It’s been accountability week for Coach Hackett as he’s spent most of his daily pressers still answering for the poor game management against the Texans – which had followed terrible decision making against the Seahawks.
And since that was two games in a row where his inexperience managing the entire process came to the forefront – as well as national sports TV talk – the coach began acknowledging midweek some changes could be made.
“That’s something that we really jumped into and wanted to make sure that we can get better at that. That starts with me, and I’m doing every single thing I can to try to put myself in a position to be able to make quicker, faster [and] more efficient decisions,” Hackett said on Wednesday, noting that he had met with GM George Paton as well as assistant GM Darren Mougey. “All those guys have been absolutely spectacular in helping me through that process because that is something that is new for me. I think we’re going to have some good answers as we move forward.”
Those answers came Saturday with the announcement that Hackett was hiring former Ravens’ assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg as a senior assistant to help with game day decisions.
Following series of game management issues in win vs HOU, Hackett went to work, calling around to bring in experienced resources. By Wednesday, Rosburg was at the facility talking role. Most notably was STcoord/asst HC for Ravens 2008-18. Helped Harbaugh w/game management. #9sports
— Mike Klis (@mikeklis) September 24, 2022
A very well-coached 49ers team is coming to town for Denver’s second prime time game in three weeks, and the coaching could very well be the difference in the outcome.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan is widely considered one of the offensive masterminds of the NFL so even though the Broncos easily have the QB advantage Sunday night, the Broncos’ coaching liability could be a problem.
But Hackett is committed to improving.
“Every day we get better. We always feel like we’re always growing,” he said on Friday. “We’re always getting better, both me and Russell [Wilson], Russell to the team, how we operate and everything. We just have to keep getting better.”
And they’ll have to do it quickly because the Niners are coming in with a highly competent offense that’s about to have George Kittle back as well as the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense.
With Jimmy Garoppolo firmly at the helm, the Niners will capitalize on their ace wideout Deebo Samuel who often doubles as a running back.
“First and foremost, they are unbelievably well coached. They know how to run off the ball and be able to be aggressive down the field at the same time with their run blocking,” Hackett said. “They are trying to get across the line of scrimmage, both in their inside zone and their outside zone. Then you add in all the different groupings, formations, shifts, motions, Deebo is in the backfield, all kinds of different people are in the backfield. I think they cause consternation, as we like to say, along with that they execute at a high level and they are very well coached.”
But the Broncos defense is no slouch of a unit.
Coming in as the NFL’s fifth best defense against the run and pass, but tied with the Niners at third for points allowed, the Broncos have the means to stop Jimmy Garoppolo and his myriad of weapons.
Bradley Chubb believes Garoppolo provides some stability for the 49ers offense and recognizes what he and Randy Gregory need to do as pass rushers to avoid Jimmy G connecting with Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk.
“He’s into that quick three-step, get the ball out, and then hit the receivers where he wants to hit him,” Chubb said this week. “We just have to do a good job on the front seven of getting our hands up when he does those quick passes. When our time and opportunities present themselves, we just have to make sure we get after them.”
It would be great if that were the only major challenge, but tight end George Kittle looks to be back for Sunday and he could be a huge problem, especially as the Broncos’ defense is nursing several players back to health.
Justin Simmons remains on IR; Pat Surtain is day-to-day but likely to play after a minor shoulder injury last week against the Texans, and Josey Jewell is still a question mark.
But the last time these two teams faced off in 2018, Kittle torched the Broncos D for over 200 yards. It was ugly.
“Kittle, he’s a beast,” Hackett said. “He’s one of those guys you just have to understand that he’s going to get his catches. It’s about the run after the catch. We got to make sure that we tackle really well on him.”
Despite these concerns for the Broncos defense, the biggest question might be whether the Broncos’ offense can avoid being stymied by the Niners D, which boasts the NFL’s No. 1 overall defense.
Fortunately for the Broncos, Russell Wilson has been very successful against the 49ers as a Seahawk, owning a 16-4 record against them.
And even in his first two games with Denver – in spite of his head coach – Wilson has been able to move the ball pretty well. Just not in the red zone.
But in the middle of the 20s, Wilson averaged 6.1 yards per play.
So Wilson, Courtland Sutton, Javonte Williams and the rest of the offense – including and especially Coach Hackett – need to bring their “A games” if they don’t want to get blown out at home on Sunday Night Football.
“Yeah, this football team that we’re about to play in the 49ers, they play great football. They’re championship pedigree,” said Wilson. “[Shanahan] is a brilliant mind. I think also when we talk about their leadership, you have a guy like that [49ers LB Fred] Warner in the middle of the defense that’s just flying around, making so many plays…. Obviously, you have [49ers DE Nick] Bosa coming off the edge. He’s a monster off the edge. …You cherish the moments of playing against some all-time greats, and they definitely have those guys.”
The success of the offense will no doubt start with the offensive line keeping Bosa from getting to the QB.
“Bosa, he’s obviously a very good football player. His engine is unbelievable. You could put all kinds of people on him, but he’s still going to fight through everything,” Hackett said. “You just have to slow those guys down, you have to make them think and you have to make sure that they know they can’t tee off on one guy, so we will do everything we can to be able to help that out. “
Broncos’ offensive coordinator Justin Outten joked that he hoped Bosa would have some wardrobe issues to make him come off the field for a few plays.
“Yeah, I’m hoping a shoelace breaks a couple of times in that game or he has to come out a few times, but he’s a game wrecker,” Outten said. “You have to account for him and you have to know where he is. They do a great job of flipping him around, especially in situational football.”
And then there’s the Niners’ linebackers.
“All three backers are unbelievable. They are very good football players,” Hackett noted. “’54’ (49ers LB Fred Warner), we all know how amazing he is. He is a physical player that plays downhill, understands his system and when those guys have been in the same system this long—any time you can have a group of players be within that, they get to play more, their athleticism, their ability starts showing even more. You see that with that group. Then you add in that they have played [QB] Russell [Wilson] a lot, so they know that there are a lot of things that he does. That’s definitely an advantage for them, but it’s something that we know they have that advantage, so we have to try and reverse it back on them. They are a very good group.”
It will be even more important this week to get that running game going behind Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams – something the coach says is always the goal.
“I kind of look at the offense as a whole and it’s been very efficient. The guys have executed at a high level,” Hackett said, adding he was impressed with the running backs. “I just love how they are running off the ball. I love how they are executing the run game, they are completing the ball down the field, we’re utilizing the play-pass and we’re utilizing the keepers. All those things have been very good to sustain those drives. Now, it’s just about finishing.”
No matter what, Sunday night is going to be a huge test for Hackett and his Broncos team that has so far been underwhelmed from all the preseason hype.
But a good challenge is also a great opportunity.
“Oh without a doubt. You want to play the best teams all the time to always continuously push yourself. If you want to be successful in this league, you’re going to have to beat the best in the league. So, it definitely gives you a gauge on where you are, how the guys compete, how they respond, especially in primetime because if you get to that next step, it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. I think it’s a great learning experience and a great opportunity for everybody.”
And luckily the game is at home so the fans can help when needed. Outten is even ready for them to help if it comes to that.
“I love how passionate our fans are, I really do. That tells you right there that they are helping in a situation. You can take it sarcastic or whatever it may be, but just to show the passion, how much they love this game and how much they love the Broncos, that’s very encouraging and we are going to make them proud.”
And when asked if he would like the fans to keep helping?
“Hopefully, we won’t have that issue but if it comes up, it might as well.”