Nathaniel Hackett

Broncos Likely To Fire Nathaniel Hackett Before Season’s End?

DECEMBER 4: Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports hears that an in-season firing is unlikely. Jones observes that Hackett has not lost the support of his locker room, and while he will need to win a few games down the stretch to have a chance to keep his job, the Broncos’ new ownership appears willing to give him that opportunity.

NOVEMBER 29: After the warning signs that emerged during Nathaniel Hackett‘s Week 1 outing, the first-year Broncos HC has not recovered. One-and-done rumors have engulfed him for several weeks. The Broncos enter Week 13 with one of the worst scoring offenses in recent NFL history.

The team is riding its second three-game losing streak, with this one including losses to the sub-.500 Raiders and Panthers, and is averaging 14.3 points per game. Although six more games remain, the Broncos continuing on this pace would group them with the 2018 Cardinals, 2016 Rams and 2012 Chiefs. No other team has averaged fewer 14.3 points per game over the past decade. These three organizations canned their head coaches — Steve Wilks, Jeff Fisher and Romeo Crennel, respectively — during or after those seasons.

This stunning season will almost certainly lead to Hackett’s ouster, and execs informed Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post it is likely Hackett will be canned before season’s end. This could give the Broncos a chance to evaluate Ejiro Evero as an interim coach, potentially with an eye on the first-time defensive coordinator sticking around beyond 2022.

The Broncos have Evero on their radar as a potential Hackett replacement, though it would be rather strange if the team that has underwhelmed to this degree went with a current staffer to replace Hackett. Evero and Hackett have been close since being college teammates 20-plus years ago, but the former has been a well-regarded assistant as well. Evero, 41, spent the past five seasons on Sean McVay‘s Rams staff and has helmed a Broncos defense that has kept the team in most of its games. Denver ranks third in total defense and points allowed.

Hackett has both brought in a game management assistant after several September gaffes — highlighted by the bizarre decision to settle for a 64-yard field goal in Week 1 — and turned over play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak. The Broncos have failed to score 17 points since making the latter change. The team, which has been without several offensive starters in recent weeks, also leads the league in penalties.

While 13 teams this century have fired a coach after one season, only the Jaguars last year axed their first-year HC during the season. (Bobby Petrino did not finish his first Falcons campaign, but that situation involved the former college coach accepting an Arkansas offer in December 2007.) Jacksonville fired Urban Meyer on Dec. 16, 2021, 13 games into his season. It would be strange to see Hackett grouped with Meyer, whose scandal-filled Jags tenure led to the early ouster, but the Broncos traded a bounty for Russell Wilson and have somehow declined considerably on offense.

Denver had Kevin O’Connell and Dan Quinn as its other HC finalists this year, and La Canfora adds GM George Paton‘s ties to Quinn may keep him in the mix. Quinn was an early frontrunner for the Denver HC post, but Hackett emerged instead. It would be interesting to see if the Cowboys DC would go through another interview process with a team that passed on him so recently. But it is a near-certainty at this point another Broncos coaching search — under new ownership — will commence in 2023.

Broncos HC Nathaniel Hackett Cedes Play-Calling Duties To Klint Kubiak

About a month after he said he would continue to call offensive plays, Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett has had a change of heart. Per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com, Hackett is ceding play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak.

Denver’s 3-6 record qualifies as one of the league’s biggest disappointments in 2022, as the team made a blockbuster offseason trade to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson and entered the campaign with Super Bowl aspirations. Early-season missteps earned Hackett, a first-year head coach, plenty of criticism and compelled him to hire Jerry Rosburg out of retirement to assist with gameday management. But mounting injuries and persistent offensive struggles have conspired to keep the Broncos out of the playoff picture, and now Kubiak will have a larger role in the club’s efforts to make a second-half run.

Kubiak, 35, is the son of longtime NFL offensive coordinator and head coach Gary Kubiak. In 2021, the younger Kubiak served as the play-caller and OC for the Vikings, who finished 12th in the league in total offense and 14th in yards per game. Per Pelissero, that experience is what prompted Hackett to tab Klint Kubiak as Denver’s new play-caller, and both men, along with offensive coordinator Justin Outten, will be heavily involved in game-planning. Hackett and Outten will of course remain on the headset during games, though Kubiak will now be the primary voice in Wilson’s ear.

