Denver Broncos Team Development: Of Liquid Plumber and Voltmeters

ENGLEWOOD, COLORADO - JULY 26: General Manager George Paton of the Denver Broncos listens as head coach Nathaniel Hackett fields questions from the media at UCHealth Training Center on July 26, 2022 in Englewood, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
ENGLEWOOD, COLORADO - JULY 26: General Manager George Paton of the Denver Broncos listens as head coach Nathaniel Hackett fields questions from the media at UCHealth Training Center on July 26, 2022 in Englewood, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

So what now, Broncos Country? Following yet another perplexing loss in which defeat was kidnapped straight out of the seemingly well-guarded encampment of victory, it would be tempting to fold up the tents and head for home, but with 11 games remaining in the 2022 Schedule, calling it quits is not exactly an option. So, where do the Denver Broncos go from here?

In this week’s edition of your Denver Broncos Team Development Series, we’re heading into the bowels of the House that Paton Built to examine what’s bubbling up under the surface, as well as what steps should be considered as the team seeks a productive way forward.

Denver Broncos Team Development: Unclogging with Conflict

One thing I can say with certainty from watching the post-game interviews is that there are cracks showing in the positivity of even the most positive among the team’s leaders. The post-game slate of Simmons, Wilson, and Hackett – typically the team’s most exuberant and ‘glass-is-half-fullish’ contingent within the locker room – were humbled, somber, and perhaps even a little demoralized. Russ left his ‘Let’s Ride’ in the barn, Justin Simmons was uncharacteristically shaken – perhaps even slightly seething, and Hackett was noticeably more Belichickian in his responses. And this is probably right.

In fact, harkening back to the beginning of this deep dive into the Denver Broncos Team Development Series, we would probably even be able to say that this is both normal and expected for a newly forming team that is clearly in the ‘Storming’ phase of their development. Each is trying to figure out how his skills and experiences align with the skills and experiences of the pieces around him, and each is discovering that these pieces all come from a different puzzle and will not fit together neatly without somewhat painful sculpting of a few sides and edges.

If we are seeing these cracks in the hulls of the seemingly unsinkable vessels of the team’s more uplifting elements, then there is likely fluid within the hull – where it should not remain, by the way, if the vessel is to remain afloat. Notice, I said ‘where it should not remain’ rather than ‘where it should not exist’. In team development, this type of occurrence is not only expected, it is healthy. Each who believes himself to be an immovable force within this newly forming team dynamic must somehow reach a point where he mentally shifts from ‘me’ to ‘we’ – this typically manifests either from growing weary of the personal toll of swimming upstream or in a more healthy manifestation, from recognition and response to a mutual problem that is bigger than the individual and requires immediate collaboration in order to overcome the obstacle.

In this case, for example, “Water is inside of the boat, therefore we’re all going to die a horrible death if we don’t join forces to expel the water to keep the boat afloat.” Ironically, if you were to ask each of these players individually, most would say, “Of course, that’s football in general – we need all eleven to win a game” – which would be true, and is exactly the kind of Sunday-school answer one would provide to the media and fans. But at its core, a football team is subject to the same unification and formation challenges as any other team – whether military unit or party planning committee – because it contains the same key ingredient: People.

For better or for worse, these teams in life are formed because of a problem set that requires more than one human being for its accomplishment, and oddly enough, when you populate a petri dish with more than one of these ingredients, we experience the predictable, painful, but eventually useful outcome of ‘conflict’. As with any team, this needs to happen – conflict is, in essence, the Liquid Plumber that pushes through the clog that prevents a natural flow of a team from its ‘Storming’ stage to its ‘Norming’ stage and beyond.

Perhaps the natural evolution of team conflict has been somewhat stunted by the volume of exceedingly positive personalities within this newly forming team, but the tipping point that leads to conflict is a critical and incredibly healthy part of a team’s development. Assuming this conflict presents as appears to be imminent, we could very well be on the precipice of something promising, but the true health and effectiveness of this budding conflict will be judged by how well it serves as a catalyst toward compromise, change, and eventual progress.

Denver Broncos Team Development: Isolating the Source

Allow me to start this segment by confirming for you all what my wife already knows – I am no electrician. I’m sure I’m a lot like many of you when it comes to random projects around the home or property in that I’m increasingly willing to pull up YouTube to see if I can make a simple repair or build something I have no business attempting on my own. When it comes to electricity, however, I have zero interest in losing more hair follicles, diminishing my already limitied mental capacity, or trying my luck at the one-in-a-million shot of gaining electrical super powers.

So if something goes awry with an appliance in my household, I faithfully cycle the ‘O.N./O.F.F.’ switch, test something else in the outlet, check the breaker, and then resign myself to calling someone who gets paid handsomely to risk electrocution. You may be wondering how this is relevent, but as you’ve been kind enough to do in the past, bear with me just a little bit longer as I show relevance. The reason I call in the expert is not only because I have little interest in lighting up my life is such a way, but also because it’s just too overwhelming. Even if I should find a well-meaning YouTuber who wants to save me hundreds of dollars on labor costs, there are just too many unknowns and variables for a guy with no background in electrical wiring.

