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Questionable late-game decisions plague Nathaniel Hackett, again

Ryan Harris jumps on BFA to explain why there’s reason for optimism with the Broncos offense despite a slow start to the season and looks ahead to Thursday’s matchup with the Colts.

Bronco coach Nathaniel Hackett is having a rough first year. At this rate, he won’t get a second.

After adding yet another member of the coaching staff to help Hackett make better decisions in key moments, Hackett made a couple of questionable decisions in two key moments during the 12-9 overtime loss to the Colts.

Let’s start at the end of regulation. The Colts were out of timeouts. There was 2:19 to play. The Broncos led by three. They faced third and four from the Indianapolis 13.

“We wanted to be sure that we were able to get a first down,” Hackett said after the game.

That’s fine. But they didn’t ultimately try to get the first down. Quarterback Russell Wilson went for the knockout, throwing the ball to the end zone, where the ball was intercepted.

If they had simply failed to get the first down, the Bronco could have kicked a field goal, forcing the Colts to do something neither team did all night long -- score a touchdown.

The Colts instead drove down the field for a game-tying field goal. In overtime, the Colts took the lead with another field goal.

And then the Broncos, who continue to hit a brick wall in the red zone, faced fourth and one from the Indianapolis five. At one point, the Broncos lined up with Wilson under center. After a pair of timeouts, they opted for shotgun formation -- signaling to the defense that a pass play was more likely.

It wasn’t fourth and goal. It was fourth and one. It was a perfect spot for a Melvin Gordon run for a possible first and goal, or maybe a creative play-action design that could have resulted in a walk-off game-winning score.

Instead, the Broncos basically told the Colts a throw was coming. So the Colts defended it. And the Indianapolis defense came through.

“We wanted to have a good pass call,” Hackett told reporters. “We wanted to put it in [Wilson’s] hands to win the game.”

That’s fine, if it works. But it didn’t work. There was reason to think it may not work. Wilson was off, all night long. Whether it was the shoulder injury or something else, there was no reason to believe with a high degree of certainty that Wilson would deliver a touchdown in an all-or-nothing setting like that.

There’s another question to be asked about the final play of the game. Why not kick the field goal, play defense, and try to get the ball back? Even if the game had ended in a tie, a 2-2-1 record would be better than 2-3.

In explaining the decision-making process with the game on the line, Hackett made an interesting -- and perhaps telling -- comment in his post-game press conference. He said he “got the go to go for it.”

From whom? Isn’t that the head coach’s decision? Whoever gave the head coach the go to go for it is the guy who should apparently should be the head coach, because that person made a decision that is always reserved for the head coach.

What it Jerry Rosburg, who was specifically hired to help Hackett make better decisions in those spots? Was it an analytics person who apparently has final say over whatever Hackett chooses to do?

At the highest levels of any industry, perception is reality. And the perception through five games is that the game is too big for Hackett. Even with another assistant coach added on the fly, he’s not making good decisions in key moments.

That won’t bode well when new ownership decides whether to bring back for a second year a coach they didn’t hire in the first place. The buyout is negligible, relative to the extreme wealth of the Walton-Penner Wal-Mart group. Frankly, if they were making the decision right now, it wouldn’t be a difficult one.

Over the next 12 games, Hackett’s primary challenge will be to change their minds. He has his work cut out for him.