How Russell Wilson’s halftime speech to a coach helped turn the Broncos season around
Dec 10, 2023, 7:03 PM
When Sean Payton announced Vance Joseph would return to Denver as the team’s defensive coordinator it wasn’t a homecoming welcomed by Broncos Country.
While Joseph has a strong resume and a good track record as a coach in the league, it was his failures as a head coach in Denver that soured him to the Colorado crowd. And Joseph was as close to a native son as one could get, playing for the mighty Buffaloes in the 1990s. After two seasons and an 11-21 record, Joseph was canned. And since leaving Denver, his defenses haven’t been that successful. Still, Payton took a big risk and named him a key part of the staff.
It didn’t work out at all—well, not at first. In three-and-a-half games, Denver’s defense allowed a staggering 143 points and Broncos Country was again ready to run Joseph of the Front Range.
But quarterback Russell Wilson revealed on Sunday of Week 14 after the Broncos’ 24-7 win over the Chargers, that way back in Week 4 against Chicago he pulled Joseph aside for a pep talk.
“You have to credit Vance Joseph—I told him in the Bears game at halftime,” Wilson said. on Sunday. “When he came back out with a half, I just told him, ‘Hey, listen, I’ve gone going against you probably 100 times you are one of the best defensive coordinators, I know. And one of the toughest guys to go against.’ And I knew that he could turn it around. You know, he’s done a good job, but we got more to do.”
The two have not matched up 100 times, as Wilson exaggerated by a zero, the quarterback has faced a defense with VJ on staff 10 times in his NFL career. Wilson’s record against him is an even 5-5.
The Broncos defense did turn their fortunes in that Week 4 contest, allowing just seven points in the second half in what would be their first win of the season against the Bears. Although the defense allowed 31 points to the lousy Jets at home the following game, the defense has still been nails. Since the Wilson speech, Denver has allowed 166 points on defense in nine-and-a-half games, 17.5 points per sixty minutes—compared to the 40 points per 60 minutes they started the season pacing for
Whether Wilson’s speech actually worked on Joseph or not is unknown but while Broncos Country had their pitchforks ready, Russ kept faith and that halftime seems to be when Denver’s defense got in order and stayed that way for the remainder of the year. The highlight was Sunday’s game which included the most sack yards in team history, getting six quarterback drops by six different players en route to scoring the team’s first division road win since 2019.
“I think a collective effort you know, from obviously coach Payton and all the coaches, the defensive staff, offensive staff, everybody special teams, we’re all doing it together,” Wilson said. “Everybody’s giving their all and I think it’s what’s making the difference.”
Denver’s 7-6 record ties 2021 for the latest into a season the club has been above .500 since 2016. The Broncos are on the road again next week, facing Detrio,t and are a game back of Kansas City for the AFC West lead—both teams are also in play for wildcard spots. When Denver dropped to the Chiefs to fall to 1-5 earlier this fall, who would’ve guessed they were vying to be just the fourth team to get off to such a bad start and still make the postseason?