Denver Broncos 2023 Season Deep Dive: Can Sean Payton Fix Russell Wilson?

Things could not have gone worse in year one of the Russell Wilson experiment in Denver. Not only did Wilson have the worst win-loss record of his career when he led the team to a 4-11 during the fifteen games he started, but the offense completely stunk.

Russell Wilson 2022 Season Analysis

Wilson completed just 60.5% of his passes and only threw sixteen touchdown passes. He had previously never thrown less than 20 touchdowns in a season. The offense averaged 16.9 points per game, last in the league. After just 15 games with the team, Coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired as Denver looked to completely do things over. To turn things around, the Broncos hired Sean Payton shortly after the season.

Now, it’s up for new coach Sean Payton to fix Wilson and the Denver offense. Payton is far from afraid of a challenge. When he took over the New Orleans Saints in 2006, he was tasked with changing the fortune of a disappointing franchise in his first ever head coaching job. Prior to his hiring, the Saints had just gone 3-13 and were struggling with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Within that first year, Payton led the Saints to the playoffs under new quarterback Drew Brees, who was had a career-year of his own. In his fourth season with New Orleans, Payton coached the team to its first Super Bowl win.

Sean Payton Keys in on Russell Wilson

He’s shown he can turn around a franchise with the Saints, and change the career of a quarterback with Drew Brees, but can he do the same for the Broncos and Russell Wilson? To answer this question, it depends on what defines “fix.” For example, if fixing Wilson means having him lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl this season while making him a top contender for MVP, then the answer is more than likely no. Anything’s possible in the NFL, but it’s hard to actually believe no matter how good of an offensive coach Payton is, that he can immediately turn Wilson into MVP while leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl in a crowded AFC with the Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, and Jets also in contention. If “fixing” Wilson instead means making Wilson play at a Pro Bowl level and putting the Broncos back in playoff contention, then the answer is yes, Sean Payton can fix Wilson.

There’s no guarantee that improving Wilson will correlate in such individual or team success, but it will certainly go a long way. Payton has already made changes to the team’s operations, particularly in removing the special treatment Wilson had during his first year. Under Hackett, Wilson had his own office at the facility and also brought in his own quarterback coach. Payton will no longer be allowing that, and Wilson will instead be in the locker room with solely guidance the Broncos’ staff, like the rest of his teammates.

Sean Payton’s Offense

In the new offense, coach Payton will strive to take the pressure off of Wilson. Wilson was the NFL’s most sacked passer last year, so Payton has added offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey during the offseason. He also will try to get the ball out of Wilson’s hands faster, by scheming up plays to weapons like Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Greg Dulcich.

Payton’s offense has long been renowned across the NFL. He led Drew Brees to become the most statistically prolific quarterback throughout the majority of his career with the Saints. Brees threw for 5,000 yards in a season five times during his career, which is over twice as many times as any other NFL quarterback. Brees led the NFL in passing yards seven times, passing touchdowns four times, and completion percentage six times, all with Payton as his coach. He also racked up a couple of Offensive Player of the Year awards.

Wilson has been one of the better quarterbacks for the last decade, but has never been a high volume passer like Brees. He has only passed for over 4,000 yards four times in his eleven year career and his career high in passing yards is 4,219 in 2016. While part of that is due to the Seahawks having a strong run game and defense during most of his tenure in Seattle, Payton would have to completely transform Wilson for Brees-like numbers to ensue.

But that’s not Payton’s goal. Payton wants to make Wilson better, but also not put all the pressure on him. So expect the new Broncos coach to fix Wilson from what he was a season ago, but don’t anticipate Russell to lead the NFL in any statistical passing categories this year.

A UCLA graduate, Eva is an experienced football writer who specializes in NFL game analysis and weekly storylines. In her free time you can usually find her cheering on the 49ers or watching the latest Josh Allen highlight clip.

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