The Broncos Are The Most Fucked
9:13 AM EST on November 28, 2022
There are plenty of losing NFL teams trying to figure out how they can get out of the mess they are in. Some are afflicted by bad coaching, or bad quarterbacking, or a lack of talent at key areas on the field; some, all three. Of all the franchises that currently sit in a state of disrepair, though, I don't think any would willingly trade places with the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos fell to 3-8 on Sunday after losing 23-10 to the Carolina Panthers, one of those bad and hopeless teams that can look at the Broncos and say, OK, at least we aren't living like that. Denver lost this game the same way it has lost most of its games this season: by doing absolutely nothing on offense. The Broncos gained 246 total yards, Russell Wilson completed 19 of his 35 pass attempts for 142 yards, and for the fifth time this season the Broncos failed to score more than 13 points. It all ended with a scene that is a fitting summation of the entire season: defensive tackle Mike Purcell losing his cool on Wilson while head coach Nathaniel Hackett stares obliviously ahead:
Purcell has every reason to be upset. The Broncos' offense ranks at or near the bottom of the league in every category, has scored 14 total touchdowns, and is averaging 14.3 points per game. That's the lowest scoring average posted by any team since 2000, when the Cleveland Browns scored 10 points per game with Tim Couch and Doug Pederson playing most of the games at quarterback. The Broncos' defense, meanwhile, has been mostly excellent. It ranks third in the league in yards and points allowed, has allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league, and is the best defense in the league in terms of points and yards allowed per drive. Here is the stat that would likely send Purcell into another screaming fit if anyone were to whisper it to him right now: The Broncos have lost five games in which they've allowed fewer than 20 points. If this team had even a league-average offense, their record would be reversed right now.
The broader situation is somehow even worse than the on-field performance indicates, for the simple fact that the Broncos are failing in the precise fashion that they made every effort to avoid coming into the season. The front office looked at last season's 7-10 campaign, piloted by Vic Fangio and Teddy Bridgewater, and correctly concluded that the team was a quarterback and a head coach short of contention. So they went out and got Wilson, a future Hall-of-Famer, and Hackett, a supposed offensive guru who had spent the last few seasons coordinating the Packers' high-scoring attack. It's not just that the Broncos' offense goes out there and eats shit every weekend, it's that it does so with these two guys in charge of things. The whole point of having them on the team is to prevent such eating of shit.
Hackett's done nothing this season other than demonstrate his tenuous grip on the concepts of game management, and Wilson has more or less looked like the worst quarterback in the league. He's got eight passing touchdowns and five interceptions, and has thrown for over 300 yards just once. Meanwhile, the entire world has leapt at the chance to make fun of Wilson as much as humanly possible now that there isn't any on-field success to paper over his deeply weird vibes. You can tell that every other team in the league is delighted to receive the opportunity to kick this guy's ass, and to laugh at him while they do it.
Making all of this worse for the Broncos is that the only way out is through. Whereas other bad teams can begin charting out their rebuilding plans, the Broncos are mostly stuck with what they have. They sent five draft picks to Seattle in order to get Wilson, and then fastened themselves to him with a five-year, $242 million contract. This was supposed to be the end of the rebuild, not the beginning. They can fire Hackett and deal with the embarrassment that comes with canning a head coach before his first season in charge even ends, but what comes after that? When this season ends the Broncos will still be exactly where they were: a quarterback and a head coach short of contention.