JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2022 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Denver Post Broncos writer Kyle Newman on the Broncos as they enter Sunday's 2022 Week 8 game against the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London.
Q: The Broncos hired Nathaniel Hackett as head coach this offseason and traded with the Seattle Seahawks for quarterback Russell Wilson. They're now 2-5 and last in the AFC West, having lost four consecutive games – including a 16-9 home loss to the New York Jets this past Sunday. What is the state of the Broncos entering Sunday?
A: It's total panic out here in Broncos Country. Everyone looked at this season and the way the schedule set up and they said, "OK, first half before the bye, we can really get some momentum under Russ with this new offense. Hackett. Mojo. All the juice." That's all gone out the window. We saw Nathaniel Hackett on Zoom Monday. He looked pretty ragged. He looked like a first-year head coach who is going through a 2-5 season. More than anything, people are wondering, "Uh-oh. Was Seattle right? Did they the Broncos] pull the trigger on trading for Russ at the wrong time?" Plus: The Broncos gave Wilson a five-year extension before he even played a down. Was that a little premature? Secondly, everybody's wondering if Nathaniel Hackett can be a head coach in the NFL. So far, the consensus from fans and media is no. He has some work to do not only in London but after the Week 9 bye to make sure he's not on the hot seat and to make sure he has a job for Year 2 here.
Q: Were expectations just too high?
A: Expectations were too high. In the preseason, Hackett and Russ weren't afraid to say not just that the playoffs were the goal, but that Super Bowl was the goal. Not only are we seeing the growing pains of a first-year head coach, but a first-year head coach with a new quarterback, a quarterback trying to find his way in the system. Maybe the biggest thing is there was a misconception that the Broncos were just a quarterback away. Actually, it doesn't look like it. We're seeing that on the offensive line. We're seeing underperformance from some of the playmakers on offense overall. All of that is a perfect storm contributing to a 2-5 start.
Q: Your assessment of Wilson through seven games?
A: I would say subpar and on a grading scale … a C- and maybe a D+. The defense has played as well as you could ask. It's playing like one of the best defenses in the NFL. Cornerback Patrick Surtain II might be the best cornerback in the NFL. The offense has singlehandedly cost them four games, including Sunday against the Jets. They're last in the NFL in points per game. That pretty much says it all. The fact that some people are longing for the days of [former offensive coordinator] Pat Shurmur and [quarterback] Drew Lock is not a good sign for the start of the Russell Wilson Era. [Former quarterback] Peyton Manning started 2-3 his first season (2012), so some Broncos fans are holding on to that. Peyton picked it up to historic levels by Year 2. This offense is not on that trajectory at all.
Q: What do they want to be offensively?
A: Good question. I don't even know if they know. At the beginning of the year it was, "[running back] Javonte [Williams] is going to be the featured guy and we're going to use Russ and all these dynamic weapons to air it out when we want to." To start the season, Javonte was the No. 1 back, but it wasn't like he was the bell cow. He was still splitting carries. Now, Williams is hurt [with a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament]. They have a huge question at running back. They don't really trust Melvin Gordon because of his fumbles. They have Latavius Murray and Mike Boone is hurt [with an ankle injury]. They also have a lot of offensive weapons who are underperforming. What do they want to be as an offense? They want to be a dynamic passing offense that can also put up 100 yards at will on the ground. They have been neither of those things so far.
Q: And the defense is ranked second in the NFL…
A: The defense has risen above expectations and those expectations were pretty high. I give [outside linebacker] Bradley Chubb a lot of credit. He's playing up to high expectations in a contract year. [Defensive end] Dre'mont Jones is having a breakout campaign. PS2 (Surtain) is one of the best corners in the league. [Safety] Justin Simmons is still doing well. Even though they have had injuries, they have had guys in depth spots step up. I have to imagine [former Broncos Head Coach] Vic Fangio is sitting somewhere with some popcorn every weekend watching the games and saying, "See, this is practically my group." I imagine he's taking a little solace in that.
Q: So, what's success look like for this team? What do you look for over the last 10 games?
A: At this point success for the Broncos is demonstrating that the blueprint they have in place is actually going to work. A, that Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback still. B, that Nathaniel Hackett can actually hack it as a head coach in the NFL. The offense has to show some spark, some sort of life. The Broncos aren't going to make the playoffs. They still have to play Kansas City twice. The Chiefs have beaten them 13 times in a row. I bet it's 15 by the end of the year. They have to show the arrow is somehow going up because right now Broncos Country is back in the same spot they were last year except now they have a new head coach they don't have faith in and a veteran quarterback that they're suddenly wondering, "Were the Seahawks right about him?"