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5 Issues Broncos Coaching Staff Must Correct Before Season is Lost

If Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett doesn't course-correct here, the 2022 season will go down in flames.

While Nathaniel Hackett got his first win as Denver Broncos head coach, it was a victory that left most fans feeling unsatisfied. The issues the Broncos displayed in their home-opening win over the Houston Texans, an opponent viewed as one of the worst teams in football, raised plenty of concern. 

Expectations were high, but for three quarters, the Broncos fell flat. The defense did have a better day than the offense, though there were multiple drives the unit felt helped by the ineptitude of the Texans. 

The Broncos' coaching staff displayed a multitude of issue, which were to be expected with them all being young and relatively inexperienced, but their ineptitude has been beyond the ple. It was a big reason Denver lost the season opener and part of why the team struggled to pull out the win in its home opener. 

Hackett and company need to make five fixes, specifically, in order to avoid the 2022 season careening off the track. 

Offense: Getting Play Calls in Quicker

This has been such an issue that Broncos fans in attendance at Empower Field at Mile High took to counting down the play clock for the offense. The fact that it got to that point is beyond belief but it was such a consistent problem through both games that Broncos Country wanted to provide some exasperated help. 

The issue is that the Broncos' offense isn't getting into a huddle until at least 20 seconds have ticked off the play clock. That doesn't leave much time to call the play, get lined up, make adjustments, and snap the ball. 

Understandably, quarterback Russell Wilson wants to be part of the play-calling process, but the process is taking too long. So how do you speed that up? You cut unnecessary steps out of the process. 

While I'm not suggesting Hackett give up play-calling duties, that is an option on the table. Before taking that step, it would be nice to see other steps taken to speed up the process first. For the most part, Hackett's play-calling hasn't been terrible, but you can't overlook the times that it has been.

The first step should be Hackett taking more ownership of his play-calling. That doesn't mean completely cutting OC Justin Outten or Wilson out of the process, but in the game, there needs to be more of "this is the play" coming from Hackett, not a United Nations discussion. 

If this doesn't get fixed, and fixed soon, it will be an even bigger issue when the tougher portion of the Broncos' schedule comes around. 

Defense: Allowing Time for Pass Rushers to Get Home

There isn't anything wrong with playing off-coverage, but the Broncos' secondary does need to be a little tighter. They have one of the best press-corners in the NFL in Patrick Surtain II, but they consistently play him eight-plus yards off the line of scrimmage. Surtain, who was injured in the game, is very clearly more comfortable closer to the line. 

On top of that, Ronald Darby is a solid press corner, and rookie Damarri Mathis is capable of it. Playing tighter coverage is a must to give Denver's pass rushers a split-second longer to get home. Playing tighter doesn't even mean playing press coverage, either. 

This is a defense that has consistently gotten pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has five sacks through two games to show for it. The Broncos also have a lot of quarterback hits that, with a half-second longer to get to home, would have been sacks. 

The best part of this defense has been its pass rush, so the Broncos need to play to that. DC Ejiro Evero did show growth from the first game to the second, but the next step is helping those pass rushers. 

With Jimmy Garoppolo coming to Denver next, the Broncos have to get pressure and give those pass rushers that extra time. 

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Special Teams: Move the Needle

There were multiple issues with the Broncos' special teams unit in Week 2, but it was still an improved unit over Week 1. Montrell Washington showed some flashes as a returner, but his decision-making on when to field a punt was an issue. 

After retreating for 10-plus yards, Washington made the decision to field a punt near the goal line instead of letting it bounce. The return was good, but it drew a penalty on Denver. 

There also needs to be more work put into how Washington reads his blocks. On a couple of his returns, he had a wide-open lane and decided to pass it up. It left yards of the field, but this is a bit nitpicky as the returns were still solid. 

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Washington's kick returns are an issue, though, averaging only 17 yards per attempt with a long of 21. Improving the blocking here will help Washington. 

The punt blocking also needs to improve, as Corliss Waitman had a couple that were nearly blocked. Speaking of Waitman, he needs to work on his punt consistency, which we saw during the preseason. Waitman also had two nice punts to pin Houston deep, but the Broncos' coverage team failed to prevent them from being touchbacks. 

Special teams improvements were made, but there is still a long way to go. Can we get an answer to why a 59-yard field goal seemingly wasn't in Brandon McManus' range after the Broncos' coaches playe for a 64-yard game-winner in Seattle the week prior?

Offense: Maximizing Russell Wilson

Wilson is not the same player he was a few years ago. There are obvious signs of decline, but he still shows flashes. Wilson needs to figure out where those issues are and work with the coaching staff to determine the ways he can best lead this offense. 

He can't make the same level of throws he used to, and his legs are not what they were. Those aspects were each such a big part of his game, especially his ability to buy time and move around waiting for the big play. 

There are ways Denver can still use Wilson, and, to be clear, there is still gas left in his tank. So the coaches need to figure out how they can better use him, what he can do well, and work to preserve that gas after giving him that massive contract extension before he ever took a snap. 

Every Phase: Penalties

Denver has scored 32 points this season while having 28 flags thrown, with 25 accepted penalties on them. The Broncos are officially the most penalized team this season. The next closest team in accepted penalties are the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints at 17. 

Denver is minus-12 in net penalties, with only 13 benefitting them. That minus-12 leads the NFL for the worst net in penalties, with the next closest being minus-8. In addition, six of Denver's penalties have been automatic first downs. 

The Broncos have six false starts, where the league average is under three. Denver has four delay-of-game penalties, where the league average is less than one. Those are largely due to the coaching staff's issues getting plays called in a timely manner. 

Denver has allowed opposing offenses to keep drives alive with some bad defensive penalties like taunting, defensive holding, illegal contact, and pass interference. Some of them led to points, especially in the Seattle game. 

While these penalties keep the Broncos' defense on the field longer, the offense sees drives stall because of them. You can't survive games against the cream of the crop in the AFC averaging 12.5 accepted penalties per game and having 14 flags on average being thrown against you. Had the opponent been the Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos would have likely suffered a humiliating blow-out loss. 

This starkly contrasts the Vic Fangio-coached teams with the fourth-fewest penalties in 2021, the sixth-fewest in 2020, and the 14th-fewest in 2019. 

Bottom Line

I haven't mentioned the Broncos' red-zone issues, but the reason for that is, where would that fall? The Broncos' problems have spanned the gamut from late play calls, figuring out Wilson, and penalties. If Denver can figure these things out, the problems in the red zone may not disappear entirely, but they won't be nearly as prevalent. 

After all, the Broncos had a touchdown called back for holding, had some issues with reads, and had late throws from Wilson, and problems getting a play in on time, which was then audibled as the players stammered around in confusion. 

The coaching staff is still young and inexperienced, but the Bronocs are nearing the exit of the 'easy' part of their schedule. With San Fransisco coming to Denver for Sunday Night Football, the Broncos can't afford these mistakes at the level we have seen them. 

It's time for a step forward, not to the point of overcorrection, like we saw from Week 1. This coaching staff needs to show better balance and growth because the 2022 season isn't going to get any easier. Just the opposite. It's going to get more difficult. 

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