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On second thought: Second halves miserable for Broncos' offense

Will 2-4 record lead to trades before the Nov. 1 deadline? Melvin Gordon remains starter after talk with Hackett
Broncos Chargers Football
Posted at 4:57 PM, Oct 19, 2022

ENGLEWOOD — Thrown helmets, raised voices, tangible tension in the locker room.

This is the snapshot of the Broncos' following consecutive overtime losses that featured one touchdown from the offense.

"The players are frustrated. The coaches are frustrated. We’re all frustrated. We want more consistency. The thing I give so much credit to this team for is that they’re battling," coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "With our guys being frustrated, that’s what you want. You want them to be frustrated to a certain extent because they want to win. They want to win; they want to be part of it, and they want to be able to make plays for their teammates. That happens. That happens when you don’t win a football game. They want to do whatever they can to be able to help us win.”

The reason the Broncos own a 2-4 record, ranking as the NFL's biggest disappointment given the reframed expectations following the acquisition of nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, is impossible to ignore. No offense has scored fewer points than Denver's 91 in six games. Predictable clunkiness was expected with a new scheme and a quarterback adjusting to new teammates.

But no imagined it could be this bad.

The lack of adjustments after halftime have submarined the Broncos, and serve as an indictment of Hackett, if not the offense as a whole. No team has been figured out in the third quarter like Denver. The Broncos have scored five points — 3 on offense, 2 on a safety vs. the 49ers. Think on that a second. Five points in six third quarters, including zero on the road.

With the season teetering on the brink and Wilson dealing with a hamstring injury — Wilson hopes to play, saying he's a quick healer — the Broncos host the New York Jets. Their front seven is considered one of the most athletic and fastest in the league. The Broncos' offense stumbles into this game like a giraffe on roller skates.

I asked Hackett about the third-quarter malaise, that's actually a second-half malaise (Only Tennessee averages fewer points after intermission).

"Especially this past game, we had a plan going in there that we wanted to be in those manageable third down situations. We didn't want to be behind the sticks. And when you live in that third-and-1 to third-and-6 world, that's where you have to be at your best and be sure you are converting," Hackett said. "And throughout that game, that's not where we excelled. We weren't good enough on third down. That's where we have to be better."

Addressing the problem is easy. Solving it is not. The Broncos stink on third down (30.2 percent, third worst) because of ineffective first downs. Watching the snaps, a pattern emerges. The Broncos exit the huddle late, leaving little time to audible, and making the Broncos predictable in play-calling and snap counts. Defenders can tee off when a team regularly hikes the ball at the end of the play clock.

It's fair to ask why the Broncos don't get to the line of scrimmage sooner — Is it the verbiage of this offense? — and use dummy calls and audibles. As it stands, the Broncos' offensive line has regressed under new coach Butch Barry. The group has struggled to recognize basic blitzes, and ranks 27th in sacks allowed with 20.

Wilson, forever a fixer, remains part of the mess. He is on pace for a career low in passing touchdowns (14). I refuse to believe Wilson, at 33, has declined this precipitously. However, the numbers are staggering: in his last four seasons in Seattle, he boasted a 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while completing 66.5 percent of his passes. This season he has five touchdowns, three picks and a 58.6 completion percentage after misfiring on 13 of his final 18 passes vs. the Chargers.

Wilson has abandoned his "Broncos Country, Let's Ride!" in his past two press conferences. He wasn't asked why, but made it clear "winning heals all wounds." The Broncos players have shown frustration in recent weeks from receiver K.J. Hamler slamming his helmet to the ground and receiver Jerry Jeudy venting on the sideline.

"We should be like that a little bit. We want to be on edge. (Hall of Fame coach) Bill Cowher told me this a long, long time ago. You want to play to the edge, but not fall off. Playing with that intensity, playing that type of energy, passion and focus, yet still being calm in the moments, is an amazing characteristic that I think championship teams have," Wilson said. "Every team I have been around has a little edge. It's good to have an edge."

Players strive to play with emotion, but not become emotional. The Broncos have struggled with the latter during this three-game losing streak. It has created questions about the coaching, the personnel, and if the Broncos can avoid a sixth straight losing season for the first time since 1963-72.

Wilson pointed to the fact that the Broncos have been in every game, outscored 115-97 overall.

"There is a lot more we can do to break these games away, especially with how great our defense is doing." Wilson said. "The momentum, the tempo, if we can capture that and feed off that. ..."

The explanation is not wrong. However, it will not resonate until the Broncos execute better than they explain it.

Gordon To Start Vs. Jets
Broncos running back Melvin Gordon spent Monday night confused, not told why he was benched after three carries. He finished the Colts game strong after fumbling issues reduced his snaps, but Latavius Murray took over vs. the Chargers, rushing 15 times for 66 yards. Gordon talked with general manager George Paton and coach Hackett on Tuesday. Hackett professed his "respect" for Gordon on Wednesday and announced that he would start vs. the Jets.

"It was a talk that probably should have happened some weeks ago. I am glad that we hashed it out. I kind of sort of (got an explanation on the benching)," said Gordon. "As a man, you are going to face adversity on the field, off the field. This chapter in my life right now, it's big adversity. I hate that I am in the media for the wrong reasons and not because I had a stellar game. I hate that more than anything. I don't want people to look at me and think it's always something. I am being tested as a man mentally, I have to overcome it."

Even though Gordon is starting, his future remains uncertain He started against the Chargers, too. Could this be his last opportunity? With the 2 p.m. Nov. 1 trade deadline looming, there will be trade speculation surrounding Gordon — a Cam Akers for Gordon deal could make sense — Jerry Jeudy and others.