Sean Payton eyeing ways to fix Broncos' clock-management issues

September 18, 2023, 2:59 PM

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just two games into his first season as Denver Broncos head coach, Sean Payton suddenly finds himself wrestling with some of the same clock-management and penalty issues Nathaniel Hackett had in an ill-fated 15-game run as the team's coach last season.

After a 35-33 loss to the Washington Commanders on Sunday -- a game the Broncos had led 21-3 in the second quarter -- Denver is now one of the league's eight 0-2 teams.

On Monday, Payton said after the Broncos' alignment and clock issues that he and the coaches will look at ways to decrease verbiage in some of their playcalls.

The Broncos had to use multiple timeouts Sunday to avoid delay of game penalties and had multiple occasions on both sides of the ball when players seemed unsure of where to be in the formation before the snap.

Payton said they can make progress by shortening the playcalls or "getting to the line of scrimmage spontaneously,'' or giving quarterback  Russell Wilson a wristband to cover some of the plays with longer playcalls.

"I think, No. 1, the first thing that we always try to look at -- but we have to do a better job of as coaches -- is reduce the verbiage,'' Payton said. "If we have a longer play, then we can easily get to a wristband. We have to reduce the variables. I just finished saying this in the team meeting -- if we're making [mental errors] defensively and offensively, we're having trouble breaking the huddle and getting lined up, then we have to look at if we have too much in [the game plan]. Then, how do we reduce the verbiage at the line of scrimmage, or in the huddle, quite frankly? ... That's going to improve.''

Clock management on offense was one of the issues Payton had criticized most during the offseason when he discussed the Broncos' 2022 offense, when the team was last in the league in scoring at 16.9 points per game. He said publicly that the offense was "hard to watch,'' and in a training camp interview with USA Today, he  was highly critical of Hackett and his staff, saying, among other items, they "couldn't get a play in.''

Payton had also been highly critical of the Broncos' penalties last season. After two games, the Broncos are tied for the league lead with Baltimore in accepted penalties -- with 21 penalties overall, 19 accepted. The Green Bay Packers have been flagged 22 times overall but have had six of those penalties declined.

Payton specifically pointed at the Broncos' fouls on defense, which in Sunday's loss included safety  Kareem Jackson's ejection for a hit on Washington tight end Logan Thomas, who suffered a concussion on the play.

Jackson is not expected to be suspended for his hit on Thomas, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler on Monday. He will be subject to a fine for what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet collision. Jackson was fined $14,819 for his Week 1 hit on  Las Vegas Raiders receiver Jakobi Meyers, who also sustained a concussion.

"There's things that stand out right now, and before you talk about how to win games, you also have to understand how not to lose games,'' Payton said. "We're currently tied for a league-high 19 penalties. We lead the league defensively with defensive fouls called with 12, five personal fouls.''

The Broncos had eight accepted penalties for 87 yards in Sunday's loss.

"We have a number of plays where we're off the field on third down, but there's a flag on the turf, there's holding, defensive pass interference, which makes it an automatic first down,'' Payton added. "So, instead of being off the field, those are turnover penalties. We've got to be better, more disciplined in that area, and that starts with us as coaches.''