Arguably the NFL’s most shocking 2022 story has been the implosion of the much-hyped Denver Broncos — spearheaded by the worst season of new quarterback Russell Wilson’s career. On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will welcome the Broncos (and a new head coach) to GEHA Field at Arrowhead for the two teams’ second meeting in a month.
During Kansas City’s 34-28 victory in Denver, Wilson turned in a very mixed performance. The Chiefs sacked him six times — and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. returned an interception 47 yards for a defensive touchdown. Wilson did, however, throw for three touchdowns and showed vintage form by rushing for 57 yards.
Though the Broncos were once down 27-0 at one point, their quarterback was within striking distance of a dramatic comeback win before a fourth-quarter concussion forced him from the game. Wilson’s heroics in the near-miss weigh heavily on the defensive game plan for the rematch.
“He’s still a quality quarterback, in my opinion,” Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said before Thursday’s practice. “He hurt us with his feet a number of times. We can’t allow that to happen. I think on most of those, the coverage on the back end was really good.
“He’s smart enough to know he’s going to get something with his feet — and he did that. I hope that doesn’t happen again — but that has been a huge focus.”
Few would deny that so far, Wilson has been a disappointment in Denver. Still, Chiefs linebackers coach Brendon Daly worries about the frightening possibilities presented each time he takes a snap.
“It presents a huge challenge,” Daly said on Thursday. “Wilson does a great job of extending the downs. He — most of the time — is looking to get the ball down the field when he extends downs. And he’s capable of running with it if you don’t have the rush lanes secured to where he’s got an opportunity.
“It’s multifold. The biggest one from a coverage standpoint is when the down gets extended — and he starts moving — you’ve got to get plaster responsibilities handled. Whether you’re in man or zone, you’ve got to get positive to your matches — and stay tight on them for the remainder of the down.”
Against the Chiefs, Wilson showed that he can still make a defense pay for its mistakes.
“We had another couple of situations in that previous game,” Daly recalled, “[where] we were in maybe a five-man rush or a blitz. We lost contain — or one of the lanes broke down — and [we ended] up in a scramble situation. Playing off of each other — and regaining contain or control of the pocket — is a pretty important thing with a guy like him, for sure.”
On Wednesday, Chiefs safety Justin Reid identified a reason for Kansas City to expect Wilson to be more dangerous this time around: it appears that starting wide receiver Courtland Sutton may be set to suit up after missing the Week 14 matchup with a hamstring injury. Sutton was a limited participant in the Broncos’ Wednesday and Thursday practices.
“I’ve played against Courtland — we were in the same draft class,” Reid noted. “[He’s a] very big receiver [with] wide range [and] catching radius that he will have there — and it allows them to give Russell Wilson another option there on the outside. I think it will be good for their offense to have them both on the field — and I think it will be a good challenge for us to defend both of them.”