Can Sean Payton guide Russell Wilson back to dominance with Broncos?
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado. As the Denver Broncos sunk into the final Sunday of the 2022 season, quarterback Russell Wilson stood in front of the media trying to sort out his worst season as a pro.
What happened to the nine-time pro bowler who led the Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl XLVII—the quarterback who was supposed to bring the Broncos back to glory?
“I ask myself the same question,” Wilson said that evening, “where is he?”
In his first season with Denver, Wilson hit a career-high 16 touchdowns en route to a 5–12 finish. He was retired in his career and led the league 55 times. He missed two starts due to injury, often appearing unbalanced and indecisive on the pitch. Far from a player whose team won at least 10 games in eight of his 10 seasons in Seattle, a quarterback who also threw at least 25 touchdowns eight times in a season.
Numerous opposing defense and quarterback coaches who spoke to Sportzshala saw several flaws in Wilson’s game last season – from accuracy to decision making and footwork – but also pointed to how the quarterback could return to Pro Bowl form. Of course, getting Wilson back on track will fall heavily on the shoulders of new coach Sean Payton.
“He put the ball too often where it shouldn’t,” said one of the opposing coaches.
One of the most common criticisms from those interviewed was that the Broncos, until the last two games of the season, did not always have a game plan that gave Wilson enough opportunities to play.
Those who responded mostly felt that Wilson lacked the right mix of passing routes prepared to solve the team’s problems in passing defense and didn’t play with enough composure to work on progress and keep going instead of making ill-fated attempts at the bottom of the field to make the cover look waiting. for them.
“We felt that in certain looks, especially on big downs and distance, he usually tried to take more. [time] than he should, so we played just like that, ”added the opponent’s coach. … “In situations like this, we assumed he would keep [the ball] and at the same time we will break their defenses.”
Wilson, 34, promised at that end-of-season press conference that he would actually turn the microscope on himself and take a close look at his off-season performance.
“Every year you dive into the details [of] what went right, what could have been done better, what you want to keep working on every year,” Wilson said. “I will conduct a deep study of all this, study every little thing. You must trust yourself. … This season wasn’t like that, it was difficult.”
But adjusting mechanics like footwork late in an NFL career is tricky, according to several coaches.
“Footwork can sometimes be a defensive product, and [the Broncos] Their front end really strained what they were trying to do,” the opposing quarterback coach said. Finished the ball, do something else. You have to adapt what you’ve done [age] 25 may not be the answer.”
The biggest X factor in Wilson’s potential turnaround will of course be Payton.
In 15 seasons as coach of the New Orleans Saints, Payton’s offense was over 30 points per game five times; quarterback Drew Brees surmounted the 5,000-yard kickback five times and the 4,000-yard kickback 12 times; and the Saints have won at least 10 games eight times.
“Work has begun,” Payton said. … “Just know that we are working, but with a little less visibility on social media and everything else. We’re going to get to work, and that’s what we’ll end up doing in the fall.”
Payton quickly bonded with Wilson after he was hired and they had dinner in Arizona during Super Bowl week. complete with photos posted on social networks.
A week before Payton even passed a job interview, Wilson called his offensive philosophy “magic” and his experience with Payton at the Pro Bowl when the Saints staff coached the NFC team “great”.
Payton made it clear when he was introduced as the team’s coach on February 6 that changes were coming for the team’s players, including Wilson.
Payton seemed to stifle some of Wilson’s strength by declaring that Wilson’s personal trainer for quarterback Jake Heeps would no longer be on the Broncos’ base.
“I’m not too familiar with it,” Payton said when asked about Wilson keeping Hips in an access building last season. “This is foreign to me. It will not happen. I’m not familiar with it. Our staff will be here, our players will be here, and that’s it.”
Wilson threw one or no touchdown passes in 12 of 15 games under former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired after a crushing Christmas loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
But in two games under interim head coach Jerry Rosburg, Wilson showed signs of his old self with four touchdowns and two rushes.
Rosburg was bullish on Wilson, arguing that the Broncos should have “acted no matter the situation.” [the run game] to open up and pass the ball to your playmakers in the bottom of the field” and that “you have to move the pocket—things like that… to get the ball into our playmaker’s hands.”
One of Rosburg’s first moves was to include Wilson more frequently in broader staffing groups to protect Wilson in order to give him time to make better decisions. To that end, Rosburg also passed offense to quarterbacks coach Clint Kubiak and offensive coordinator Justin Outten, with Outten calling the game from the coaching box and Kubiak on the touchline with Wilson.
It also helped Wilson match up finishes to achieve what he had so often tried to achieve at the start of the season.
In the season, Wilson completed 34.6% of his passes 30 or more yards downfield, often at the expense of other open receivers. In the season finale alone, he had three of his 10 passing games for at least 41 yards in a season and two of his seven completions for over 51 yards in a season.
Even Payton pointed to those two games, saying “everything has changed” and hinted at a bad game last season.
“I don’t like to sing, period, but none of us wants to be in a karaoke bar with a song we don’t know the words to,” he said.
It was just a sampling of two games at Rossburg, but Denver’s roster of injuries across the depth table – 22 players finished the season on injured reserves – fared better with that approach, as did Wilson. In Week 18, the team’s combined 471 yards and 205 rushing yards, along with Wilson’s three touchdown passes, were at least equal to the season’s best.
Wilson and wide receiver Jerry Judy also had five receptions for 154 yards in that game.
Kubiak and Outten have been pushing Wilson a little more in the last two games, using elaborate rollouts, playful moves, often from under the center.
All of this will be food for thought for Payton, his staff, and Wilson, who still has teammates behind him.
“What we shoot on film, we shoot on film, and that’s what we have to hold on to. However, we know what he does, we know how he prepares, we know how much he cares about this game and how much he cares about the guys around him,” said receiver Courtland Sutton. “There’s nothing in my body that questions whether he can come back and be an All-Pro and a Pro Bowl-level quarterback next year for us.”