Behind quarterback Russell Wilson, there’s still time for a Denver Broncos turnaround
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon is rooting for the nine-time Pro Bowler
Reeling from a historic 50-point loss in their previous game, the visiting Denver Broncos trailed the Chicago Bears by 21 points late in the third quarter Oct. 1.
Winless in the season’s first three weeks, the Broncos appeared to be careening toward another embarrassing defeat. But in a stunner, Denver rallied for a 31-28 victory behind embattled quarterback Russell Wilson, who finished with one of his best performances in his one-plus seasons with the team.
The Broncos (1-3) and Wilson needed that one.
Since Wilson forced a trade from the Seattle Seahawks, little has gone right for the Broncos and the perennial Pro Bowl passer. The Broncos hope that their comeback win over the Bears will prove to be a launching pad for success, and that Wilson and new Denver coach Sean Payton will rise together.
From afar, Warren Moon is rooting for Wilson.
Moon, the only Black quarterback enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was close with Wilson during his long, successful run with the Seahawks. Wilson still possesses the tools to be a highly productive NFL signal-caller, Moon believes, and Payton, a Super Bowl-winning coach, is a guide capable of helping Wilson to find his way again.
“I knew Sean was gonna come in and start having Russell do a lot of the things that Sean thinks Russell does best, not try and force an offense on him,” Moon told Andscape on the phone Wednesday. “They hadn’t been winning, but Russell’s numbers aren’t bad. The [team’s] record doesn’t show it, but Russell has been having some [individual] success.”
Moon, who resides close to the Seahawks’ headquarters in Renton, Washington, observed Wilson closely during the quarterback’s 10 years with the franchise. Wilson, a nine-time Pro Bowler, helped Seattle make eight playoff appearances, win two NFC titles and one Super Bowl championship.
Things in Seattle, however, grew stale for Wilson, who was dissatisfied with the Seahawks’ approach on offense. Wilson forced a trade to Denver, where he was paired with rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett, who accommodated Wilson’s demands on offense.
The results were disastrous.
Working more within the pocket, which he preferred, than he did with the Seahawks, Wilson had the fewest passing touchdowns of his career, as well as his lowest passer rating and Total QBR. The Broncos went 5-12, they finished last in the AFC West and Hackett was ousted before the season ended (for the first time, Hackett returns to Denver this week to face his former team as the offensive playcaller of the New York Jets, who are 1-3).
Making matters worse, before Wilson took a snap in the regular season for the Broncos, team ownership rewarded him with a $245 million contract extension that included $165 million in guaranteed money. And reportedly, Wilson had separated himself from his teammates by, among other things, requesting private office space and assigned parking spaces at the Broncos complex in Englewood, Colorado.
All of it was a bad look for a player who’s on the wrong side of 30 (Wilson is 34) and had his worst season in the NFL.
Moon saw it as clearly as if he were in the Broncos’ locker room.
“The way he went in there and portrayed himself … he was too interested in his brand,” Moon said. “He tried to create that part of it before he actually solidified himself on the field and in front of the Denver fans. Once you do that, you start to forget where the bread is buttered. The bread is buttered with football. All that other stuff is just fluff. If you can play well, you’ll enhance your brand because of what you do in football. That’s great. That’s the way it should be.
“But you don’t go into a new city, with a new coaching staff and all this money [ownership] gave you, then start talking about moving into the biggest mansion in the area. You’ve got all these parking spaces, and you’re also asking for an office in the building. When all these things become public and you’re not winning football games … people are gonna point the finger at you like crazy. That’s just the way it is. None of that will help you in football.”
Failing to play to one’s strengths also isn’t conducive to thriving in football.
In the 2012 NFL draft, 74 players were selected ahead of Wilson (5-feet-11), whom Seattle chose in the third round. It’s difficult for a quarterback of Wilson’s height to see over the offensive and defensive lines, so the Seahawks often put Wilson on the move in their offense. Moon figured Wilson would struggle last season with Denver because “he’s not a pocket guy. He just isn’t capable of doing that.”
“The offense [the Broncos] installed for him, which he wanted, he just couldn’t execute it. He’s only 5-10. If you’re gonna sit in the pocket at 5-10, a lot of your vision is gonna be obstructed by all that size coming in on you. You’re not gonna see a lot of the field. I watched him here in Seattle for his first  years of his career. I watched him practice twice a week. I watched all of his games. I knew what his limitations were. I knew he had vision problems, seeing a big part of the field.”
Payton noticed as well. Wilson is back to doing more of the things that enabled him to become established in the league.
“He’s getting back to a little bit more movement, a little more play-action,” Moon said. “He’s a very good play-action passer. He’s a really good deep-ball thrower. He’s gotten back to those things since Sean has been there, so that’ll give him a chance. We’ll see where it goes.”
The Broncos fans are on the edge of their seats. The Broncos-Wilson union hasn’t been what their supporters expected, but what happened against the Bears showed there’s still time for a turnaround.