Pelissero adds that Wilson and Kubiak have formed a strong relationship despite the team’s struggles. However, they will have their work cut out for them, as the Broncos have 15 players on injured reserve, including key offensive contributors like left tackle Garett Bolles and running back Javonte Williams. Moreover, receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler will miss Sunday’s contest against the Raiders due to injury.

As of the time of this writing, Denver is last in the league in points per game, and Wilson has completed a career-worst 57.4% of his passes en route to a poor 81.4 QB rating. On the other hand, the Broncos are in the middle of the pack in terms of total offense, so there is some hope that a different play-calling approach will put more points on the board. And although the deadline trade of pass rusher Bradley Chubb will sting, the team is tops in the NFL in scoring defense, second in total defense, and its six losses have come by an average of five points. All of that provides further hope for a turnaround.

Hackett really had no choice but to make this move. Rumors are already swirling that he may be a one-and-done head coach, and the Rosburg hire, along with the pivot to Kubiak as play-caller, at least demonstrates that he is willing to put ego aside for the betterment of the team. Last year, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni ceded play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen in the middle of the season, and Philadelphia’s offense was much-improved after the switch. In 2022, the 8-1 Eagles continue to thrive, so there is recent precedent for Hackett and Broncos fans to dream on.

Coaching Rumors: Colts, Broncos, Reich

Jeff Saturday is now overseeing a staff full of Frank Reich assistants, but the surprising Colts HC hire is not currently looking to add any new personnel to his staff for this audition. Rumors of Jim Irsay‘s Saturday hire frustrating current Colts staffers surfaced last week, and while Saturday bucking the recent trend by seeing his interim tag turn into a full-time post would likely mean a host of new assistants in 2023, Reich’s group will be the one in place for the rest of this season.

I like the group; I like the support they give each other. They’re in clearly defined roles,” Saturday said. “And I’m happy with where they are. Bringing somebody in, trying to learn an entire process or how we’ve done things? I like where the guys are, so I don’t anticipate that. I’m not guaranteeing it, but in my head I haven’t even had a chance to get that far. I’m just trying to get Week 2 under my belt.”

Saturday stopping short of shutting down the prospect of outside staffers coming in is interesting, but considering how off the board his hire was, it would not surprise to see the new Colts HC consider bringing in some staffers while he is in charge. Here is the latest from the coaching scene:

  • Scott Milanovich confirmed recent reports he turned down an opportunity to be the Colts’ play-caller. The veteran assistant, who is in his second season as Indianapolis’ quarterbacks coach, said (via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer, on Twitter) “Ultimately, it just wasn’t the right situation, I don’t think, for me at the time and the and the team.” Milanovich called plays in the CFL and as an interim OC with the Jaguars four years ago. Both he and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery are set to be involved with game-planning going forward, but assistant QBs coach Parks Frazier will be the voice in Matt Ryan‘s helmet going forward.
  • The OC Milanovich succeeded in Jacksonville in 2018, Nathaniel Hackett continues to oversee a disappointing Broncos season. After picking up a win in London, Denver reverted to its pattern of sluggish second halves in Tennessee. Although injuries have steadily depleted Hackett’s offense, the unit is averaging a league-low 14.6 points per game and also struggled when more of its starters were healthy. Some of George Paton‘s peers are advocating for the second-year GM to be proactive with this coaching situation, per Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, to better ensure he will stay on the job. Hackett hit the one-and-done radar stunningly early, but Paton’s status has not come up as much. Like Hackett, Paton was hired before the team’s new ownership arrived. While Paton has fared well in key aspects since taking the job in 2021, the Hackett-Russell Wilson partnership not working out has undoubtedly affected his perception.
  • Nick Sirianni spent three seasons as the Colts’ OC and worked with Frank Reich with the Chargers as well. The current Eagles HC did not shoot down the idea of Reich joining Philly’s staff, likely in a consultant-type role, via EJ Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer. This would not only make sense for Sirianni, but Reich had a rather notable Eagles stay previously, being the OC on staff during the Birds’ Super Bowl LII-winning campaign.
  • Former Cardinals running backs coach James Saxon pleaded guilty to a domestic battery charge stemming from a May incident, according to ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss, who adds the longtime NFL staffer received a suspended one-year prison sentence. An Indiana judge instead gave Saxon, 56, one year of probation. The Cardinals placed Saxon on administrative leave in August; he resigned from the team last month. Saxon, who was on Kliff Kingsbury‘s staff since 2019, spent 23 years as an NFL assistant.

