Russell Wilson off to a slow start under hesitant Hackett

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson jokes with reporters during a news conference before practice at the NFL team's headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Nathaniel Hackett blames his own dawdling as an unpolished play caller for Russell Wilson’s slow start in Denver.

The Broncos’ rookie head coach vowed to clean up his game management miscues and call plays more quickly beginning Sunday night when the Broncos (1-1) host Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers (1-1).

He even huddled with general manager George Paton and assistant GM Darren Mougey this week to get their input.

“It starts with me,” Hackett said before practice on a rainy Wednesday. “I’m doing every single thing I can to try to put myself in position to be able to make quicker, faster, more efficient decisions.”

Hackett said Paton and Mougey “have been absolutely spectacular in helping me through that process because that is something that is new for me. And I think we’re gonna have some good answers as we move forward.”

The home crowd took to mockingly counting down the play clock during Denver’s 16-9 win over Houston on Sunday after a multiplicity of false starts, delays of game and burned timeouts.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur came to his former offensive coordinator’s defense, noting that growing pains are inevitable for first-time head coaches.

“It’s a process for anybody when you’re in a new role,” LaFleur said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world that he’s going to do a great job. I don’t know necessarily all the nuts and bolts or details … but it’s important that you lean on other people, as well.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, not only as a coach but he’s super-organized and he’ll figure it out, no doubt,” LaFleur said. “Everybody needs to stop hitting that panic button down there.”

It falls on more than just the head coach to disentangle game-day operational issues and make seamless substitutions or get the play in to the quarterback on time, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

“It takes a whole team to do that the right way,” Shanahan said. “And early on it is a little harder, especially when you’re doing it with a bunch of new players.”

Shanahan recalled his own head coaching debut in 2017, a 23-3 loss to the Panthers in which he went for it four times on fourth down only to realize he shouldn’t have gone for it at all.

“That’s when I realized, all right, you can’t think like a coordinator,” Shanahan said.

“So, there’s all these experiences that you go through for the first time but he’s done this for a while and (the Broncos have) a good coach there and a good play-caller.”

Wilson thinks so, too.

“I trust coach Hackett tremendously,” said Wilson, adding that his own newness to the system and personnel has played a role in Denver’s offense committing a dozen penalties so far and going 0-for-6 in the red zone.

“I started somewhere brand new. There’s always going to be challenges and changes and things” that could be done differently, Wilson said.

The hiccups have prevented Wilson from making the kind of splash so many expected of the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback who cost the Broncos five draft picks, three players and $165 million in guarantees.

Wilson recovered from a slow start Sunday to lead the Broncos to a fourth-quarter comeback over the Texans after completing just six of his first 20 passes.

He finished 14 for 31, a 45% completion rate that was his worst since 2015 and the fourth-worst in his 160 regular-season starts.

Wilson, who sat out the preseason along with most of the other starters, has a pair of touchdown throws, his lowest total through two weeks since 2017, when he had one.

Over his final three years in Seattle, he had a combined 20 TD throws and one interception in Weeks 1-2.

Complicating matters is a rash of injuries to the likes of Tim Patrick (ACL), KJ Hamler (hip), Greg Dulcich (hamstring) and Jerry Jeudy (rib).

Wilson said he’s encouraged after studying the Broncos’ offensive foibles. He said he counts five TDs the Broncos easily could have scored in the red zone.

“We’re doing a lot of things well,” he said. “It’s just fine-tuning the details and we’ve got to get more touchdowns.”

NOTES: The Broncos are hopeful both WR Jeudy and CB Patrick Surtain II (left shoulder) can play Sunday after getting positive MRI results earlier this week. Both missed practice Wednesday but ILB Josey Jewell (calf) and RT Billy Turner (knee) participated. They have yet to make their 2022 debuts.