With Playoff Hopes on the Line, Will the Broncos Make a Quarterback Change?

The Denver Broncos passing game needs improvement, but would Sean Payton really pull Russell Wilson?

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson / Cooper Neill/GettyImages
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With just five games remaining in the 2023 season, it's hard to imagine the Denver Broncos making a shocking quarterback change before those five weeks are up. With that being said, there might be ample reason for head coach Sean Payton to turn to Jarrett Stidham at some point or another.

The question is, would he do it?

The Broncos have been much better this season offensively under Sean Payton, ranking 15th in the league in scoring at just a hair under 22 points per game. That is a dramatic difference from the horrendous 16.9 points per game the team averaged last year under Nathaniel Hackett, but there are still some major issues with the offense in Denver in 2023.

In particular, many of the issues revolve around the passing game.

The Broncos rank 25th in the NFL in percentage of passes that go for a first down at 30.1 percent. Despite ranking 8th in the NFL with 21 passing touchdowns this season, the Broncos rank 26th in the league in overall passing yardage and 30th in attempts. So, not only do they throw the ball less than most teams, but the Broncos don't have much success throwing the ball even when they do decide to throw it.

We have seen the offense take some steps forward in the red zone this season, but the Broncos are still not a very good team situationally, ranking 24th in 3rd down offense and 24th in red zone offense. Yet there is a very loud portion of Broncos Country that would have you believe Russell Wilson is not to blame for any of this.

Obviously, nobody wants Russell Wilson's play to be an issue. When you hand a guy a massive contract like the Broncos did to Wilson, you want to see that player live up to the loftiness of the deal. You want to see him succeed. Although Wilson has been significantly better in 2023 than he was in 2022, the numbers aren't really lying in this case.

Yes, he has made some incredible throws throughout the year. Yes, there have been clutch plays. And yes, the Broncos are in a position to potentially make the postseason for the first time since they won Super Bowl 50 in 2015. But is it also possible that the team doesn't have enough balance offensively to push across that finish line?

Look at last Sunday's game against Houston as a prime example. The Broncos went 0-for-11 on third downs, an insane statistic that should never happen in the NFL regardless of who your coach and quarterback are, much less two guys who have Super Bowl rings. The inability for the Denver Broncos to have a sustained dropback passing game has led to the offense being off-schedule far too frequently. They punted on six of their first seven possessions, which is part of the reason why the running game felt so inconsistent.

When you're as ineffective at passing the ball as the Broncos have been, you have to hope the defense can create additional opportunities, or the running game can just "find a way".

Even amidst the Broncos' five-game winning streak, these issues existed for the offense, but obviously didn't cost them any of those games. They just made them closer than they likely had to be. The Broncos' offense failed to capitalize on a variety of turnovers created by the defense, or was only able to turn their "best" drives into three points.

The Broncos rank 29th in the NFL in plays per drive, which is yet another indicator of even more than just a lack of sustained success. It's an indicator of ineffective and inefficient offense. No balance, no sustainability. The Broncos need to play ball control in order to win games, but they don't have a traditional dropback passing game to speak of.

Then there's the issue of Russell Wilson's contract and future with the team. Because there is a trigger for close to $40 million for 2025 in Wilson's deal on the third day of the 2024 league year, it's fair to wonder whether the Broncos want to guarantee Wilson the cash he's owed and pay him that while also eating his large cap hits. If the Broncos move on from Wilson after the 2023 season, it would certainly be a lot of dead cap, but they would also save a lot of cash.

And it's just hard to see Sean Payton going through another season of this at the quarterback position.

So you have ineffectiveness from the passing game overall. You have the potential and possibility that Russ won't be on the team beyond this season. And you now have the playoffs on the line. At what point is Payton going to make a switch at the QB position? Is that happening at all?

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I wouldn't be betting on it, that's for sure. But it's an interesting thought to ponder as we know Payton has been ruthless and aggressive in the past. It's also made even more interesting by the fact that Payton pretty much called Russell Wilson out for many of the offense's struggles in the team's loss to the Texans. I don't think he would hesitate to make the move if he felt it could get this team across the proverbial finish line. We'll see how Russell Wilson responds this weekend against the Chargers, but another bad game from the starting quarterback and I think this idea is going to have more and more merit.

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