Broncos Owner Greg Penner Echoes Nathaniel Hackett Support

Sunday’s game in London will provide Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett with another opportunity to quell concerns about his job status. General manager George Paton spoke in favor of keeping the rookie HC in his post yesterday; one of the team’s owners echoed that sentiment when speaking publicly today.

“I support Nathaniel and really want to see him succeed,” Greg Penner said, via 9News’ Mike Klis“He’s a first-time head coach. There’s a lot of new things to get in place… But he knows we’re not performing at the level we expect, but we’ve got high expectations for him in the second half.”

Penner, the Broncos’ CEO and a member of the Rob Walton-led group which purchased the team this summer, inherited Hackett as head coach. The 42-year-old has led an offense which has been severely underwhelming to date, and ranks last in the league in scoring. At 2-5, Denver has frequently been named as a potential seller at the trade deadline – a stark contrast to preseason expectations which counted the team among the AFC’s contenders.

Much of the increase in optimism was tied, of course, to the acquisition of quarterback Russell Wilson. Before his regular season debut, a long-term deal had been agreed upon; Penner played a role in authorizing that $245MM extension. As he did with Hackett, the latter expressed confidence in a resurgence during the second half of the 2022 season when asked about the maligned passer.

“Russell’s won a lot of games in the NFL,” Penner said. “Russell knows how to win. The specifics on the contract area, that’s a place where I do rely on George and his expertise. I think he is going to be a great quarterback for us.”

While Penner declined to give a full vote of confidence to Hackett for the remainder of the season – a change in offensive play-caller has been thought to be on the table recently – his public support of the status quo on the sidelines is noteworthy. The team’s performance on Sunday against the Jaguars could go a long way in determining how much of an appetite exists for changes affecting both the roster and coaching staff from the new personnel at the top of the organization.

George Paton On Nathaniel Hackett Status, Russell Wilson Extension

Nathaniel Hackett‘s first seven games as Broncos head coach have generated considerable attention. The ex-Packers OC’s 32nd-ranked scoring offense has produced eye-popping numbers in third-quarter scoring (three points) and red zone production (23% touchdown rate), leading to Denver’s unexpected 2-5 start.

Questions about Hackett even finishing his first season have surfaced, and ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano notes league chatter has placed the Broncos’ London game as a possible do-or-die spot for the embattled HC. While Graziano expressed skepticism on the prospect the Broncos would fire a first-year coach after eight games, GM George Paton doubled down on his Hackett support.

I believe in Nathaniel,” Paton said. “I support Nathaniel 100%. He’s been in this seven games as a head coach. The scrutiny he’s faced is unprecedented. We’ve had four primetime games, so he’s kind of had to learn in front of the entire world. But I really like how he’s kept the team together. They’re connected. He’s kept our building together, and I appreciate how he’s fought through that.”

It is obviously arguable the Broncos are not “through” anything just yet, having lost four straight games and having failed to score more than one touchdown in all but one contest (a Week 4 loss to the Raiders). Denver’s 100 points through seven games double as the franchise’s worst at this point in a season since 1966. Hackett encountered unusual game management issues in Weeks 1 and 2, leading to the hire of assistant Jerry Rosburg, and his team leads the NFL in penalties (58).

Hackett, 42, said he is keeping the status quo for this week’s game against the Jaguars, but Graziano notes staff adjustments or role reassignments may be in play if the Broncos cannot beat the 2-5 Jaguars in England. That could include ceding play-calling responsibilities, as the Broncos continue to generate listless second halves under a coach brought in to jumpstart an offense.

That said, the Broncos have dealt with injuries to many top players. And starters Garett Bolles, Javonte Williams, Tim Patrick and Ronald Darby are out for the season. But Hackett is on the one-and-done radar, given how his team has performed relative to expectations.

