp staple 7-on-7 drills that help QBs build confidence and rhythm with the receivers.
Chubb has 5½ sacks in his contract season after getting shut out in 2021.
The Broncos offense is averaging a paltry 14.6 points and 1.2 TDs per game.
LT Garett Bolles (leg) and CB Ronald Darby (ACL) suffered season-ending injuries. The injuries to LBs Josey Jewell (knee) and Baron Browning (wrist) aren't as serious.
14 for 57—The Broncos on third down since going 8-for-15 in their opener at Seattle.
A trip to Los Angeles to face the Chargers on Monday night, Oct. 17.