Schlereth: What went wrong in Broncos’ 1st season with Russell Wilson

Dec 28, 2022, 12:07 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2023, 2:11 pm
Broncos Russell Wilson...
Broncos QB Russell Wilson walks off the field during a game against the on Oct. 6, 2022. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

When the Seahawks traded franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Broncos last March, the general belief was that Denver would be an immediate playoff contender while Seattle would need a year or two before a return to the postseason would be possible.

Kinda funny to think about now, isn’t it?

Fann: Seahawks set to reap rewards of Broncos’ nightmare season

While Seattle still has a chance to make the playoffs with two weeks left in the NFL season, Wilson’s Broncos have already hit rock bottom, firing first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett on Monday after an embarrassing 51-14 loss on Christmas to a Los Angeles Rams team that is currently 5-10. Denver, meanwhile, has the third-worst record in the NFL at 4-11, and it won’t even get the benefits of that struggle with its picks in the first two rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft belonging to Seattle because of the Wilson trade.

How did things go south so quickly for the Broncos? Mark Schlereth, a former Broncos offensive lineman and current NFL on FOX color commentator, is also co-host of Schlereth and Evans on The Fan 104.3 FM in Denver (a sister station of Seattle Sports 710 AM) and has seen the 2022 Broncos season unfold up close. He joins Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob weekly during the football season, and he shared his takeaways on the disastrous Broncos season Tuesday afternoon.

Schlereth said that Denver’s struggles have had less to do with Hackett and more to do with the structure of the team following the acquisition of Wilson.

“Anybody who’s ever played this game understands (that) it is impossible to win if your organizational structure isn’t right, and there’s a big difference between hiring a coach and empowering a coach,” Schlereth said. “Nathaniel Hackett came into a situation which, frankly, they never truly empowered him; they empowered Russell Wilson. That is a formula for disaster.”

No matter who the next coach is in Denver, Schlereth said they can’t continue to let Wilson have the same amount of say he has had in 2022.

“If that structure isn’t changed and the next coach doesn’t come in here with some gravitas and basically say, ‘This the way it is, Russ, and you either get to play by my rules or you don’t play,’ and unless a guy’s got that kind of authority, they will never win here. Ever.”

As for Wilson, he’s had easily his worst statistical season this year. His 82.6 rating is a career-low by 10 whole points, he has thrown just 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions in 13 games, and leads the NFL in sacks taken (49) and sack yardage (319).

Those last two numbers are getting a lot of attention now, especially after Wilson’s backup QB, Brett Rypien, got into a sideline altercation with guard Dalton Risner, sticking up for Wilson after the offensive line appeared to not have his back after he took some sacks in Denver’s loss on Sunday.

Schlereth takes the O-line’s side.

“He holds onto the ball too long. I bet you over a third of the sacks given up in Seattle over the last 10 years were directly attributed to Russell, and it’s the way it is,” Schlereth said. “… That dude needs to throw… I don’t care how many times you pat (the football), it’s not going to burp, the thing’s not a baby. Throw the freaking thing.”

Schlereth hasn’t heard Wilson take ownership for taking so many sacks, and it doesn’t quite sit right with him.

“As an offensive lineman, you’re never gonna say anything (about a quarterback being responsible for taking sacks). You’re just going to eat it and take it, and you expect the quarterback to come up and say it,” he said. “But I’ve never heard Russ one time get up on the podium and go, ‘Hey man, I held the ball too long. Those sacks are all on me. My offensive line is playing great.'”

Taking responsibility is an area Wilson has come up short so far with Denver, according to Schlereth.

“Is this truly humbling for you?” Schlereth posed. “Is this to a point where you look at yourself and go, ‘Hey, listen, man, I got a lot of things I got to work on,’ and, you know, ‘Being a shotgun guy, orchestrating a Drew Brees offense is not within my skill set at this particular point in time in my career and so I’m gonna have to actually make some changes?’ And do you take that responsibility? Is that on your shoulders?”

You can listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with Schlereth in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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