DENVER — Saddled with the league's worst offense despite adding Russell Wilson and facing must-win games, Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett relinquished play-calling duties this week, handing the responsibilities over to quarterbacks boss Klint Kubiak.
Per a source, Hackett informed the team during their Saturday night meeting prior to Sunday's matchup with the Raiders. The offensive players were aware of the change during the week in practice, but it was kept under wraps for a strategic advantage.
Hackett was asked about making a switch for weeks as the Broncos stumbled through the first half of the season. Slight improvement vs. Jackonsville — three red zone touchdowns in three attempts after two in their previous 17 — held off the change during the bye week. Then, the Broncos fizzled against the Titans, shut out in the second half, while failing to reach the red zone once in 60 minutes. Complicating matters, Wilson is off to the worst start of his career, on pace for 13 touchdown passes and a 57.4 completion percentage.
Kubiak made the most sense on the staff because he called plays last season for the Vkings, his first as their offensive coordinator after replacing his father and Broncos Super Bowl 50-winning coach Gary Kubiak. The Vikings boasted the NFL's 13th-ranked offense, averaging 25 points per game in 2021. The Vikings struggled with third down conversions last year, something Kubiak lamented at season's end.
When coach Mike Zimmer was fired, Kubiak was not retained. He interviewed for the OC job with the Panthers before accepting the Broncos quarterbacks coaching position. Kubiak coached for the Broncos on his dad's staff from 2016-18.
Kubiak grew up in the West Coast system, emphasizing the run game to set up the pass through play-action and bootlegs. The Broncos have lived in shotgun this season, so it's fair to believe they will be under center more on Sunday. Denver has almost abandoned the zone-blocking scheme, and that could return with more regularity, though the line could feature young right tackle Quinn Bailey and center Luke Wattenberg if Tom Compton (back) and Graham Glasgow (shoulder) are unable to go.
The Vikings ranked 16th in rush attempts last season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. The Broncos rank 14th in attempts per game this season (26.2), but sit fourth worst at 3.9 yards per attempt.
Multiple players told Denver7 this week they expected the Broncos to try to establish the run to create more rhythm for an offense that has been mired by three-and-outs, has scored one touchdown in the third quarter all season and has become disconnected while relying on vertical routes with little separation in the passing game.
Hackett has struggled as a first-time head coach. After operational issues in the first two games, Hackett hired veteran coach Jerry Rosburg to smooth out issues with communication in the booth. It has helped clean up some of the obvious problems with play-clock management. Turning to Kubiak represents another major move for Hackett, whose job status has been in question as Denver has dissolved into arguably the NFL's most disappointing team.
Hackett and offensive coordinator Justin Outten will remain involved in the offense, but this change should free Hackett to widen the lens, perhaps seeing trends more quickly and helping with discipline as the Broncos lead the league in penalties (78) and false starts (19). NFL Network first reported the change to Kubiak.