The other scrutinized presence during this start, Russell Wilson, is on track to return in Week 8. The Broncos acquired Wilson when he was tied to a Seahawks-constructed contract that ran through 2023. The team extended the 33-year-old passer — on a five-year, $245MM deal with $124MM fully guaranteed — in order to beat a market that stands to see the $50MM-per-year barrier crossed by multiple passers come 2023.

We wanted to get ahead of the contract cycle. We had seen how Russ was in the offseason and training camp and we felt really good about Russ. We feel really good about Russ,” Paton said, via 9News’ Mike Klis (on Twitter). “We didn’t want a lot of distraction during the season. We feel really good about it. I feel good about that deal. I feel like it will hold up. I feel good about Russ.”

After nine Pro Bowl seasons in Seattle, Wilson has not transitioned to Hackett’s offense well. He sits 29th in QBR. Even during a 2020 season in which his play tailed off after a hot start and a 2021 campaign that produced post-injury struggles, Wilson placed in the top 10.

The Seahawks did not want to proceed with a third round of Wilson extension negotiations, and select staffers with the NFC West team viewed its former franchise centerpiece as a player in relative decline. Wilson’s age does not support this just yet, but his play in Hackett’s offense has certainly sounded alarm bells.

The Seahawks also expressed doubt about Wilson’s willingness to keep using his legs. Attempts by the likely Hall of Fame-bound player to run have been fairly scarce, and Wilson has cited scrambles against the Raiders and Chargers as the reasons for his shoulder and hamstring injuries, respectively. Operating more as a pure dropback passer in Denver, Wilson is viewed by some as unwilling to play the way he did for much of his Seattle stay, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Wilson’s elusiveness helped the Broncos mount a game-winning drive against the 49ers this season, but the NFL’s No. 4 all-time quarterback rusher (96 yards this season) has largely drifted away from that style over the past two years.

I am not concerned,” Paton said (via Denver7’s Troy Renck) when asked if Wilson is already showing decline signs. “We are in it for the long haul with Russ, not just the first seven games. We believe in Russ; I believe in Russ. We just need to play better on offense, the timing the rhythm. We need an identity. We really don’t have an identity with offense. I think that comes with time. And hopefully it comes soon.

He’s trying to learn the staff, the staff’s trying to learn him and all of our players. We know what Russ is capable of. It’s our job to get the best out of Russ and our entire offense. I know we’ll get there. You’ve seen the flashes with Russ, whether it was the first half of the Raiders [game], the first half of the Chargers [game]. You see the arm strength, the accuracy, the mobility.”

Nathaniel Hackett Not Planning To Cede Play-Calling Duties

Nathaniel Hackett‘s offense submitted another second-half dud against the Jets, extending the Broncos’ losing streak to four and increasing the temperature on the first-year coach’s unexpectedly hot seat.

The Broncos’ 16-9 loss leaves them with 100 points. That is not only the NFL’s basement mark, counting the teams that have had their bye week, it is, per The Athletic, the lowest seven-game Denver total since 1966. Considering the Broncos’ struggles during that period and much of the 1970s, the statistics keep looking worse for Hackett, a veteran offensive coordinator hired to repair Denver’s long-anemic attack.

[RELATED: Bradley Chubb, Jerry Jeudy Drawing Trade Interest]

Although this Broncos edition’s 14.3 points per game is well behind Pat Shurmur‘s 2021 offense (19.7, 23rd) — a unit that largely led to Vic Fangio‘s firing — Hackett is not considering ceding his play-calling responsibilities or making staff changes at this point.

Right now, on a short week, we’re going to keep the status quo. We’re all going to work together to build a great plan,” Hackett said, via Denver7’s Troy Renck. “I feel like our operation has been going well. We held the ball for a long time, and we moved the ball; we just didn’t convert on some third downs. That kind of stalled us, but we’re going to keep going how we are, and we’ll evaluate everything; we always do.”

