Broncos’ best move on NFL Trade Deadline Day? Making Nathaniel Hackett hand play-calling duties to somebody else.
The defense will be fine, with or without Bradley Chubb. Who, unless the return is a first-round pick or two very tasty Day 2 selections in next spring’s NFL Draft, you keep.
For the sake of his sanity and the sanity of Broncos Country, the best move the Broncos can make on Trade Deadline Tuesday would be to announce that coach Nathaniel Hackett is giving his play-calling sheet, and play-calling duties, over to somebody else on game day.
And by somebody else, we don’t mean Justin Outten.
Somebody proven. Somebody with bona fide NFL chops. Somebody who can combine the Russell Wilson from the fourth quarter of this past Sunday’s 21-17 win over Jacksonville with the Big Russ from the first quarter of Week 6 against the Chargers, so that this offense starts cooking out of habit instead of by some happy accident.
If not quarterback coach Klint Kubiak, who served as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator last fall, then maybe someone like, I dunno, Klint’s dad, Gary. Somebody who’s been there before.
With the bye week offering a chance to re-charge and re-assess everything at UCHealth Training Center, it’s time the Broncos took a long, hard look at the game-day operation.
Hackett’s got too much on his plate. Period. This team is 3-5 after the softest stretch of its schedule, in part, because it’s trotting out a first-time head coach who often looks distracted when it comes to managing game-day situations at warp speed.
The end of the Seahawks game will live on in Front Range infamy, both for Hackett’s bonkers decisions during crunch time and the even loopier rationale in defending them later. The home opener with the Texans got so comical that the football-savvy Broncomaniacs in the stands felt they had to step up collectively to try and steer this ship to competency.
We’ve already seen one unprecedented in-season tweak. Longtime (and retired) NFL assistant coach Jerry Rosburg was dragged off the golf course and grafted onto Hackett’s staff back on Sept. 24 to babysit the newbies.
And yet dumb stuff keeps happening, win or lose. No moment epitomized the 2022 Broncos this past Sunday more than the one that transpired with 2:44 left in the first half. After a nifty jet sweep by Jerry Jeudy notched Denver’s first touchdown of the day, the Broncos celebrated by, and we can’t make this up, getting penalized for delay of game on the ensuing kickoff.
Delay of game. On a kickoff.
That flag shot the Broncos into the NFL lead, by the way, in delay-of-game penalties by a team this season, with five.
(Context: They managed just two all of last season. The NFL average so far this fall is 2.56 delay-of-game flags per team.)
And that’s just the tip of the hankie. The first half of the first season of The Hackett Era, per NFLPenalties.com, also sees Denver either topping the NFL or tied at the top in:
• False starts (15, league average is 8.97 per team), defensive offside (5, league average is 1.81 per team);
• Taunting (!) (2, league average is 0.25 per team);
• Low blocks (1, league average is 0.19 per team); and
• Delay of kickoffs (1, league average is 0.06 per team).
“We talked about that a little bit at the half, talked with the coaches, told the guys to settle down,” Hackett told reporters when asked about the Broncos’ 10 first-half flags in London. “Whether it be a personal foul or taunting foul, we’ve got to get that out of the game. We can’t do that. It’s just that simple.”
Unless Hackett’s job duties on game day get simplified, it’s hard to see things changing for the better. Props to Big Russ for the comeback across the pond, but let’s not kid ourselves when it comes to the opposition, either.
In their last nine games decided by eight points or fewer, the Jags are 0-9. Jacksonville’s giving up, on average, almost eight points in the fourth quarter per week, which ranked 25th in the league as of Monday afternoon. The Broncos had the privilege of running into a team that plays dumb football late the way they play dumb football early.
“You talk about it. You show it,” Hackett continued. “It’s funny. One of the penalties, we actually had a presentation on it on Friday to explain it and how you can’t do it … they don’t mean to cause a penalty, but they do. And we have to continually point it out.
“They have to learn from it. And we can’t do it because again, those are those self-inflicted wounds.”
Lighten his load, and ours, before those same self-inflicted wounds slowly bleed a season to death. Dove Valley needs more cowboys. And fewer guys who look like they just stumbled into their first rodeo.
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