Sunday was massive for Nathaniel Hackett and the Denver Broncos.
In his second game as an NFL head coach, Hackett and his Broncos earned their first victory together.
That was crucial after the tremendous letdown versus the sorry Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, but also because teams who start the season 0-2 have only an 11% chance of making the playoffs. Thankfully for Hackett and the orange and blue, they were able to pull out a win, even with a ton of coaching — and playing — mistakes.
Let’s look at the biggest mistakes of the day.
2 mistakes on one red zone opportunity
Things started out great for the Broncos, at least seemingly. Russell Wilson connected with Courtland Sutton on a beautiful fade in the end zone in which Sutton jumped, spun in the air and came down with the ball.
The only issue was, after a lengthy review and the Broncos celebrated, the touchdown was wiped off the board. That’s when Hackett made his first mistake.
On 2nd down from the 2 yard line, Hackett said, “Do it again!” and the play was easily defended. So, suddenly it was 3rd and goal from the 2 yard line and Hackett decided to throw the ball again instead of trying to pound it in with either Melvin Gordon or Javonte Williams.
Denver had to settle for a field goal and a 3-3 tie when they should have been up 7-3 early.
Throwing it on 3rd and goal from within the 2 yard line, again
Just before half, the Broncos had the ball with a 3rd and goal from the 1. Denver could — and should — have just pounded the ball with Williams or Gordon. Instead, Hackett decided to throw the ball.
Wilson rolled out, tried to find a receiver in the back of the end zone, but with that man covered he forced the ball into Williams and it was dropped. That set up 4th and 1 from the 1 yard line.
After taking too long to make a decision, the Broncos were called for a delay of game. That set up a 24-yard field goal, which was good.
Getting a delay of game, then kicking instead of going for it on 4th down
Although they tied the game up, Hackett should have elected to go for it, down 6-3 to the Texans at home. But he waited too long, got the delay of game.
The 4th down decision bot says going for it there and succeeding with a touchdown would have improved Denver’s chances of winning by almost 6%.
—> HOU (6) @ DEN (3) <—
DEN has 4th & 1 at the HOU 1
Recommendation (VERY STRONG): 👉 Go for it (+5.9 WP)
Actual play: 🚨 PENALTY on DEN, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced at HST 1 – No Play. pic.twitter.com/rMLBqhocFh
— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) September 18, 2022
In the game, the Broncos had 11 plays in a goal-to-go situation and gained a mere four yards. That’s putrid execution, especially from an offensive-minded head coach.
Onto the 3rd quarter, where Denver trailed 9-6 and Hackett made his best call of the day, going for it on 4th and 2 from the 50.
Honorable mention: 1 coaching decision Hackett made that was right
Going for it on 4th and 2 from the 50 yard line was the right call, and the Broncos were able to get the first down.
—> HOU (9) @ DEN (6) <—
DEN has 4th & 2 at the 50
Recommendation (VERY STRONG): 👉 Go for it (+5.3 WP)
Actual play: 👉 (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to C.Sutton to HST 44 for 6 yards (D.Stingley). pic.twitter.com/ipN2tMVlxU
— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) September 18, 2022
However, that gamble led to more mistakes.
Hackett doesn’t decide quick enough, forced to punt
Going for it on 4th down at the 50 worked out, the Broncos gained the first down. But what they needed to do was score at the end of that drive. Instead, they bogged down when Hackett got too cute with his play calls.
On 3rd down and 1 from the Houston 35, the Broncos handed the ball off to fullback Andrew Beck, who went around the outside and faked a pitch to Javonte Williams, losing a yard.
So, facing a 4th and 2 from the 36, Hackett decided too late to send the kicking team out there and was called for a delay of game, pushing the team back five yards. He then elected to punt the ball, meaning the gamble to go for it and the used timeout was all for naught.
That first timeout was used quite early, with 6:35 to go in the 3rd quarter. It worked out decently, though, as Denver converted on that 4th down from midfield.
The next drive for the Texans, however, Denver’s defense stepped up and forced a 3-and-out which was great, until Montrell Washington didn’t go back for the punt and the Broncos had to blow their second timeout.
No punt returner
This was is partly on Hackett — and his staff — and partly on Washington. Washington has to be alert and ready to go into the game when needed, sure, and the coaches need to be on him to do the same.
The third and final timeout was wasted with 7:38 seconds still to play in the game, and the Broncos leading by only four points.
After Wilson was sacked on first down, the Texans were in the neutral zone on second down, setting up a 2nd and 11. Hackett didn’t get the play in on time, forcing the team to call their third and final timeout.
The irony was how quickly the Broncos wasted their three timeouts in the second half of the win over Houston, after saving them too long into the Seattle game.
With nearly one minute to play, the Broncos faced a 4th and 5 from the Seahawks 46 yard line and Hackett didn’t call a timeout to save time. He instead called it with 20 seconds to play, setting up the failed 64-yard field goal attempt by Brandon McManus. Denver should have gone for it there and his mismanagement of the clock and timeouts have baffled Broncos fans.
Broncos Country has seen that movie before, it doesn’t end well.
Vic Fangio was awful with clock management and knowing when to call timeouts. Similarly to the Fangio era, the Broncos have been woefully underprepared under Hackett in his first two games. To wit, the Broncos have four delay of game penalties in only two games. That is more than any of the last four seasons, when they had five such calls in 2019. In all, they had 13 penalties for 100 yards, which is way too many.
The good news is this: Hackett can still — and likely will — improve.
But football fans aren’t known for their patience. That’s why Hackett was booed relentlessly on the sidelines and why he was getting dragged on social media all Sunday night.
A picture of Nathaniel Hackett pic.twitter.com/eB5RGj2C7g
— StatMuse (@statmuse) September 18, 2022
Next up, the Broncos face a tough test against the San Francisco 49ers at home on Sunday Night Football.