As a bona fide expert who was not there to see the wiring plan come together for that particular property, you will still find that there are hundreds of potential variables that will afford ample opportunity to earn every bit of your astronomical hourly wage, but at least you’ve got a puncher’s chance of solving the problem without coming away smelling of roasted beast. But here’s the point – with voltmeter in hand, Paton needs to do the work of an electrician. This is not just any sort of job. It’s a job a lot like many you’d find in an overpriced, vacation-heavy real estate market, wherein the houses are 50 years old, but bits and pieces have been updated throughout the years in a manner irrespective of code, perhaps even updated and documented by YouTubers.

There is no diagram – only a deceptively neat fuse box door, covering a bird’s nest of unmatched wiring types, held together by melting sinews of electrical tape. Paton needs to analyze the root causes of these issues, but much like this Franken-wiring scenario, because there have been so many simultaneous and significant changes, he’ll need to isolate and trace each circuit to figure out which of the multiple areas for concern is the most salient. The people of Broncos Country have questions, and Paton will need to dig deeply to answer them.

Are Russ’ issues a result of the playcalling? Is it his injuries? Is it the offensive line? How about the receiving corps?

And what about Coach Hackett? Are his challenges related to execution by the players? Is it the inexperience of his coaching staff? Does he have the respect of the players? Is it a lack of talent in a particular position group? Is it just plain ‘bad luck’? The injury bug, maybe?

Each of these is a very fair question in its own right, but its also fair and accurate to say that there is a thread of interdependency connecting each problem to the next, which is exactly the reason an organization in a more patient and strategic industry would likely choose to adjust just one measurable at a time. Micro-adjustments allow for precise and timely identification of problem areas before adding complexity to the situation with additional data points.

Change, refine, perfect. But that’s not a luxury afforded to teams in the National Football League. As such, Paton is left with no choice but to painstakingly trace each potential problem back to its source by isolating the variable to the greatest extent possible. There are 245 million reasons that Russell Wilson is not going anywhere anytime soon, but as I’ve shared before, you can also count me amongst those who believe that Paton will give Hackett at least the entire season before he moves on, so here are just a couple thoughts about where Paton can begin to diagnose and dissect the problems facing this team:

Crossed-Wires: Play-Calling

As has been hashed out ad nauseam through the media (national, local, and social) it would appear that Coach Hackett is routinely scheming guys wide open, so the design seems to work – sequencing and situational play-calling, however? Well, that may be another story (see the myriad attempts to thwart the team’s third-and-short conversions with a frustratingly less probable pass play). In this scenario, Hackett continues to work with his staff to put together what he believes is an ideal game plan, but instead of attempting to manage the game while calling plays, he hands the play-calling duties over to Coach Outten.

It may take more than one game to figure out whether or not this is something you’d like to turn into a trend, but honestly, what can it hurt at this point? This is the kind of change that could be instituted as soon as next week.

Crossed-Wires: Offensive Scheme Fit

Much has been made of Russ’ purported decline, but I will re-affirm that I find it very difficult to believe that with far less physical skill deterioration than Peyton and/or Tom during their second stops, the man has gone from 9x Pro-Bowler to a back-up-at-best type of player. Has he given us moments where we believed that Teddy would have been an improvement in a particular situation? Sure. But he’s also shown just enough flashes of Russell Wilson to let us know that he’s still in there somewhere. How can we be sure we’ve not been sold a bill of goods, you ask?

Well, there is no foolproof method apart from the passage of time, but I would start with this – give Russ the reins of the offense. Not forever, but again, just for a game or two. If there is internal conflict about whether or not Russ is completely on board with Hackett’s offensive scheme, sometimes the very best thing you can do is to give someone just enough rope to hang themselves. Is there a chance that this would backfire and Russ would actually be successful in taking the reins?

For Hackett, yes; for the team, not at all. Now, if we have the opportunity to see Rypien operate Hackett’s offense effectively as a result of Russ’ latest injury news, this may be a moot point, but barring that, after giving Outten a chance at play-calling before ruling out other variables, this is a change I would recommend we look at following the bye.

These are just two possible opportunities aimed at isolating and analyzing some areas of concern, but if some semblance of these is implemented in the weeks to come, I firmly believe that George Paton, the team, and the fan base will have a much better grasp on where this team stands.

With six weeks down, the final analysis of your 2022 Denver Broncos will not be completed for quite some time, but I will leave you with this as you head into another week following a challenging Broncos defeat – provided this team engages in the dirty work of taking a genuinely deep dive on each area of concern, adjusting fire as opportunity presents – and provided each member of this team is willing to both embrace and effectively repurpose this period of developmental conflict, there is hope for a breakthrough.

We’re in need of a plumber and an electrician, to be sure, but there is hope, Broncos Country!