Latavius Murray‘s 2-yard touchdown run Sunday gave the Broncos a rare red zone TD, but Hackett’s offense still ranks 32nd in red zone TD rate (23.5%). Only one other team (Seattle) is scoring TDs at a sub-42% clip in the red area. The Broncos have also struggled each week in third quarters; their offense has accounted for just three third-stanza points this season. These figures have helped lead to rampant scrutiny on Hackett and Russell Wilson, who is tracking toward a Week 8 return from his hamstring injury after missing just his fourth career contest Sunday. Although Hackett’s game management struggles have calmed down since the late-September hire of Jerry Rosburg, Denver’s 58 penalties also lead the NFL.

Hackett, 42, has called plays for three teams — the Bills, Jaguars and now the Broncos — but hired a first-time OC (Justin Outten). Denver has Klint Kubiak installed as its quarterbacks coach. Also a second-generation coach, Kubiak, 35, has called plays previously but only for one season (with the 2021 Vikings).

Hackett’s 2017 Jacksonville squad ranked fifth in scoring, but the second-generation NFL play-caller did not produce another top-half scoring finish during his five-season run calling plays in Buffalo and Jacksonville. The Jags ousted Hackett during the 2018 season, leading him to Green Bay as a non-play-calling OC. Hackett’s Packers stay led to four teams — the Bears, Jags, Vikings and Broncos — interviewing him for HC jobs this year. The Broncos hired Hackett over finalists Kevin O’Connell and Dan Quinn.

Thirteen coaches have been one-and-dones since 2000. Urban Meyer is the only one not to finish out his first season. It would be somewhat surprising if Hackett followed Meyer’s lead, given the fusillade of scandals that led to Shad Khan firing Meyer. But Hackett’s prospects at making it through his first season became a talking point around the league before the Broncos’ losses to the Chargers and Jets. And Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk posits Denver’s London assignment and Week 9 bye leaves new ownership — not in place for Hackett’s hire — a reboot window. If the Jaguars continue the pattern of the Broncos’ offense being neutralized after halftime, speculation about Hackett not finishing the season will intensify. For now, however, the team will try its scuffling formula in London.

Latest On Nathaniel Hackett’s Job Status

League executives are starting to wonder how long the Broncos will tolerate Nathaniel Hackett‘s growing pains. Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post spoke with NFL executives, evaluators, and coaches, with many “paint[ing] a bleak picture” of Denver’s outlook with Hackett at the helm. The head coach’s “ability to survive his first season on the job” is being discussed around the NFL, per La Canfora.

[RELATED: Which Head Coach Will Be Fired First In 2022?]

Many of the sources attribute Denver’s coaching issues to inexperience. One anonymous GM went as far as to wonder if GM George Paton may be the one to pull the plug. The team’s new ownership wasn’t responsible for hiring the current head coach/general manage pairing, and if Paton wants to save his own job, he may look to admit his mistake sooner than later.

“I hate to say it, because it’s only six weeks,” the anonymous GM told La Canfora, “but [Paton] needs to start separating himself from the coach. I like George a lot, and that’s what my advice to him would be. Keep trying to give [Hackett] help, if he’ll take it, but you also may have to be willing to admit it was a mistake far sooner than you ever imagined. This owner didn’t hire either of them. You have to be careful how hard you fight to prove this can work, because it’s been a disaster so far. And if you aren’t careful, you’re going to get fired, too.”

Before firing Hackett, there’s a chance that the organization could try to remedy the situation. Some of the sources suggested bringing in an outside consultant, with many pointing to the inexperience of the coaching staff. As La Canfora notes, Dom Capers and Jerry Rosburg are the lone experienced coaches on the staff, and the writer even suggests that the team could look to bring in Gary Kubiak as an adviser or even as interim head coach. Kubiak’s son, Klint Kubiak, is the team’s quarterbacks coach.

Still, no matter how much experience the Broncos add to the coaching staff, it still might not be enough. One executive told La Canfora that Hackett doesn’t look like he’s ready to be a head coach.

“Unless something changes quickly, I don’t think he gets through the year,” the executive said. “It looks too big for him. It looks too fast for him. The red-zone play-calling has been awful. I don’t see enough adjustments being made.”

Of course, part of the team’s issues could also be attributed to quarterback Russell Wilson, who also drew criticism from the personnel that was polled by La Canfora. Even with Wilson’s underwhelming play, many still believe he isn’t being put in a position to succeed, with La Canfora pointing to the team’s lack of RPOs and motion.

