Denver Broncos: Several problems but Russell Wilson isn’t one of them

Russell Wilson catches a lot of flack for his disastrous 2022 campaign. However, now that Wilson is playing well, the Denver Broncos have fallen apart around him. Your move, Sean Payton.

Oct 1, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA;  Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) calls signals at
Oct 1, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) calls signals at / Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos are the laughing stock of the NFL after head coach Sean Payton was unable to back up his preseason trash talk aimed at Jets OC Nathaniel Hackett. The most recent loss for Payton’s crew has fans reeling, as the team’s current record sits at 1-4 with playoff aspirations completely evaporated.

Russell Wilson Is Not The Problem In 2023

Many talking heads in the media have continued pointing the finger at veteran quarterback Russell Wilson. After sending a haul to the Seahawks for Wilson’s services last offseason, the Broncos have not found the success they hoped for when making the move. But I’m here to say, of all the problems Denver has, and there are many, Wilson is not one of them; at least not in 2023.

To this point, the defense is on pace to be one of the worst in franchise history. Sure, Wilson was brought in to make up for deficiencies on the roster, it’s true. But when the trade was made, the Broncos were supposedly “only a quarterback away”. That leads to blame being placed at the quarterback’s feet when things go south — fair or not.

The front office doubled down on its brash move by making an equally risky move this offseason. In a deal that cost the Broncos their 2024 second-round pick, one that sits at No. 34 overall, the aforementioned Sean Payton was brought in to “fix” Wilson. Alas, Payton has succeeded in reviving the veteran signal-caller, but the rest of the roster has fallen apart.

Payton and Wilson will each earn a gold jacket when they decide to ride off into the sunset. But the Hall of Fame duo can only carry so much weight, especially at this point in their respective careers. Payton, himself, is not for everybody. At times, the Denver locker room seems to reject his coaching style.

Blame Sean Payton; The Broncos Are Not Receptive To His Coaching Style

That is a bit speculative on my part, but what other explanation is there for such an undisciplined, dejected football team? The good news, I suppose, is that Payton likely has a longer leash than anyone else currently employed by the franchise. A lucrative contract and a relationship with the ownership group will do that — just ask Raiders HC Josh McDaniels.

The offense could still be better, but the defense puts so much stress on that unit by allowing teams to march down the field at will. The depth chart isn’t totally devoid of talent — Patrick Surtain II is a premier player at the cornerback position. But Denver is getting bullied upfront and over the middle. And there’s no signs of that stopping any time soon.

To further break down why Russell Wilson doesn’t deserve the criticism he is facing, let’s take a look at his numbers for the year.

PFF Stats (Russell Wilson)

Career-low ADOT: 8.3
Second-highest ADJ% of career: 78.3
Completion %: 66.9
Passing yards: 1,210
Passing touchdowns: 11
Interceptions: 2

Wilson is on pace for 37 passing touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His 4,000-yard pace would mark the fifth time he’s reached that plateau in his career (first since the 2020 campaign). At a 66.9 percent completion rate, that sits as the third-best of his 12-year stint in the NFL.

Now, Wilson’s average depth of target is at a career low, so an uptick in accuracy is to be expected. The same can be said about having Payton as a playcaller. We can speak at length about Payton’s schtick and whether players resonate with it or not. But one thing is undeniable: he can coach an offense.

However, the viability of the offense means nothing if the defense is constantly doing a Swiss cheese impression. The PFF numbers paint a not-so-pretty picture.

PFF Stats (Broncos Defense)

Most points allowed: 181
Worst PFF tackling grade: 29.0
Worst PFF coverage grade: 41.6
Worst overall PFF defense grade: 47.2
Sixth-worst PFF run defense grade: 48.5
Ninth-worst PFF pass-rushing grade: 66.8

The Broncos’ defense is allowing the most points in the entire league. By reading that, you would think Denver has played a murderer's row of competition to open the year. You would be wrong.

The Raiders netted one of their two wins in Week 1 vs. the Broncos. Jimmy Garoppolo led a passing attack that had enough juice to put up 17 points while the Denver offense was still finding its footing. The Commanders, with the up-and-down Sam Howell, hung 35 points on the defense in Week 2, setting the tone for the next few contests.

The 50-point massacre in Week 3 presented the lowest of lows for the Broncos. The Dolphins nearly broke an NFL record by scoring 70 points, three shy of the top spot in the decades-long history of the sport. Luckily for the fan base, a small glimmer of hope popped up the following week.

Denver scored 31 points against the disappointing Chicago Bears. That come-from-behind victory sent a tinge of optimism to the locker room, with the much-anticipated matchup with the Jets next on the docket.

As we know, New York and Nathaniel Hackett got the last laugh this past Sunday. Sean Payton and Jets HC Robert Saleh met for a handshake after the game, leading to Saleh hitting Payton with a “stay humble” as the two parted ways. A proverbial cherry on top of the butt-whooping the Jets administered to Denver.

Things Will Only Get Uglier For The Broncos

At 1-4, the Broncos’ season is essentially over, at least from a playoff standpoint. And one look at the upcoming schedule shows that bad times are only just beginning in Mile High.

Week 6 — @ Chiefs
Week 7 — vs. Packers
Week 8 — vs. Chiefs
Week 9 — @ Bills

There is a real chance that Denver is sitting at 1-8 heading into the middle of November. Perhaps the offense will have enough to keep pace, but the defense must go from league-worst to respectable, or things will only get uglier.

There is a lot of work to do with this roster, and adding a quarterback of the future is in the cards. But right now, there are far bigger issues than Russell Wilson. And I expect the moves next offseason to reflect that. Short of finishing with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft, Wilson will likely get another run as the team’s starter.

That is if Sean Payton doesn’t use his veteran signal-caller as the scapegoat to save his own hide.