SEATTLE — The Russell Wilson era is poised to begin.
After 15 games across the NFL slate, the Broncos will soon get their chance to take the field for Week 1 as they battle the Seattle Seahawks on "Monday Night Football."
Following one of the most exciting offseasons in franchise history, Wilson's long-awaited debut is close at hand — and it's hard to imagine a more compelling matchup as he returns to Seattle to face his former team.
Yet while Wilson's homecoming has generated many of the headlines, the Broncos have plenty more at stake as they look to start the season fast and take their first step toward a return to the postseason.
"It's the first game of the season, 'Monday Night Football,' that's exciting just on its own," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said Thursday. "Obviously, he is going back to where he came from [and it just] happens to be the first week. We knew this was going to happen at some point because it was on our schedule. We just have to go out and execute. It doesn't matter who or where or when — we have to execute."
When you push away the narratives and the talking points, that's what matters most: Can the Broncos find a way to get a win?
These are the questions that will help determine if Denver will help Hackett earn a win in his first game as head coach:
CAN THE BRONCOS' OFFENSE START FAST IN WEEK 1?
It's go time for the offense.
Denver's starting unit didn't take a snap in the preseason, but they'll look to get off to a hot start in Seattle and show the promise of Hackett's system.
The Broncos' new-look offense showed plenty of flashes in training camp, but Monday night will be the first chance to see the operation in game action.
Hackett and Wilson will have a bevy of options — whether it be Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Javonte Williams or a host of other skill players — to attack Seattle's talented defense. The biggest question will be whether the transition to game action is seamless or if there are kinks to work out in Week 1.
The good news for the Broncos? Wilson has a history of starting fast. The nine-time Pro Bowler has won three consecutive Week 1 games, and he's posted passer ratings of at least 130.0 in his last three openers.
Wilson's been similarly successful in prime time, as his winning percentage is the best in the league since 2012 among the 18 quarterbacks who have started at least 20 prime-time games.
Of course, Wilson and Co. will face some stiff competition on the other side of the ball.
"Looking primarily at the defense up to this point, they are a very good defensive football team," Hackett said Tuesday. "They have got some huge human beings up front, with a lot of experience. We all know Shelby [Harris]. Shelby is a really good player. [DT Al] Woods at the nose. He's a dominant player up in the middle there. Then just even in the back end, you look at [No.] 33 [SS Jamal Adams], he's a force. I've gone against him a couple times; he makes his presence known. So people are talking about that transition stuff, but from a defense perspective, they look really good right now."
Safety Quandre Diggs is also among the elite league's elite defensive players with whom the Broncos must contend.
If the Broncos play to their potential, though, this is a team that could put up some points. Between Williams and Melvin Gordon III pounding the ball on the ground and the team's wideouts making plays through the air, the Broncos have plenty of weapons.
For the first time in a game, they'll look to use them.
WILL DENVER SLOW SEATTLE'S RUSHING ATTACK?
The Broncos know they're going to be tested on the ground.
Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero said his familiarity with Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll suggests Seattle will "definitely" try to establish their run game early.
A year ago, the Broncos weren't quite good enough in that area of the game. Denver ranked 15th in the league against the run, but the team was unable to get stops in the four-minute drill in several key losses last season. The addition of D.J. Jones in the middle of the defensive front should help shore up the unit, but the Broncos will still face a tough challenge.
"I think it's just the whole defensive scheme, the whole mindset we have of wanting to stop the run," Hackett said Thursday. "They are going to have to stop the run. It's a challenge for them to be able to stop No. 20 [RB Rashaad Penny]. That whole offensive line, they are a very good run-blocking offensive line and very well coached. So, we just have to step up to that challenge, because we know that's what they're going to do."
Hackett described Penny as a "downhill runner" who has "a little shift to him," and the former first-round pick rushed for a career-high 749 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games last season. Seattle could also feature 2022 second-round pick Kenneth Walker III, though the rookie did not practice this week and is listed as questionable.
That task of stopping either back will be more difficult without inside linebacker Josey Jewell, who is one of the team's better run stoppers. Jewell was downgraded to out on Sunday with a calf injury, and Denver is expected rely on Alex Singleton to fill the void alongside Jonas Griffith.
The Seahawks' plan of attack will likely be to try to find success on the ground to chew up clock and then look to quarterback Geno Smith to play mistake-free football. If Seattle stays ahead of the chains and creates short third-down opportunities via the run game, it could be tough for the Broncos to force the Seahawks off the field.
But if the Broncos can find success against the run and put Seattle in third-and-longs, it should play into the strength of a Denver defense that is built on its pass rush and secondary play. Of course, if the Broncos can jump ahead, that only increases the effectiveness of this strategy.
CAN THE BRONCOS SILENCE LUMEN FIELD?
Bring your earplugs.
That was Hackett's advice ahead of the Broncos' trip to Seattle to play in one of the league's loudest stadiums.
The Broncos worked with simulated crowd noise during the week of practice, but Hackett noted that it's impossible to fully replicate.
"It's loud and it's annoying," Hackett said of the artificial crowd noise the Broncos used to prepare. "You get to hear a bunch of boos, so you get used to that. But besides that, I don't think anything is like a real game, especially at a place like that. You can't — unless we put earphones on everybody and just turn it up even louder, I don't think you're ever going to get that. We tried our best to make it as loud and uncomfortable as possible as we could for those guys."
The Broncos have worked on a silent count that they'll likely need to use, and it will be a good test of the team's communication. Denver's offense seemed to limit pre-snap penalties and broken plays during training camp, but that will be critical as the Broncos try to earn a road win.
For the Broncos to find success, they'll need to withstand the noise — and they could be well-served to limit it early. If the Broncos can jump out to an early lead, it may quiet the crowd and limit its impact on the result. A close game, though, will only whip the crowd into a frenzy in the late moments of the fourth quarter. The quicker the Broncos can silence the crowd — and then use that relative silence to their advantage — the better.
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