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Russell Wilson Isn't Good Enough to Overcome Nathaniel Hackett, Broncos' Deficiencies

Brent SobleskiSeptember 13, 2022

Russell Wilson (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Murphy's Law should be renamed Russell Wilson's Law after the Seattle Seahawks traded their all-time leading passer to the Denver Broncos this offseason and the quarterback's disastrous return to Seattle on Monday.

As the adage states, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Wilson wasn't the primary reason behind the Broncos' surprising 17-16 loss, but he certainly wasn't enough to overcome all the problems in their performance. The mistakes made at every level were simply staggering.

Penalties, miscues, turnovers, red-zone impotence, clock-management issues and shoddy communication all played a part in the outcome.

Wilson remains a very good quarterback. But his former backup, Geno Smith, outplayed him for a significant portion of the game, particularly the first half. Wilson showed his transition to a new team will take longer than expected and feature significant bumps along the way.

Despite everything, the Broncos still had a chance to win. First-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett, however, took the ball out of his quarterback's hands on fourth down with the game on the line—his first crucial call—after inexplicably letting the clock wind down.

Instead, Brandon McManus' 64-yard attempt sailed wide left. The 31-year-old kicker has one of the league's strongest legs, but he should have never been placed in that position. According to Football Outsiders, the Broncos' chances to win the game would have increased by nearly 30 percentage points if they had attempted a pass rather than a field goal. As ESPN's Ed Werder noted, McManus is now 1-of-8 when asked to convert a kick of 60 or more yards.

The Broncos traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and tight end Noah Fant to acquire the Super Bowl XLVIII winner and one of the league's best at creating in the moment plus a fourth-round pick. Wilson is the franchise. He's the one who's supposed to lead the team to greater success.

None of that seemed to matter the first time the Broncos needed someone to make a play and win a game. Quite frankly, it's embarrassing for everyone involved in the decision.

"I was surprised they took Russ out at the end," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters after the game. "We weren't thinking field goal there. We were thinking they were going. It gave us a chance to win the game on that play. Very fortunate there."

The clock continued to (in your best Chris Berman voice) tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Denver had the ball with about a minute to go. The Broncos stared at 4th-and-5. The offense huddled, went to the line, ran the play clock all the way down and then called timeout. What a waste.

Nathaniel Hackett (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Hackett only made matters worse afterward when he explained the reason behind his decision.

"Fourth-and-6 for me at that time, we weren't moving it in big chunks," he told reporters. "I think we had just given up a sack right before that, so I wanted to be sure we took a chance when we had a chance. And we were confident in [McManus]."

D'oh. Rookie head coach indirectly provides indictment of his quarterback's play without correctly remembering the sequence of plays. Wilson wasn't sacked on third down. Instead, Javonte Williams had the drive's biggest gain of nine yards on a swing pass from Wilson. (That came after Williams lost four yards on another reception and Wilson threw an incompletion.) Afterward, the quarterback toed the company line.

Said Wilson: "I don't think it was the wrong decision to go for the field goal. We have the best kicker in the game."

Wilson completed 69 percent of his passes and threw for 340 yards. Still, the effort wasn't good enough. Even in the moments when the offense seemingly got on track, his timing and touch weren't all there.

The biggest play of the night was a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy. Even in that instance, Wilson woefully underthrew the pass. Jeudy was three yards behind his defender when Wilson released the ball. If rookie Coby Bryant—who didn't turn his head in time to make a play on the ball—hadn't been in coverage, the throw could have been easily deflected.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

THE PASS, THE CATCH 💰 <br><br>Russ connects with Jerry Jeudy for his first TD as a Bronco 🤝 <br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFLBrasil?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFLBrasil</a>)<a href="https://t.co/cpRgDx7GTb">pic.twitter.com/cpRgDx7GTb</a>

A couple of other misses occurred when Wilson tried to push the ball down the field. The quarterback is known for his deep passing. It's not automatic, though. New receivers, a new scheme and limited reps mean the players need time to coalesce.

Throughout the night, Hackett and Wilson seemed to struggle with the mechanics of down-by-down play-calling, too. The offense didn't get to the line until there were well under 10 seconds left on the play clock on numerous occasions.

Officials called 12 penalties on the Broncos for 106 yards. Three of those happened to be false starts with two more delay of games.

Denver did move the ball, even with the uphill climb the penalties created.

The Broncos outgained the Seahawks 433-253. Wilson and Co. continually stalled near the end zone. Denver had the ball in the red zone four times and came away with six points. The offense reached the 1-yard line twice and fumbled both times. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Denver was the first team to do so in the last 35 years. The Broncos ran the ball three times in the red zone and tallied minus-four yards before contact, per Pro Football Focus.

Ball security is one thing. An offensive line that gets blown off the line of scrimmage will be a much bigger concern as the season progresses.

On defense, the Broncos didn't have much of an answer for the Seahawks' multitude of tight ends. The trio of Fant, Colby Parkinson and Will Dissly combined to make eight catches for 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Opposing tight ends should give Denver problems all season because its linebackers can be exploited.

Geno Smith (left) and Russell Wilson (Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

All this happened in Seattle. Yes, the story of Wilson's return to where he played his previous 10 seasons will capture headlines. But the reality may be much dimmer than the Broncos faithful may want to acknowledge.

The Seahawks aren't a good football team. Entering Monday's contest, they were among the teams with the lowest win totals. Smith played far better than expected, and the defense flew to the football. But Seattle isn't anything like the murderer's row of the AFC West.

Can Wilson be expected to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert and Las Vegas Raiders' Derek Carr when he was just outdone by his former backup?

Essentially, the Broncos sank multiple draft assets, three contributors and a $245 million contract extension into the division's third-best quarterback. Denver must rectify the issues seen throughout Monday's contest, and it will need everything to go right to even compete with the AFC's heavyweights. Wilson can't do it alone.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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