“Some of that is on the quarterback, certainly,” a GM said, “but they don’t seem to have a lot of ideas when the field gets tight, and I don’t think they have the right people in that building now to fix it.”

Broncos Wanted To Avoid Waiting Until 2023 To Extend Russell Wilson

Amplified by the Broncos’ bevy of primetime games to start the season, their Russell Wilson partnership has not gotten off to a good start. The team has seen the nine-time Pro Bowler struggle in Nathaniel Hackett‘s increasingly scrutinized offense, inviting big-picture questions.

The Broncos are being questioned for greenlighting Wilson’s five-year, $245MM extension before he played a down with the team, but as Mike Klis of 9News notes, the team was fully committed to Wilson long-term upon trading for him. That should be expected given the trade haul the Broncos sent the Seahawks.

The Broncos viewed 2022 as a better window for their Wilson extension, Klis adds, due to the annual quarterback-market price hike. Next year will bring extension windows for Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow, with likely multiple deals coming in north of $50MM per year alongside Aaron Rodgers‘ current $50.3MM market-setting Packers pact. Wilson’s 2015 extension came in just behind Rodgers’, and his 2019 Seahawks re-up checked in as the top QB payment until Patrick Mahomes (and others) topped it in 2020.

Wilson, 33, did not leverage the Broncos in the way he did the Seahawks in the past, doing a deal despite two years remaining on his second Seahawks extension. He is under team control for seven seasons, after his previous Seahawks deals included five years of control (the extension seasons tacked onto a contract year). Wilson’s $49MM-per-year AAV sits second among NFLers presently, but the contract’s length could age well. Wilson is essentially locked in with the Broncos through 2025, with the deal’s final three years being nonguaranteed.

Of course, any talk of this contract aging well will need to included improved play. Wilson is well off his Seattle pace, sitting 24th in QBR and having completed just 59.4% of his passes through five games. Shoulder and lat trouble has affected the likely Hall of Fame quarterback over his past two games, mainly the ugly outing against the Colts, but he is not expected to miss any time because of this issue. The Broncos’ 21.4% red zone touchdown rate is well behind every other NFL team, with the 31st-place Seahawks at 38.5%, and Hackett play-calling and game management struggles have persisted — to the point the ex-Packers OC has been regularly mentioned as a one-and-done candidate.

Various NFL staffers are wondering if the Wilson-Hackett partnership is sustainable, per Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus. While an AFC scout informed Kyed he believes the Broncos’ issues stem from Wilson working with new receivers — in a group that lost possession target Tim Patrick before the season — and in a new system. One of this era’s top deep-ball throwers, Wilson has graded 23rd in that area this season, per PFF.

Another personnel exec mentioned, via Kyed, chemistry issues may doom this Broncos season. Already playing without Patrick and Javonte Williams, Wilson will now be tasked with playing with a backup left tackle. Garett Bolles will not return from his lower-leg fracture this season. The team’s various hiccups have been on display due to the NFL slotting Denver into three primetime games already; the fourth — Monday night against the Chargers — figures to be another referendum on the Broncos’ trade. Considering the Wilson-Hackett acclimation issues and the Broncos’ run of injuries, the team’s top Wilson-years form might not end up emerging in 2022.

Poll: Which Head Coach Will Be Fired First In 2022?

One month into the 2022 campaign, few NFL teams have truly surged out of the gate and distanced themselves from the rest of the field. There are some, on the other hand, which have invited speculation about potential coaching changes.

Calls for a firing have most loudly been made so far in Carolina. Matt Rhule entered this year, his third with the Panthers, with expectations to steer the franchise back into playoff contention. His ability to do so at both Temple and Baylor earned him a sizeable first NFL head coaching deal, but results have been lacking so far. 

[RELATED: Communication Issues Between Rhule, OC McAdoo?]

The acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfield and a return to health from star running back Christian McCaffrey led to optimism that improvement on the offensive side of the ball in particular would be coming. Instead, the Panthers rank last in the league in yards, and 17th in points scored so far. A severe lack of wins when allowing more than 17 points has stretched into 2022; the fact that the 47-year-old continues to back Mayfield as the team’s No. 1 signal-caller will tie the pair together, though, regardless of their shared success or failure. Despite the significant term remaining on his first NFL deal, Rhule could make way for a more experienced option if an offensive resurgence doesn’t take shape.

