Denver Post Broncos writer Parker Gabriel posts his Broncos Mailbag weekly during the season. Submit questions to Parker here.
Hi Parker! Has any reporter asked Nathaniel Hackett if he makes any in-game adjustments? We score early, the opposing defense makes adjustments, and then nothing. I would think an offensive mastermind would also try to be a step ahead of the opposing coach and make adjustments.
— Del, Lamar
Hey Del, and happy Thanksgiving week to everybody.
We’ve asked Hackett about halftime adjustments and Denver’s terrible offensive performance in the third quarter so far this season several times and in several ways. Mostly, he’s pointed to third downs rather than third quarters as being at issue. He’s expressed confidence in the way his staff handles halftime and the decisions about whether to stay the course, make major adjustments, etc. But the proof is in the stuffing, you know? They just rarely have done anything effective in the third quarter. One big drive against Jacksonville, a field goal that came after an interception and an offensive three-and-out. That’s it for offensive points. They did get a bit of a drive going late in the third on Sunday that turned into a fourth-quarter field goal. So, progress or something, he said with very little conviction.
What is the biggest need this offseason? Is it O-Line? Or a new training staff? Will a new coach fare any better without investment in these areas?
— Sebastian, Davenport, Iowa
Hey Sebastian, Quad Cities, alright!
The offensive line is going to have to be a major focus this offseason. They’ve had a revolving door at right tackle — though Cam Fleming has settled things down some when he’s been healthy — left guard Dalton Risner’s contract is up after the season and Garett Bolles is coming back from a major leg injury. That’s before any conversation about whether Denver has a long-term answer at center in either Lloyd Cushenberry or Luke Wattenberg. In fact, if you were putting odds on how George Paton uses his new first-round draft pick, I’d put offensive line at the top of the heap. That or turning San Francisco’s likely late first into a pair of seconds if he can find good value and the board falls the right way.
I’ll say this on the other part, though: Anything off the field is where the Walton-Penner ownership group can really flex its financial muscle however it wants to. Everyone’s governed by the same salary cap rules — the wealthiest owners can even draw an advantage there by paying big cash bonuses to players and spreading out the cap hit, an accounting lesson for the offseason — but off the field, the limit is really your imagination and what is really determined to be of value to the organization. It’s easy to spend other folks’ money — especially Walmart money — but put it this way: If the new owners want to pour cash into training staffs, analytics, facilities, coaches, etc., they’re free to.
How can the defense leave open receivers two plays in a row in overtime?
— David, Denver
David, I’m sure plenty of defensive players thought the same thing. So uncharacteristic of the group that had been the NFL’s best against the pass entering the night. The first one, linebackers Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell appeared to have a beat on what was happening pre-snap, but they just didn’t execute well and tight end Foster Moreau ran right between them. When Derek Carr put a good ball on him, neither was in position to make a tackle and he rumbled for 33 yards.
Second one, the best wide receiver on the planet ran a route Vegas had set up the entire game and he left a good secondary and an elite cornerback in the dust. Adams had run that big over route so many times over the course of the game and he sold it well before breaking it off on a dime and turning back to the outside. Denver runs a lot of match coverage, meaning zone with man principles, and by the time Pat Surtain II committed to the over route, there was nobody back to the right side of the field. Justin Simmons was quick to say that it wasn’t just on Surtain and coverages in the NFL are complicated. So, suffice it to say Adams and the Raiders dialed up a great route at exactly the right time.
Ask Russell Wilson if he understood the situation when it’s third-and-10, Raiders have no timeouts, that you can’t throw the ball away? That you just need to run or take a sack.
— Anthony Rodgers, Atlanta
We did, and he said after the game that he was “trying to make a play.” Obviously, the incompletion handed Las Vegas an extra 40 seconds or more. It was nearly a worst-case outcome for the Broncos on that third-and-10. And the pass was not close to getting to Jalen Virgil along the sideline.
Maybe Vegas hits that wheel route and gets into field goal range anyway if it had less time to work with. Maybe Daniel Carlson drills a field goal from 58 instead of 25 yards and the game goes to overtime anyway. But almost anything would have given the Broncos a better chance than an incompletion.
Have John Elway and Joe Ellis taken responsibility for hiring George Paton, who hired Nathaniel Hackett and overpaid Russell Wilson?
— James Zingelman, Lakewood
Maybe we can take this all the way back to its logical conclusion before Pat Bowlen purchased the franchise in 1984 to when it first started in 1959, James. Butterfly effect the entire thing.
Parker, what’s our running back situation looking like after Melvin Gordon was waived? Anybody in free agency who could help fill the hole? Maybe a former Pro Bowl back from our own backyard?
