If Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett gave two spits about accountability, Melvin Gordon would be Houston’s or Charlotte’s problem right now.
Over the Broncos’ first four tilts, the NFL’s Mr. Butterfingers posted four times as many fumbles (four) as touchdowns (one).
After playing only nine offensive snaps in Los Angeles in Week 6, national television cameras caught Gordon pouting on the sideline one minute, then shaking his head and commiserating with a clearly disgruntled Jerry Jeudy the next.
Asked about his tailback’s curious displays and his dwindling playing time, Hackett said this:
“Melvin didn’t do anything wrong. We just didn’t have a lot of plays. We’ll have a conversation.”
They did. And, Gordon hasn’t left the starting lineup since.
Heck, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com’s charting, the percentage of offensive snaps for Mel G over the last three games — 51% vs. the Jets, 56% against the Jags and 54% vs. Tennessee — are the most he’s seen over any three-game stretch with the Orange and Blue since Weeks 7-9 of last season.
So when Hackett talks about “holding myself accountable, the coaches accountable and the players accountable,” as he did after a 17-10 loss to the Titans on Sunday, cry me a river, pal. And color me a skeptic.
It’s not just that the Broncos lack depth. Or that they lack NFL-ready offensive linemen. Or that they lack wideouts who actually scare people. Or that they lack basic football discipline and common sense in a league where those little things — not talent, EVERYBODY’S got talent — make the difference between 7-10 and 10-7.
It’s that they lack consequences.
The game of life is won on hugs, compromise, and reason. NFL games are won on execution, borderline cruelty and fear.
Fear that you’ll lose your starting job. Fear that you’ll lose your roster spot. Fear that the kid on a rookie salary is coming for your job. Fear of the front office. Fear of the coach.
I mean, who fears Nathaniel Hackett?
Seriously. Tell me.
Not Gordon, surely.
“I mean, we’re 3-6,” Hackett offered Monday when asked to follow up on the notion of accountability. “We’re not where we want to be. Nobody’s accepting that.
“That’s not the standard that we want to (set). We’re not scoring enough points. It’s that simple. And we’ve got to find a way to do that. And so we’ll evaluate everything. Every person across the board.”
But if the buck doesn’t stop with you, coach, it gets passed around interminably until the pink slips come out.
Hackett is a good soul, and an honest soul, in a nasty game. The risk of hiring a good cop is when things go bad.
After all that relationship-building, all those warm embraces are great. But can he bench a guy? Can he cut a guy? Can he fire a friend? Can he adjust his playbook on the fly? Can he demote himself?
Ten weeks in, Hackett is still calling the plays. Justin Outten is still the offensive coordinator. Gordon is still RB1 despite lackluster production. Russell Wilson is still a shell of his former self. The Broncos are banged up and going nowhere.
“I mean, my entire career, I felt like I’ve learned every day,” Hackett said. “And I learned the most from the players. I think they teach me the most every day, on who they are, how they are, how to get the most out of them — every single thing that I can do to help them get better.”
After grumpy old Vic Fangio, Hackett’s Care Bears vibe came off as a refreshing change of pace. You could instantly grasp why he’d charmed so many players and general managers over the years, from the aw-shucks demeanor to the Star Wars references to the dancing.
But when you remove accountability, when you remove fear, what happens when somebody —and we’re talking metaphorically, here Urban Meyer, not literally — needs a swift kick up the backside?
Andy Reid cares, but he’s not there to be every player’s friend. Bill Belichick had his soul surgically removed decades ago. Meanwhile, in a league of millennials, the Broncos might have the most millennial locker room in the NFL.
Hey, positive reinforcement has its strengths. But when Hackett keeps blowing sunshine and delivering rain, eventually, those same players he talks up are going to shut him out and laugh him off.
“I think we’re evaluating everything,” Hackett said. “I mean, first, it starts with me.”
It ends with him, too. Because there’s another word for the NFL organizations that lack consequences. Losers.