The same may end up being true of Frank Reich in Indianapolis. The team’s annual replacement of their starting QB resulted in the arrival of Matt Ryan and the expectation of far more stability at the position compared to Carson Wentz. The former MVP has struggled mightily with respect to ball security, however, leading the league in both interceptions (seven) and fumbles (11). His 21 sacks taken have further hampered an offense averaging a league-worst 13.8 points per game.

Winless through the first half of their divisional contests, the Colts currently sit third in what is still considered an underwhelming AFC South. Plenty of time for a turnaround exists, of course, but there is added urgency around the team after 2021’s late-season collapse which cost them a playoff berth. Reich is tied to general manager Chris Ballard, as the pair were extended through 2026 just last year, potentially giving them a longer leash in the Ryan era, which they hope will last far longer than that of his predecessors. Early returns on the team’s investment in that trio have certainly been underwhelming, though.

In Arizona, Kliff Kingsbury entered 2022 with the expectation that the Cardinals’ inconsistencies would be corrected. After a hot start ended with a disappointing end to the campaign in 2021, Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim each received extensions and are now on the books through 2027. That move was eventually followed up by a massive second contract for QB Kyler Murray this summer, leaving the potential for he and Kingsbury to remain together for the foreseeable future.

However, Arizona has started 2-2 this season, ranking in the middle of the pack offensively. The absence of wideout DeAndre Hopkins, dating back to late last year, has hamstrung the team on that side of the ball to such a degree that Kingsbury’s scheme has increasingly come under fire. In spite of year-to-year improvement in the win-loss column over the course of his tenure on the sidelines, then, the 43-year-old is considered to be facing something of a make-or-break proposition in 2022. The return of Hopkins from suspension will no doubt give the offense a boost, but whether that translates to increased success – especially early in games – will be worth monitoring closely.

Another team facing unexpected struggles with the ball is the Broncos, led by rookie HC Nathaniel Hackett. The addition of QB Russell Wilson has not yielded anywhere near the production which was expected upon his arrival (and subsequent extension) heading into the season, with blame being shared between the two. Denver’s calamitous efforts in the red zone in particular have led to poor primetime showings and a 2-3 record.

Hackett has already responded by bringing veteran advisor Jerry Rosburg out of retirement, though Thursday night’s loss to the Colts did little to quell doubts about the team’s 2022 prospects. The growing list of injuries Denver is dealing with on both sides of the ball would have hampered their playoff chances regardless of if Hackett had taken the Broncos gig or any of the other four he interviewed for this winter. Still, the fact that he has risen up the list of contenders to be replaced so early in his tenure speaks to how problematic it has been so far.

Will one of these four coaches be the first to receive their walking papers, or will that fate befall a different bench boss? Cast your vote in PFR’s latest poll and have your say in the comments below:

Community Tailgate: State Of The Broncos

Injuries are hitting the Broncos harder than most teams. Starters continue to be moved to IR, with Garett Bollesleg fracture the latest significant issue to emerge. But this is standard in-season fare. Ditto close losses. The Broncos’ bigger-picture problems are not.

The team’s hire of Nathaniel Hackett and trade for Russell Wilson have not produced offensive success; the Broncos’ defense has been largely responsible for their two wins and the team being in position for two more. Hackett and Wilson’s performances keyed both the upset losses to the Seahawks and Colts. Considering what these two figures mean for the franchise’s future, the early returns warrant scrutiny.

Denver cycled through 11 starting quarterbacks between Peyton Manning‘s retirement and the Wilson trade. First-round picks (Paxton Lynch), second-round picks (Drew Lock), free agent signings (Case Keenum) and trades (Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater) did not produce worthwhile solutions, leading the franchise to pony up for Wilson. The Broncos’ eight-asset trade haul — headlined by 2022 and 2023 first-round picks — for Wilson doubled as one of the most expensive in NFL history, and the team committed to the perennial Pro Bowler via the five-year, $245MM ($124MM fully guaranteed) extension in August.

