ENGLEWOOD — Before the opening face-palm loss in Seattle, before the overtime defeat to Colts featured an unthinkable interception, before the disjointed play-calling resulted in nine punts at Tennessee, the Broncos believed they had secured their future in coach Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson.
They represented dynamic leaders capable of providing a jolt of energy to the organization, and more specifically the offense. The Broncos boast a 3-6 record, the worst offense in the NFL at 14.6 points per game and the franchise's fewest points through nine games since 1966.
"It's not a good one," said Hackett when asked Wednesday about the offensive's identity.
That Hackett has struggled has been disappointing, but not entirely surprising. He's never been a head coach at any level, and the NFL remains littered with former coordinators who failed in the transition to the top spot.
More shocking has been the statistical regression of Wilson. We have gone from "Where is Russ Going?" in the spring to "What is Russ Doing?" this fall.
I dislike the hate of Wilson, the fountain of venom nationally, given his resume as a nine-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion and potential Hall of Famer. It is clear many were waiting for this slump to unleash on him, though I maintain the stuff on his personality is out of bounds.
However, criticism of his play is unavoidable and warranted.
"First of all I have to play better. It starts with me," Wilson said Wednesday. "I have to find ways to make some more plays for us, more touchdowns. I have been down before. It doesn't mean you can't come out the other end of it all."
Simply put, Wilson has never started like this. His completion percentage (57.4) is his lowest, his touchdown passes (seven) tied for fewest with 2016 and his sacks (29) are second most, behind only 31 in 2015, through his first eight starts of a season. Wilson is a winner more than anything else, and his stats mirror the team's 3-5 record in his starts.
In his first new team with a new coach and a new players around him, the transition remains clunky.
"We want just want him continually owning the system," Hackett said of wants to see from Wilson in this offense. "We want to build this thing around him,."
Watching the All-22 Coaches Film of the Titans game revealed an offense that is disconnected. They are calling plays, not running an offense. They don't do anything well, plays exist in a vacuum that leave this team without any clear strength.
Or easy completions.
Wilson has long been under siege in the pocket in his career either because of poor line play or holding onto the ball too long. But only once has he had close to the 1-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio through eight games as he has now at 7-to-5. That came during his rookie season when he boasted 10 TDs and eight picks.
Of course, there are reasons. The Broncos played a large chunk Sunday with a third-string right tackle, a backup left tackle and third-string center. Per Spotrac, the Broncos' $55 million of salary with 14 players on injured reserve is the most in the NFL.
Given revolving lineups, why not run the ball more under center and use play action to create layup passes to protect a line that hopes to have center Graham Glasgow back? Receiver Jerry Jeudy (ankle) might not play Sunday, and K.J. Hamler was ruled out for a second straight week with a hamstring injury.
I asked Wilson if he needs more layups in the offense to get the pass game in rhythm and take pressure off the embattled line.
"We need to create some of those basic easy ones for us," Wilson said. "We still have to be hungry. At the end of the game, it's about touchdowns. If we can generate those with the way our defense has been playing all year. ... it's our obligation to step up."
Added Hackett, "Yes, we want to get the ball out of our hand quick and be able to protect, especially with these two very good defensive ends we are facing. We are taking that all into perspective. You never want one-on-one matchups. You want to eliminate that has much as you can. We want to be able to run the ball, and be aggressive and still smart at the same time."
It makes sense when Hackett says it, but dissolves when you watch it. With sinking ships colliding in the Broncos and 2-7 Raiders, Hackett, in a moment of levity, quipped, "Somebody's gotta win."
Is this the week that Wilson gets comfortable and completes 65 percent of his passes with multiple scores? One concern is that Wilson hasn't posted big numbers since breaking his finger last season — he suffered mallet-finger tendon damage, a dislocation, and two fractures in his right middle finger, Over the past 17 games, he has completed 59.4 percent of his throws for 3,897 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Wilson's overall history suggests he should bounce back. But, he's never been in a situation like this. Seeing Wilson gain traction, regardless of Hackett's fate, would be the only thing left that could create optimism moving forward after this forgettable season.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH
Russell Wilson has struggled through his first eight games, posting a career low completion percentage, while tying for his fewest touchdowns. A look at the year-to-year breakdown over his first eight starts:
Completion %. TD. INT. Sacks. Rush attempts/yards/yards per attempt
2012 61.4 10 8 14 36-128, 3.55
2013 60.9 13 4 27 61-339, 5.55
2014 62.8 11 3 16 52-393, 7.56
2015 68.8 9 6 31 58-303, 5.22
2016 66.7 7 2 16 28-54, 1.93
2017 62.1 17 6 18 46-271, 5.89
2018 66.1 18 5 25 24-118, 4.91
2019 68.4 17 1 19 43-182, 4.23
2020 71.0 28 8 24 37-265, 7.16
2021 64.8 12 3 22 26-118, 4.54
2022 57.4 7 5 29 32-121, 3.78