The 2023 season for the Denver Broncos has been a roller coaster to say the least, especially for quarterback Russell Wilson who has battled loads of criticism and adversity to rally his football team to a 6-6 record. Despite receiving harsh criticism from fans and the media, Wilson has persevered in a big way to significantly improve his play in his second season with the Broncos as opposed to his first.
However, 12 games into the season, it is pretty fair to say we have learned well enough about the limitations Wilson is held to as far as dissecting defenses and launching moon balls as we all witnessed during his prime with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2023, we have seen very little of Wilson's deep ball and accuracy downfield -- a major asset of his game that general manager George Paton and the Broncos expected when trading for the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
In 2023, Wilson has thrown 21 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions and an efficient 67.5% completion. His 2,385 passing yards, however, ranks 19th in the NFL averaging out at 198.75 yards per game. Before Week 13 against the Houston Texans, Wilson's touchdown/interception ratio was an impressive 20/4. Stats can be a bit misleading sometimes, and while his eye-opening ratio can be a bit surprising to some, it is fairly reflective of how the veteran quarterback has played through 12 games -- mostly conservative check-downs and screens to his three running backs and his weekly red zone touchdown passes to wide receiver Courtland Sutton.
Here and there, a few targets are spread out to either wide receivers Jerry Jeudy or Marvin Mims Jr. but 90% of the time, the offense is very limited in terms of how Wilson operates the passing game. Head coach Sean Payton has done a fantastic job of utilizing his skill pieces and trying to fit the puzzle pieces together to get the most out of his quarterback while also putting a stamp on reducing turnovers/mistakes.
In terms of Russell Wilson's strengths, he still possesses the elite trait of being able to evade sacks and extend plays from time to time but can be a bit inconsistent in that area at times. For instance, despite throwing three interceptions in the loss at Houston, there were multiple plays during the fourth quarter that he made to keep the offense in the game, even when the offensive line was allowing a significant amount of pressure off the edge. Wilson's speed and legs can also still be considered a strength of his as we have witnessed in games like Week 12 against the Cleveland Browns.
But in terms of weaknesses, the list is much longer than his strengths. Wilson's pocket presence is still fairly concerning however, he has improved a great deal in that department since the win against Kansas City in Week 8. The veteran quarterback still shows very concerning signs with his ability to quickly read defenses post-snap and get the ball out quickly. His overall vision of the field seems too blurred at times and often aims his eyes at the line of scrimmage too quickly when pressure finds its way toward him. His processing and anticipation have undoubtedly taken a massive decline in the last two seasons and are a major sign of regression at this point in his career. It will be a very difficult issue to overcome and fix at 35 years old, especially if Sean Payton is only able to somewhat hide and mask it.
One thing we know for certain is that Wilson is 100% not worth the contract extension the Broncos organization signed him to and because of that, there will need to be serious conversations and evaluations made during the 2024 offseason regarding his future with the team. The Broncos have found ways to win Wilson under the center and that in itself is impressive, but more so as a result of how much of an impact Sean Payton has made on the offense.
During Denver's five-game winning streak, Russell Wilson and the passing game significantly benefited from an effective run game and turnover-hungry defense that garnered 14 takeaways in a four-game span. But in Week 13, Vance Joseph's defense was not able to create a single takeaway and performed at a below-average level in the first half. As a result, the Broncos' offense was not able to generate much success at all and Wilson struggled against pressure throwing three interceptions essentially losing the game.
At the end of the day, the verdict on Wilson's future with the Denver Broncos will ultimately come down to the final five games of the season and potentially whether or not the Broncos will make the playoffs. While he has made key plays in the fourth quarter of wins this season, the team is not winning because of Russell Wilson's play but they are winning in spite of him.
For the remaining five games, Sean Payton will hope to return to his old recipe of winning football games as we saw during the team's long winning streak and it will be up to Russell Wilson to make the big plays when the offense needs him to. The plays are being drawn up downfield, Payton is not completely limiting Wilson from being the quarterback the Broncos hoped they traded for. The former Super Bowl-winning quarterback has not been the exciting player everyone had hoped for, but his play will be sustainable for the time being assuming he resumes protecting the football.
Sean Payton and Russell Wilson have together found ways to win football games however, down the stretch making a push for the playoffs, the games will continue to fall on his shoulders and will ultimately rely on his abilities as a quarterback to elevate the team in the moment of adversity. These next five games will decide Russell Wilson's future.