Why Sean Payton Fixed Russell Wilson and the Broncos Other Offensive Problems


One week after nathaniel hackett was hired as Bronco The head coach last winter, he attended the Denver Nuggets basketball game as a guest of honor. Before the start of the second half, he was handed a mallet to bang a giant drum on the baseline and get the crowd roaring as the third quarter began.


Before Hackett started banging the drum, the in-game host asked him what fans could expect from the offense the coach would send onto the court just over seven months after that night.

“We’re going to tear it up,” Hackett said. “Simply.”

The host turned to offensive coordinator Justin Otten, who had joined Hackett that night, and asked a different question to the same question.

“We’ll score a lot of points!” Boldly declare often.

The Broncos, even taking advantage of a late-season surge, finished 2022 as the lowest scoring team in the history of the Broncos NFL At a rate of 16.9 points per game. Connecting the unbridled optimism emanating from that February night with the somber attack that followed is no attempt to further scrutinize Hackett and Otton, two hard-working and likable coaches who simply could not produce the results they envisioned. It is instead an illustration of the difficulty Denver has had in developing a modern offensive identity, no matter what it has tried. Success on this side of the ball has completely eluded the franchise since Peyton Manning retired seven years ago. This failure not only made it difficult for the Broncos to win; It also made it difficult to watch.

With the head coaching hunt turning its last turn, one obvious option is if the Broncos prioritize fixing their offense above anything else.

If the Broncos hire Sean Payton, who interviewed with the team last Tuesday and could be brought to Denver for a second interview this week, they wouldn’t be sanguine about the prospects for a strong offense based on some predictions. he could is being. They believe in getting better in the future because everything Payton has done as a head coach at the NFL level produces explosive offenses.

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Just six months into his job as the Broncos’ MVP, CEO Greg Penner has an opportunity to make a seismic move in the name of addressing a problem that has kept Denver from remaining competitive. It would be a bigger swing than the one the Broncos – prior to Penner’s arrival – took to get it Russell Wilson from Seahawks In a huge trade in March.

If there is such a thing as creating an instant offense in the NFL, Payton’s track record suggests he’s the one to provide it.

2006 to 2021 – Payton coached all of those seasons except 2012, when he was suspended over the Bountygate scandal – saints She finished second in the NFL in scoring with 27.7 points per game. Just Patriots (28.5), led through most of that stretch by the incomparable quarterback Tom Brady, and score more points. The 392.4 yards per game the Saints produced during Payton’s tenure was #1. Third-class conversion rate? No. 1. Efficiency of the red zone? The best in the league. Total touchdown record? more than anyone else. The Saints were also tied atop the NFL with the Patriots during this stretch in expected points added (EPA) per game.

It was the kind of sustained offensive supremacy the NFL has rarely seen. It was assembled amidst personnel shifts, changes in coaching staff, rapidly emerging new trends in the league and opposing defenses determined to figure out how to stop them.

No matter what came their way for a decade and a half, the Saints kept scoring.

The New Orleans constants were Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate what percentage of credit must be given to each man for the success of the Saints. But the bottom line is Payton’s determination, putting his players in a position to run them, an offense that was revolutionary in the way it expanded defenses, created easy completions and got into the end zone.

To wit, Brees completed over 65 percent of his passes just once during his first five seasons in the NFL with chargers. He has exceeded that average in 13 of his 15 seasons with Payton and the Saints, including five seasons with completion percentages above 70.


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The Broncos have finished better than 22nd in scoring over the past seven seasons, and they’ve achieved a top-five finish three times over that span. They’re ranked 29th in completion percentage (60.1) since 2016. Combined, just giants And Planes They’ve been less powerful on offense since 2016. This stretch of futility was produced in Denver by four head coaches, a truckload of different offensive coordinators and 12 starting players.

Payton’s sample of head coaching experience without Breeze at quarterback is limited but still impressive. Take 2019, when Teddy Bridgewater He moved up to five starts as a cameo in place of an injured Drew Brees. The Saints went 5-0 during this stretch and averaged 25 points per game. In 2021, New Orleans has had four quarterbacks start at least one game — and three start at least four. The Saints haven’t lighted up the scoreboard the way they have in years past, but they still put up 21.4 points per game, which was good for the 19th game.

Payton, if hired by the Broncos, would work with a more than accomplished quarterback Trevor Siemian or James Winston or Tesum Hill. Yes, Wilson is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. But with a more refined structure under interim head coach Jerry Rosberg, Wilson has produced two of his best performances over the last two games of the season, providing legitimate hope that he can still thrive in the right environment.

Payton has already explained how he will go about laying the groundwork for a more effective Wilson.

“I want to see a clip of all of Russell’s previous plays 30 yards or more from (level) the field, and I want to see if there were some schemes he felt comfortable with,” Payton said in October. , when asked about the struggling quarterback during an interview with Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Coward. Like, I know they did a great job in Seattle bringing him in from a bare boot and then lifting him up. We all saw that bounce to (Tyler) Lockett across the field as the ball went 60 yards in the air. Next, I’d like to look at another movie of his touchdown passes in Red Zone. What I’m asking the assistants for are some of his greatest hits, and then make sure you have those lyrics available. If not, let’s get them in.”

Translation: Wilson doesn’t need to reinvent himself. It simply needs to be used more consistently in the most effective ways. Payton has made a successful career solving these kinds of puzzles as defenses try to tackle them quickly.


Can Sean Payton help Russell Wilson turn things around in Denver? (Sean M. Hafey / Getty Images)

In a marathon media session after Denver’s victory in the regular season finale against the Chargers earlier this month, Wilson brought up the idea of ​​playing Payton.

“He’s obviously one of the best players in the world, and he coached a (future) Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, who was one of my good friends and the guy I got to know around the league,” Wilson said. “(Payton) is as competitive as can be; he’s a winner, and obviously won a Super Bowl (in 2009). I’ve been able to get around him in the Pro Bowl, and just the magic you’ll have on the field has been amazing.”

Resonant endorsements from Wilson would be the icing on the cake, not its main ingredient. Penner has to make the decision he believes is best for the health of the franchise, regardless of the quarterback. Maybe this is not Payton. Dan Quinn, David Shaw, Ejiro Evero or DeMeco Ryans might be seen as the long term culture builder the ownership group is looking for.


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But creating a functional crime should ultimately be at the heart of this research. Of the eight teams that reached the divisional round of the playoffs this season, six were among the top eight teams in points per drive – and all eight teams were among the top 15. Without a more prolific offense, the Broncos will continue to falter. When it comes to tackling a downfield offense, Denver’s biggest fielding problem for the past seven years, the numbers suggest there’s a clear better option.

(Top photo: Chuck Cook/USA Today)

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