Through five games, the Broncos rank 31st in points per game and 28th in EPA per drive. While the team has mounted productive drives, it is consistently crashlanding in the red zone. This continued Thursday night, when the Broncos were 0-for-4 on touchdowns after reaching the red area. The only two instances of a team going 0-for-4 on TDs in the red zone this season, as ESPN.com’s Field Yates points out (on Twitter), came Thursday and in the Broncos’ bizarre Week 1 loss to the Seahawks. The Broncos have scored touchdowns at a ghastly 21.4% clip in the red zone. That is in last place by a wide margin; the 49ers rank 31st at 40%.

A star quarterback suddenly losing his form at 33 would be one of the more interesting on-field storylines to develop in recent memory, so it is worth speculating whether these rampant issues are Wilson-based or if they are more closely tied to the shift to a new offense. The nine-time Pro Bowler ranks 22nd in QBR, and the latter of Wilson’s two interceptions Thursday helped the Colts tie the game in the final minute. Wilson has rarely opted to use his legs this season; the likely Hall of Famer has 73 rushing yards through five games. That is in line with the new pace he set in 2021 (43 carries, 183 yards), when he missed three games. The Seahawks, who derived considerable value from Wilson’s rushing ability during his 10-year stay, believed Wilson’s run-game reluctancy would increase as he aged. Wilson sits fourth in QB history (behind Michael Vick, Cam Newton and Randall Cunningham) with 4,762 rushing yards.

Wilson’s accomplishments and success leading diminishing Seahawks rosters, at least compared to the franchise’s dominant mid-2010s squads, to the playoffs from 2018-20 point to Hackett being the bigger variable here. The 11th-year passer’s acclimation period to this offense — one that entered Thursday without starting running back Javonte Williams and has played without No. 3 wideout Tim Patrick all season — has been shaky at best. The Broncos’ final offensive play — a fourth-and-1 shotgun set in which Wilson missed an open K.J. Hamler, leading to extensive Hamler post-play frustration — effectively epitomizing the Hackett-Wilson partnership’s first month. Wilson is 2-for-18 on end zone passes this season, per ESPN Stats and Info.

This season has brought Hackett’s first play-calling role since he was fired from his Jaguars OC post during the 2018 season. The dual role of play-caller and game manager proved daunting for Hackett, whose 64-yard field goal attempt decision did well to foreshadow the Broncos’ eventful first month, and a game management assistant (the unretired Jerry Rosburg) is now in place. Situational struggles, as the brutal red zone numbers illustrate, have plagued Hackett since Rosburg’s arrival as well. The last of those produced a notable reaction from ex-Wilson teammate-turned-Amazon analyst Richard Sherman. Hackett rebuilt his career in Green Bay, having a hand in Aaron Rodgers‘ back-to-back MVP awards — and receiving steady endorsements from the future Hall of Famer — and interviewed for four HC jobs this offseason. But his Denver tenure is skidding off track early.

The Broncos rebounded from a 2-3 start in Manning’s first season, shifting quickly to some of Manning’s former Colts concepts to close out that 2012 campaign — a 13-3 season. But that team lost to three division champions, whereas none of this Broncos iteration’s blemishes have come against over-.500 competition. With the Broncos’ new ownership group not having signed off on Hackett, the prospect of a one-and-done HC tenure may be greater.

While these decisions are rare, five coaches (Urban Meyer, Freddie Kitchens, Steve Wilks, Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula) have been fired during or after their first season. Meyer, Wilks, Kelly and Tomsula all lost 11-plus games; Kitchens’ firing came more as a result of dysfunction. Following Thursday’s result, BetOnline.ag moved Hackett to the top of its first-coach-fired prop odds. With the Broncos tied to Wilson through at least 2025 (due to guarantees), Hackett’s job security will shift to the forefront if his offense continues to produce at this level.

Can the Broncos re-emerge as a more stable operation after their mini-bye? Or have Hackett’s early-season missteps become too big of a concern? How much of the Denver offense’s issues are Wilson-driven compared to the system in which he now finds himself? What does this all mean for the franchise’s long-term outlook? Weigh in on the Broncos’ strange start in PFR’s latest Community Tailgate installment.