— Mike, Denver
Wouldn’t be a surprise if they needed nametags in the running backs room over the past few weeks, Mike. Latavius Murray’s been with the Broncos the longest, a storied run that dates all the way back to… Week 5. The No. 2 back will be Marlon Mack, who arrived Week 8. Then practice squad back Devine Ozigbo is the likely No. 3 this week. Next week, the Broncos may get Mike Boone back off of injured reserve if his high-ankle sprain has healed enough. He was doing conditioning work last week, so it seems as though he’s on a good track. Nathaniel Hackett said Chase Edmonds will miss substantial time with an ankle injury himself. As for Phillip Lindsay — I gather that’s who you mean — Denver’s been scouring practice squads and the wire for backs for weeks. Never say never, but they’ve had their attention elsewhere so far.
Hey Parker! If Nathaniel Hackett is truly “one and done” as coach of the Broncos, what do you think the possibility is of keeping our defensive coaching staff together in spite of hiring a new head coach? They have been doing a good job keeping us in the games we have lost and are a big reason for each win. I know it’s typical for a head coach to bring in their own staff, but it would be a shame to lose our current defensive staff to another team if they decide to replace the head coach at the end of the season. Thanks!
— Mike Gonzalez, Grants, N.M.
Yeah Mike, those things are always tough to forecast because 1) football is a small fraternity and a lot of guys know each other and 2) with a defense as good as Denver’s, coaches are going to earn opportunities. Let’s say, as a hypothetical, that Denver takes Mark Kiszla’s suggestion and makes Ejiro Evero the head coach. Does he think his coordinator is on the staff currently? Does he have several other people he’d be champing at the bit to hire? Most guys have a general plan of what they’d do and who they’d call if they one day end up in the big chair.
Then it depends on opportunity, as well. If Evero gets a head coaching chance elsewhere — could be another year or two, but certainly he’ll have interview chances this winter — there’s nothing to do about that except wish him well and take the draft pick compensation that comes along with it. If Christian Parker gets a defensive coordinator job somewhere, that means you hired a really good coach and now you have to go do it again. Such is life in the NFL.
With so many things stacked against Nathaniel Hackett — injuries, their “franchise” QB reportedly calling audibles from his previous team, swinging and missing on his intended OC hire — how could he realistically be expected to succeed? And if that is truly the hard line in Denver, which HC do you think would have been successful in this situation?
— Jake, Eagle Point, Ore.
Yeah, Jake, I hear you on this. Everybody in the NFL deals with injuries, but the Broncos have had a ton. Was just having this conversation with somebody the other day, actually: This is why winning games early in the season is so important. People say you can’t make the playoffs in September and that’s true, but it’s the healthiest you’ll be all season. If the Broncos beat Seattle and Indianapolis (October, I know), they hit the bye week in a much different position and the whole season feels different. They missed chances early in the season, which, maybe a slow start shouldn’t be shocking given all the new pieces, then injuries stacked up and they’ve been bad on offense and they’re in a bad spot. It’s never one thing. That’s what makes the evaluation difficult.
At the end of the day, what happens on the scoreboard eventually wins out. That’s the bottom line in this business. The key element here is how the decision-makers define “eventually.”
Nathaniel Hackett is the hack he has proven himself to be. Ejiro Evero is being lauded as next year’s hot coaching candidate for another team. Why not cut our losses with the hack and make Evero the interim head coach with the plan of making it permanent. Then we hire an offensive coordinator.
— Paul Heaton, Atlanta
Making it permanent is the key in that situation, Paul. My understanding of the way coaching contracts typically work is promoting anybody to interim has an impact on your ability to protect the coach from interviewing for other jobs. So if Evero, in this example, was an interim HC for part of the season, Denver couldn’t stop him then from taking coordinator interviews this offseason. If you’re making him the permanent head man, that’s not an issue.
This is all putting the cart before Thunder, of course. Our columnist, Mark Kiszla, suggested HC Evero and OC Klint Kubiak on Sunday. What would you say to that?
Since the already weak O-Line has been hit with more injuries, why isn’t Hackett calling more short routes so Wilson can get rid of the ball quicker?
— Bill Kittle, Highlands Ranch
Interesting you say that, Bill, because I thought Sunday – especially early in the game – was the best Wilson has been this year at getting the ball out of his hands quickly and taking the easy yardage when it’s there. That, obviously, is based in part on what’s being called for him. I’m interested to see if Kubiak can more frequently help get Wilson into rhythm early in games. It didn’t end up meaning a lot on Sunday as the passing game and offense in general went haywire late, but even still, it seems like a decent recipe going forward considering the Broncos’ injury situation and lack of a consistent run game.