Despite Sunday's impressive victory over the 6-1 Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos may have hidden a blatant issue in the offense that can continue to unfold and potentially hurt the passing game over the remainder of the season. While starting quarterback Russell Wilson did throw for three touchdowns in the victory and turned the ball over just one time (fumble), there are lingering issues that are very concerning on film that could cost the Broncos games in the near future against elite defenses such as the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and others.
Not only during Sunday's matchup but over the last three weeks dating back to Denver's primetime matchup in Kansas City, Wilson has gravely struggled to get the ball out quickly in the passing game. Holding onto the football too long has always been a reoccurring issue for Wilson but was often covered up by his other abilities and improvisation to make up for it. However, in his 12th year in the NFL, it has become a massive issue considering his mobility and IQ of the game have taken a drastic decline.
Wilson, turning 35 in one month, has thrown 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions on the season with a very talented offensive line blocking for him and a stellar run game to establish a much more comfortable passing game for the vet quarterback. While Wilson deserves credit for improving this season from the last, the difference between Sean Payton as opposed to Nathaniel Hackett has made a stark difference in his play.
Overall, when watching Wilson running pass plays, his pocket presence has significantly deteriorated and his accuracy is not what it used to be. His accuracy is not consistent with what a quarterback should look like when not being asked to throw the football at a high volume. The situation is reminiscent of quarterback Brock Purdy with the San Fransisco 49ers. Obviously, Purdy has much better weapons and a more talented offensive line in front of him.
However, both quarterbacks have very innovative play-callers, an elite offensive line, and run game around them, and are not asked to throw the ball at a high capacity. In fact, Wilson has thrown just nine more pass attempts than Purdy this season and San Francisco's offense is widely known for hardly throwing the football compared to other teams. This even includes all the games where Wilson and the offense were trying to play "catch up" in the second half meaning that Denver has just now started playing into their true identity of a run-first group under Sean Payton.
Therefore, when the Broncos are finally running the football at a high level and the defense is finally playing stout over the course of the last three games, Russell Wilson has all of a sudden become an incompetent quarterback when throwing the football. Not to mention, the Broncos are paying him one of the most expensive contracts in the NFL with an average annual salary of $48.5M to simply be a game manager.
Financially, the Broncos will be much better off in the future by moving on from Wilson and not being blinded by the statistics he is producing, and focusing on developing a younger quarterback on a rookie contract. Wilson's dead cap will hurt the organization's salary cap for the next five years however, Payton seems to have internally already moved on from Wilson. Could Denver's next quarterback already be on the roster? Perhaps so.
Sean Payton and the Broncos signed quarterback Jarrett Stidham to a surprising two-year, $10M deal very early on in free agency with a clear indication that he was a priority signing for the roster. How come? Does Payton see something in him long-term that the fans do not? Or was the signing meant to boost the depth behind Wilson and nothing more?
One thing we know for certain is that there are attributes that Stidham brings to the table that Wilson does not have at this point in his career. For instance, pocket presence and ability to step up in the pocket and make throws under duress. The offense has greatly missed a quarterback who can step up in the pocket and manage an offense on a consistent basis rather than putting their offensive line in bad situations. If you were to look at the box score and identify six sacks allowed by Denver's offensive line, you would probably think the group had a terrible performance if you did not watch Sunday's game.
Ultimately, the majority of the blame falls on Wilson's bad habit of holding onto the football for large amounts of time and having zero pocket awareness. Nearly every starting quarterback in this league has an inner clock that forces them to get the football out in a timely manner but for Wilson, that has not been the case in the last three matchups. Wide receivers are creating separation and getting open therefore, there are no excuses. And even if receiver separation was an issue, when was the last time Wilson threw the ball away or gave his receivers an opportunity in a contested catch scenario? We witnessed two of those situations play out on Sunday when Jeudy made a nice 39-yard contested catch and Sutton mossed a Chiefs defensive back. Afterward, Wilson completely abandoned those opportunities.
Small aspects like that in the passing game can significantly improve that phase of the offense. If the Broncos find themselves being eliminated from playoff contention late in the season with a strong schedule ahead, perhaps Jarrett Stidham could be lining up under center sooner than most anticipate.