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All-22 Broncos' film review reveals offensive issues across the board

Tuesday roster moves include cutting Tyrie Cleveland, placing Billy Turner on IR
Mike Vrabel, Jon Robinson, Rashaan Evans
Posted at 4:33 PM, Nov 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-15 19:02:10-05

DENVER — Monday, after the Broncos' fifth loss in six games, which featured an offensive performance so inept it has taken the season to the brink of ruin, coach Nathaniel Hackett gave a respectful press conference.

He answered my question of how can this team have accountability without consequences, by pointing the finger in the mirror, explaining, "It starts with me. We will evaluate everything that we do. We are 3-6 and we are not where we want to be. Nobody is accepting that, and that’s not the standard that we want to be. We are not scoring enough points. It’s that simple."

Moments later, Paton fielded a connected query. Given this team's record, does he feel like he's coaching for his job Sunday vs. the Raiders, a team that just lost to a Colts club whose interim boss was doing segments on ESPN the week prior?

"I learned a long time go that you are coaching for your job every day. Every single day you come in that building, you compete, and you fight to be the best version of yourself and try to bring the best out of everybody around you," Hackett said. "That is just how this is, and that is how I’ve always known it is."

The NFL is beautiful in how it prioritizes winning. There are no style points. No credit for close, almost or trying hard. The Broncos reframed expectations this season with the arrival of Hackett and nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson. Inexplicably, the Broncos are worse, their season drowning because of an offense that ranks last in points per game (14.6), having scored the second fewest points through nine games in team history.

It's a shame because the defense sits first in fewest points allowed at 16.6. A competent offense would place the Broncos at 5-4 or 6-3, firmly in the playoff mix. Instead, they are staring at a seventh straight season without a playoff berth and their sixth straight losing record.

There were some changes on Tuesday. Right tackle Billy Turner landed on the injured reserve with a knee injury, meaning his season could be over. Denver activated Tom Compton from the PUP list, making him a candidate to start at tackle or help at guard. The Broncos cut receiver Tyrie Cleveland, a core special teamer who logged 27 snaps vs. the Titans because of injuries to Jerry Jeudy (ankle) and K.J. Hamler (hamstring). Cleveland has eight career catches. The Broncos also signed defensive lineman Jonathan Harris to the active roster.

If only one of these moves could provide a panacea for the ailing offense. With the numbers so sour — Denver ranks 25th in rushing (103.6), 27th in sacks allowed (30), 31st in third down percentage (28.5) and last in red zone touchdown percentage (35.0) — it demanded a deeper dive. I spent Tuesday watching the All-22 coaches film in attempt to gain a better understanding of why the offense continues flailing.

The immediate and sobering takeaway is easy: This is a system-wide issue. Can they press CTRL-ALT-DEL and reboot? It starts with the fact that the offense has no identity. The Broncos don't do anything particularly well.

In this game, they opened up with Wilson locking into Jeudy on the first play — with one player wide open underneath. Jeudy injured his ankle making the cut. The rest of the drive included center Graham Glasgow getting worked, and the drive ending against a blitz with no player running an obvious hot route or anything easy to the short side of the field.

Nobody in the middle of the field underneath was a common issue throughout in a game that featured many slow-developing vertical routes as the line became chum in shark-infested waters after injuries to Turner and Glasgow.

It's not easy to assign responsibility for this mess. Hackett's route concepts leave few easy completions. This was the same issue Hall of Famer Kurt Warner detected when breaking down film of the Broncos-Jaguar games. By my count, the Broncos ran one screen, despite the pressure up front suggesting it would work. It did work on a completion to Melvin Gordon on the first drive of fourth quarter. There was a tight end screen called that the Titans also sniffed out.

With receivers not consistently getting separation, especially with Jeudy and Hamler sidelined, it's hard to reconcile the endless vertical routes. I know Wilson likes them, but they represent a difficult way to gain rhythm.

One of the best calls came on the fourth drive. Broncos came out in a power set with tight end Eric Saubert in motion across the formation. Kendall Hinton, in for Jeudy, slid back underneath for a 17-yard pass and catch. Eric Tomlinson made a nice block on the play. Then Tomlinson followed up with a false start in what was a tough day for him all around. This is where Hackett lamenting consistency rings true, but it also offers an indictment of coaching.

This offense struggles because it's always something.

The Broncos lead the league in penalties with 78 and rank first in false starts with 19. It's inexcusable. When penalties weren't hurting drives, confusion was. It's hard to explain what is going on in the run game. I only counted a few obvious outside run zone scheme plays. Most were not designed that way. And multiple times there were mixups, including once where two tight ends blocked into each other and into tackle Calvin Anderson.

When the Broncos finally ran the ball four straight times — one run was not official because defensive penalty was accepted — the Titans bit on play action. It worked as Hinton caught a 17-yard pass. The Broncos came out in heavy personnel in the second half. It created manageable down and distance, but the routes on third down didn't translate to success.

Which raises the question: What about Russ?

He did not play well, though he did make a few special plays, including on the audible to Jalen Virgil where he held the safety with his eyes on the 66-yard touchdown and a nine-yard scramble on fourth-and-5 in the fourth quarter. But he also made roughly five poor throws that were either off-target or ill-advised. What is interesting is that Wilson has deep routes constantly, but they don't go away from them when they are not working.

Those routes take time, time he doesn't consistently have. And when Wilson felt pressure, he dropped his eyes multiple times, leaving him to miss some open players on check downs or underneath. There doesn't seem to be a marrying of concepts that West Coast offense is famous for. You know, running six different plays out of one formation, or using the run game to create an opening later in the game. It is like everything is run in a vacuum, like five-out in basketball. The problem is that this requires playmakers — and the Broncos don't have stars on the perimeter or in the backfield. They have good players, intriguing players, but players who need help from the scheme to be amplified.

The final problem with the offense is that the Broncos lose too many one on ones, whether it's with a receiver or a lineman whiffing on a block. Of Wilson's six sacks, two were coverage sacks, two were lineman beat soundly and I had two on Wilson for holding onto the ball too long rather than throwing it away.

All of this cements the reason for real concern. There is no band-aid for a hemorrhage. No easy fix. The Broncos offense requires more of a commitment to run, quicker options and safer solutions on pass routes, and Wilson taking the layups and keeping his eyes up in the face of pressure. I don't profess to be a coach, and respect the time these folks are putting in to correct this mess.

But whether you watch Broncos at first-glance or on All-22, it is obvious this offense is going nowhere until it plays cleaner football and establishes an identity.