The Denver Broncos had just 12 first downs in Sunday’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, yet it seemed like progress.
The excitement about the Broncos that spanned the offseason is gone. It’s hard to go anywhere in Colorado without hearing complaints about rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett, and even grumblings about quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Broncos are 2-2, but it seems a lot worse. The offense in particular has been a disappointment. The Indianapolis Colts have their own issues, setting up a survival matchup on Thursday night’s Amazon Prime Video broadcast.
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The Broncos get their third prime-time game of the season in five weeks, and plenty of Broncos fans would probably rather it be hidden on a Sunday afternoon among other games. The same might go for the 1-2-1 Colts.
Broncos offense has been poor
The Broncos started the season with a loss at the Seattle Seahawks. The offense was terrible in the red zone and Hackett became a household name for a still-controversial decision to let time run and try a 64-yard field goal. The next week was a slog for the offense in a home win over the Houston Texans. The offense was even worse in Week 3, going three-and-out nine times but somehow pulling off a late 11-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Last week was a 32-23 loss to the Raiders, with just 12 first downs, that put the fan base into a frenzy. There aren’t many players or coaches that Broncos fans don’t want fired.
In that game, Denver also lost running back Javonte Williams for the season and pass rusher Randy Gregory for multiple weeks due to injuries. It’s bad for the Broncos right now.
They’re losing too often on first down. They’ve had games in which they can’t execute in the red zone. The passing game has been up and down. There have been a few good signs but nothing close to a complete game.
“I think it’s just the consistency,” Hackett said this week. “We just don’t want to hurt ourselves. We want to make sure that we are continually moving the chains. We had a good third-down week and then we’ve had a bad third-down week. We’ve had a good red zone and then a bad red zone. So I think that it’s about putting it all together.”
Wilson has 980 yards, four touchdowns and a pedestrian 91.1 passer rating through four games. That’s not what the Broncos signed up for when they traded multiple draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks in a blockbuster trade for a quarterback who was supposed to end the Broncos’ post-Peyton Manning blues at the position.
There’s still time for Wilson to be an impact player, and the Broncos aren’t out of the mix for anything at 2-2. But all of the positive buzz from the offseason has been replaced by skepticism and concern.
Colts have issues as well
The Colts are in a bad way too. They were AFC South favorites coming into the season but four weeks in, they’re 0-2-1 in division games. They face the Broncos without two injured stars, running back Jonathan Taylor and linebacker Shaquille Leonard. Those aren’t just two of the Colts’ best players, they’re two of the best players in the entire NFL.
The Colts have multiple problems, from a mediocre defense to the offensive line surprisingly not being able to protect Matt Ryan or get a push in the run game, to Ryan’s play itself. Indianapolis beat the Kansas City Chiefs, but at 1-2-1 it has rarely looked anything like a playoff team.
One of these two teams will sink deeper into the doldrums after Thursday night. It’s too early in the season to panic but both teams should have concerns about the way they’ve looked in 2022. Some of their issues look foundational and might be difficult to fix.
It won’t even be mid-October, but the losing team Thursday won’t feel very good about the direction it’s headed this season.