BRONCOS

Anonymous defensive coach on Russell Wilson: ‘He’s a game manager’

Nov 28, 2023, 5:20 PM

On the surface, all appears well for Russell Wilson — and Broncos Country at large. The team has its first five-game winning streak since an eight-game run that included Super Bowl 50. In Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns, he had the best single-game ESPN QBR of his two seasons with the Broncos.

And the Broncos are doing it with a controlled offense.

They’ve run the ball more often than they’ve passed it three times during their five-game streak. They did that just once in the first 21 starts Russell Wilson made as a Bronco. And while his passer rating is back to its Seattle norms, his average air yards per attempt of 6.5 yards is 31st among 33 eligible quarterbacks, according to rbsdm.com.

His intended air-yards-per-attempt figure, per pro-football-reference.com, is also his lowest since at least 2018. And in the Broncos’ five-game winning streak, his average of 6.0 intended air yards per attempt ranks 27th of 30 quarterbacks with at least 80 attempts in that span — ahead of only Carolina’s Bryce Young, New England’s Mac Jones and Chicago’s Tyson Bagent.

The numbers say that Wilson is operating in a controlled, low-risk environment.

So does the film, according to an unnamed coach quoted in The Athletic this week.

“Sean (Payton) is calling the game almost as if Russell is a rookie quarterback,” a defensive coach told Mike Sando of The Athletic. “Basically, it’s run, run and if he’s not throwing it either one or two in a progression, he can scramble, which plays to his strengths.

“I hate to use this term, but he’s a game manager. He’s a very good one, too.”

Of course, “game manager” is one of those terms that carries a stigma. It implies that a quarterback isn’t making things happen with their own skill set, but is operating on a script with precisely-defined parameters, and that success happens within confines.

But there can be little doubt that it is working for the Broncos. With an improving ground game, an emerging offensive line and a takeaway-intensive defense, the Broncos have found their success equation in time to become a legitimate playoff contender.

Said another defensive coach to The Athletic, “They don’t want the quarterback and the offense to mess it up after they were turning it over early in the year. (Wilson) is throwing checkdowns as quick as I’ve ever seen him.”

The question that will linger for the Broncos and Payton is whether Russell Wilson in game-manager mode is worth adding another $37 million of guaranteed money onto the $85 million that already exists on their salary cap for the 2024 and 2025 seasons.

What the Broncos are doing is working. But the numbers — and the film, according to two opposing defensive coaches — reveal that it’s happening in a rudimentary way.

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Anonymous defensive coach on Russell Wilson: ‘He’s a game manager’