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Broncos Must Address HC Nathaniel Hackett's Decision-Making

Nathaniel Hackett turned the Denver Broncos into a national lampoon.
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The Denver Broncos came away with a 16-9 win over the Houston Texans, but I imagine most fans, while happy to win, aren't happy about what went down during the game.

The Broncos continue to have issues with finishing drives in the red zone, issues with penalties, and, in particular, some head-scratching game management from head coach Nathaniel Hackett.

From what seemed like an unwillingness to trust the running backs near the goal line to indecisiveness about fourth-down decisions (one which cost the Broncos a makeable field goal) to a punt returner not being out on the field after a defensive stop, it's not surprising that fans aren't happy with what's happening at the coaching level. 

Let me make one thing clear: No, Hackett isn't going to get fired after just two games. Doing that isn't going to make things better.

The only head coach I can find who was fired midseason and the team made the playoffs was Jon Gruden with the Raiders last year — and in his case, it had nothing to do with his on-field performance and everything to do with an off-field situation. As for coaches fired midseason for on-field performance, I have been unable to find a recent example.

In other words, fans shouldn't use the "fire coach midseason" tactic as if it's going to mean an instant turnaround better, particularly when the head coach has had just two regular-season games. After all, Broncos fans want playoffs this year and, if the coach is fired midseason, the odds of making the playoffs wouldn't be in the team's favor.

That doesn't mean you can't hold Hackett's feet to the fire. He does need to get things figured out, because things aren't going to get any easier and upcoming opponents will capitalize more on mistakes than Seattle and Houston did.

While I can't be the fly on the wall or buzzing near the sidelines, it appears the biggest issue the Broncos have with the coaching is a lack of decisiveness, leading to a lack of communication. Too many times against the Texans, the Broncos looked like they didn't know what play they wanted to run or whether or not to go for it on fourth down.

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It got to the point that fans in attendance started counting down the play clock, even when the Broncos were lined up, ready to snap the ball and intended to run the clock down in the final minutes. When fans start doing that, you know you have a problem.

The most frustrating thing was the Broncos lost a field goal attempt because of game management. You simply can't afford to waste a scoring opportunity with indecisiveness about what you plan to do on fourth down.

The same thing about communication applied when punt returner Montrell Washington wasn't on the field after the Broncos defense knocked the Texans out of field goal range, thus forcing Hackett to burn a time out. Not having your returner ready to take the field is inexcusable.

My belief is that Hackett may be overthinking things when it comes to what to do on fourth down. While considering analytics is fine, you need to be quick with a decision. 

So that's the first thing Hackett needs to do: Become more decisive on coaching decisions and let the chips fall where they may.

On one hand, you won't always make the right decision. Every coach makes questionable decisions. On the other hand, you at least can show you were decisive, rather than making people wonder whether you even knew what you were supposed to do.

It may also be worth asking whether Hackett is dwelling too much on past mistakes. Yes, it was frustrating to have two goal-line fumbles by your running backs in Week 1. However, that doesn't mean you never give them chances at the goal line again.

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The running game was not the problem against the Texans. Neither Javonte Williams nor Melvin Gordon fumbled the ball. 

As for the mistakes those two backs made in Seattle, you, as a head coach, must put those behind you and show trust that Williams and Gordon will get the job done the next time around.

There are those who will ask whether the Broncos should have played their starters in the preseason. However, that could partly explain why the Broncos are off to a slow start on offense but it doesn't explain the indecisive coaching.

Furthermore, the defense is not having these issues. True, the opponents haven't been top teams, but the defense is doing exactly what you expect it to do against a weaker opponent — and against the Texans, that's with not having Justin Simmons, Josey Jewell and, later, Patrick Surtain II on the field.

There are execution issues on offense, but it's the indecisiveness and poor communication that are causing more damage. Coaching decisions like that have nothing to do with whether or not you play your starters in the preseason.

Some may ask whether the penalties are because the coaching staff isn't doing enough to discipline the players. It's possible, though it's been the offense that has had the bigger problem. With defense, the penalties have been more about execution than lack of discipline.

But the penalties can't continue to mount. In just two games, the Broncos have drawn 25 penalties. That already amounts to 30.5% of the Broncos' total 82 penalties for 2021.

If penalties are piling up like that, you do have to start looking at the coaching. It's one thing to not be too harsh on players, like Vic Fangio was accused of doing. But it may be true that the coaches are being too lax with players.

If so, Hackett's coaching staff needs to find that line between making players feel like they are appreciated and ensuring that players are held accountable.

The Takeaway

While Hackett will get the season to figure it out, he has to show the signs that he is. If all we see is more indecisiveness, more lack of communication, and more penalties, it's going to be hard to make the case for him to stick around.

There are some positives, such as the Broncos doing a better job of moving the football on offense and finding the pass rush on defense. But certain coaching decisions aren't helping matters. 

If the Broncos want to make the playoffs, those coaching issues must be addressed.

Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMorrisSports.

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