Denver Broncos fans have been waiting with bated breath to see the Russell Wilson of old and for the offensive to live up to the offseason expectations. Since the news first broke that general manager George Patton traded for Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks, Broncos fans were ecstatic to finally leave behind a painful quarterback-less seven years. However, it’s been more of the same as Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett haven’t found a groove just yet. The fourth-quarter drive that Wilson manufactured the Broncos that led to the winning score against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night is proof that there is something there. With the Las Vegas Raiders entering Sunday’s game as the only 0-3 team in the league, there is something there that Wilson and the Broncos can expose to get the offense back on track.
READ MORE: Third Quarter Costs Broncos
The Ingredients Are There To Let Russell Wilson Cook Against the Las Vegas Raiders
Is It Hackett?
On Monday’s press conference, Hackett scoffed at the idea that Wilson was being restrained or held back by his offense.
“I think we have to define what off script is. Off script is when you have a progression and you don’t go through that progression. When a play is called and you go through your progression and it’s all covered, and then you start making it happen, that’s part of the script. So I would say last night you saw (Wilson) be part of the script (on the winning drive). It just so happened that he made plays with his legs. I thought he was spectacular, and I would never hold him back from anything that he might see.”(h/t Nick Kosmider, The Athletic)
Hackett’s offense is new to Wilson, and the first-year Broncos’ head coach knows that. He as much as the rest of the team is trying to be patient with the process. He said as much during his Wednesday press conference,
“Anytime you are in something that is so new, whether it be (Wilson) on this team, with all these new players, said Hackett. “With new coaching staff, it’s going to take a little time to, it’s not just, gonna get up and roll right away. That’s just the reality of it. There are some great moments and we just need those to be more consistent. And that starts with me being able to get him in a rhythm and understanding him. Cuz’ I can help him with the play calls that make him get into that flow. Get him into a rhythm with the players that he has around him. We just have to continually grow and continually get better.”
The key to letting Wilson cook would be to use his legs to extend plays. That gives the offense a chance to make big plays down the field.
Wilson’s Legs Are the Key
Perhaps Wilson is trying to be more of a pocket passer because of his understanding of the offense. Perhaps it’s for self-preservation. Whatever the case, what we saw during the fourth-quarter winning drive against the 49ers, it seemed like the old Wilson and was much more dynamic during that one drive. The numbers show it. He went 5 for 7 with 58 yards passing and 12 yards rushing on a scramble. Wilson accounted for 70 of the 80 yards on the drive, as it started on their own 20.
Hackett’s offense is 3-step drops with quick reads and precise throws. That seems to be the antithesis of how Wilson plays. Wilson likes to extend the play and roll out of the pocket to create a deep ball opportunity. These opportunities are created with a consistent and effective running game. Something the Broncos have shown to have.
During the post-game Sunday night interview, Wilson let us know that not only did he consciously use his legs more, but called an audible at the line, “We found a way. I used my legs a little bit. Guy made huge plays. Courtland Sutton’s Go ball. We changed the play and he caught that great Go ball.”
Third-and-10 and @DangeRussWilson makes something happen!
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2022
Getting Sutton involved will be important in getting the offense back on track.
Courtland Sutton Is HIM
Believe it or not, even as lifeless as the offense has looked thus far this season, Courtland Sutton has been a bright spot for the offense.
Courtland Sutton this season:
🔵 19 catches
🟠 291 yards (5th)
🔵 14 first downs (5th)
🟠 5 contested catches (3rd)
🔵 8 catches of 15+ yards (1st)
🟠 2.51 yards per route run pic.twitter.com/huoLnF30ra
— PFF DEN Broncos (@PFF_Broncos) September 27, 2022
As PFF DEN Broncos points out, Sutton is a top-five receiver. Sutton is top five in total yards, first downs, contested catches, and catches of 15 yards or more. As a team, the Broncos are 10th in the league in yards after the catch, with 6.16 yards after the reception. It seems as though Sutton and Wilson have found SOME kind of rhythm. If honed can translate into some points and finally get the offense out of their slump. Sutton’s ability to get open down the field, combined with Wilson’s potential to create something out of nothing seems like a recipe for success. A recipe that will let Wilson cook.
Keep an eye on Sutton to exponentially increase his output once this offense gets things turned around. Sutton could help get Denver out of the touchdown cellar as they only have three offensive touchdowns all season, which is tied with the Tamba Bay Buccaneers for worst in the league.
“DangeRuss” Has Shown Life
Even after all of the criticism, Wilson is still ranked 14th in Football Outsiders DYAR, (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). The issue with that, however, is that quarterbacks like Jacoby Brissett (8), Jared Goff (9), Geno Smith (10) Marcus Mariota (11), and Cooper Rush (12) are ahead of Wilson. The money and draft picks they invested in Wilson should be generating more of an investment than it currently is.
Wilson has also already been able to break some dubious trends that the Broncos were probably happy to get over with. Denver had suffered 15 straight losses after being down at halftime and had lost 27 of the last 28 overall.
Aaron Rodgers has often been a comparison point to Wilson. Rodgers also went through some growing pains in 2019 when Hackett and Matt LeFleur took over as coaches in Green Bay. 2 MVPs later, perhaps that can be the future for Wilson in Denver.
The Las Vegas Raiders Are Struggling
The Raiders are having some major, deep issues that have them as the most disappointing team in the league. According to Aaron Wilson from Pro Football Network, some glaring holes won’t make it easy for the Raiders to turn things around overnight. Things that the Broncos can take advantage of.
“…there isn’t enough depth in the trenches or skill in the secondary, with the exception of former Illinois cornerback Nate Hobbs, who has excelled as one of the highest-graded defensive backs in the NFL.” Wilson continued, “there was a lot of shoddy tackling by the defense against powerhouse running back Derrick Henry. Not having linebacker Denzel Perryman in the game due to an injury hurt the Raiders’ cause, and Hobbs is in the concussion protocol.”
This is a deficiency Wilson and the running game can take advantage of. This can open up the field for the receivers, particularly Sutton.
Regardless of how disappointing Las Vegas has been, there are a few standouts for the Raiders which still make them formidable. Maxx Crosby, last year’s All-Pro, is still a menace and is still getting to the quarterback. Another reason why it is vital the Broncos get the running game established early. Not only can it soften up the secondary, but it can keep Crosby off of Wilson.
The most QB pressures this season 💥 pic.twitter.com/FjntA0bWNi
— PFF (@PFF) September 20, 2022
Denver has improved on something every week since the start of the season. Defense, game management, and penalties all seemed to have been corrected three weeks into the season. Perhaps week 4 versus the Raiders is when Wilson and the offense can be turned around as well. The Broncos are traveling to Las Vegas trying to break a streak that stretches since 2015. The Broncos haven’t beaten the Raiders in Oakland/Las Vegas since 2015 and haven’t beaten them at all since 2019. This is the week, as they’ll let Wilson cook.
Broncos 24, Raiders 10