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5 Questions with Mile High Report: Why are the Broncos struggling?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars will head “across the pond” to take on the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The game in London will be broadcast on ESPN+, which requires a subscription, but will also be shown in local markets in Denver and Jacksonville.

Both teams enter the matchup with 2-5 records and are looking to break four-game losing streaks. However, DraftKings Sportsbook has the honorary home team Jags as 2.5-point favorites in this game.

This week, we spoke with Ian St. Clair of Mile High Report — SB Nation’s website for all things Denver Broncos — to get the scoop on why the Broncos have struggled to begin the 2022 campaign, if the team will be at a disadvantage playing in London, what fans really think of head coach Nathaniel Hackett and more.

Our conversation is below:

1. The Broncos have only played in London one time, back in 2010. The Jaguars, on the other hand, now make the trip to the U.K. for the ninth time. Granted, every year is a new team, but do you think that gives Jacksonville an advantage? Do you think traveling that far will cause Denver’s performance to suffer or take a toll on the team physically? (Is this why they’re underdogs in this game?) Why or why not?

Ian: Since the Broncos don’t look prepared for games in Denver, the London experience is significant for the Jaguars. Nathaniel Hackett and Denver flying nine hours to London, getting adapted to the time change and still preparing for the game just adds more hoops for a coach who is already out of his element. The Jaguars have a massive advantage in that regard come Sunday.

2. Obviously, the Broncos are off to a poor start, just like the Jaguars, at 2-5. What has been the biggest issue for Denver so far? What does the team do well?

Ian: Hackett, his play calling and his offensive system are the biggest issues. You could say the Broncos offense is inept, but that would be an insult to inept offenses. To give you an idea of just how offensive it has been for Denver, the Broncos have scored five points in the third quarter this season and two of those came on a safety. In the last three games, Denver’s offense has scored six points. The Broncos have scored 100 points and only eight touchdowns this season. The only time the franchise has scored fewer points at this point in a season was the 91 in 1966. Those eight touchdowns are the fewest at this point in a season in franchise history. No doubt the players have to execute, but when the same problems pop up for two different quarterbacks, that falls directly on the play-caller and his system. It goes without saying, but the only thing this Broncos team does well is playing defense. It’s a shame the offense cannot do anything because this is a Super Bowl-caliber defense.

3. Quarterback Russell Wilson’s status for Sunday’s game is up in the air. Do you expect him to play? Do you believe the injury is why Wilson has played so poorly to start the 2022 season, or are other factors at play here?

Ian: This is totally a guess on my part, but I think Wilson plays on Sunday. The fact the Broncos are playing in London and they get their bye week after the game, Hackett and company will ride with Wilson. The injuries haven’t helped, but Wilson’s play is a direct result of not meshing with Hackett or this system. This is oil and vinegar. No matter how hard the Broncos try to get these two to come together, it will never happen.

Update: According to Wilson, he is “ready to roll” on Sunday.

4. Defensively, the Broncos have fared much better than the offense, ranking second in the NFL in total yards allowed per game and second in passing yards allowed per game. Who are the players to watch out for on that side of the ball? If you were Jacksonville’s offensive play-caller, how would you attack the Denver defense?

Ian: The fact the Denver defense continues to give this team a chance is a testament to defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and the players. You would think eventually they will get pissed and start taking plays off, but that hasn’t happened …yet.

Pat Surtain is obviously a player to keep an eye on. He’s one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL right now. Also keep an eye on D.J. Jones and Dre’Mont Jones. If these two are able to get a consistent push on the Jacksonville offensive line, that creates pass-rushing opportunities for Bradley Chubb and the other rushers. I’d add Baron Browning to this, but he’s out with a hip injury. Also keep an eye on middle linebacker Josey Jewell. If he’s able to play on Sunday, he’s the leader on defense and will make that unit even better.

If I were Doug Pederson, I’d run the ball at the edges of the defense and attack Damarri Mathis in the passing game. One of the Broncos’ weaknesses is stopping the perimeter running game. Mathis is a rookie cornerback who is susceptible to pass interference calls. It also keeps Trevor Lawrence from challenging Surtain. It’s going to be tough sledding for the Jags on Sunday, but those are two areas I would attack.

5. It’s early, but given the struggles, how have fans perceived head coach (and former Jacksonville offensive coordinator) Nathaniel Hackett and his staff thus far? Would it be possible that he doesn’t make it to the end of the season?

Ian: There is talk in Broncos Country that Hackett’s hiring is worse than Urban Meyer’s with Jacksonville. That gives you a sense of how well it’s going for the Broncos. Hackett just has no clue what he’s doing on the field or off. And there’s no evidence, none, that he has any idea how to fix it. There’s a question as to whether Hackett even thinks this needs to be corrected.

On Monday when he met the Denver media, this is an actual quote from Hackett: “We’re all going to work together to build a great plan. I feel like our operation has been going really well.” True, what else is he supposed to say? But talk about tone deaf.

Bonus: According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Jaguars are currently favored by 2.5 points and the over/under is set at 39.5. Will the Broncos cover, are you taking the over or the under and what is your final score prediction?

Ian: Neither offense will do much of anything in this game, but since DraftKings adjusted the line to 2.5, the Jags cover and win straight up. That also means I’d hammer the under. In Broncos games this season, the under is 6-1. That continues on Sunday in a Jacksonville 16-13 win.

I truly appreciate Ian’s thoughtful insights and analysis about Denver. If you are looking for more coverage on the Broncos, be sure to follow Ian and Mile High Report as well.