Five key problems facing Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In the span of five weeks, Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett has, in some circles, gone from an innovator ready to shake up the status quo to a guy who could get shown the door early.

His team is 2-3 with a pile of penalties to its credit (44) and just six touchdowns from its offense. His nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback is struggling and the Broncos already seem to lead the league in nationally critiqued end-of-game meltdowns.

The team's faithful are surly and the injury list is long.

"Nobody ever told me this was going to be easy," Hackett has said. "Taking this job, you knew there were going to be some ups and downs. It's going to be a roller coaster. I think that's something that I've embraced ... I always want to get better and everything that I do. There is always going to be scrutiny. Whether you lose, when you win, when you tie, there's always going to be something that people are going to say you can do better, and I’m going to do everything I can to continue to get better."

Hackett might have inherited a few issues, but others are his own doing. Here are how the Broncos' -- and Hackett's -- biggest concerns rank at the moment:

5. Find some new math

Hackett has touted the benefits of analytics, but he has also sent kicker Brandon McManus out in Week 1 against Seattle to attempt a field-goal distance only two others in the NFL have ever made -- one in a dome and one in Denver.

McManus did not become the third.

And this past Thursday, Hackett opted not to try to convert a fourth-and-inches from the Indianapolis Colts' 5-yard line with more than two minutes remaining in overtime to then have four more chances to win the game.

Instead, quarterback Russell Wilson threw for the end zone. The pass was incomplete and the Broncos lost a game with time on the clock and a timeout in their pocket.

That's two of their three losses.

There's thinking, there's overthinking -- and then there's, what were you thinking? They've added veteran assistant Jerry Rosburg in the coaches' booth since the start of the season, but all involved should try to give their team the best chance to win.

4. Aches and pains

The Broncos' growing list of players on injured reserve is one of the big-ticket items Hackett can't do much about. Wide receiver Tim Patrick (knee), running back Javonte Williams (knee), cornerback Ronald Darby (knee) and left tackle Garett Bolles (lower leg) are already out for the season. Outside linebacker Randy Gregory (knee) and safety Justin Simmons (thigh) will have spent at least a month on IR before they return.

It's difficult to believe they can go the rest of the way without some additional names added to the list, but they have already had more than their share.

3. Really run the run game

A productive run game with play action passing is a hallmark of Mike Shanahan's scheme, which is the foundation of what Hackett has implemented in Denver. But the Broncos haven't blocked well enough up front to have the big plays in the run game Hackett covets and as a result as they also haven't gone to play action as much as they said they wanted to in the preseason.

Williams' injury won't help. The longest run by a running back thus far this season is 18 yards, the longest run overall is 19 yards by rookie wide receiver Montrell Washington and the Broncos have just two rushing touchdowns.

"It is just us," said running back Melvin Gordon III. "We just have to get in a rhythm. We have to stop making mistakes ... I know I can better and have to be."

Williams and Gordon each fumbled at the 1-yard line in the loss to the Seahawks, and Gordon had a fumble returned for a touchdown in a Week 4 loss to the Raiders.

Bolles' injury might force the Broncos to move toward some their two-tight end and two-back looks more to better manage the line of scrimmage. And that could improve their run tempo.

2. Where's Wilson?

This isn't what the Broncos had in mind when they traded away five draft picks and three players. Certainly there is plenty of the story still to be told in what becomes of this season, let alone how Wilson's tenure with the Broncos comes to be defined.

But an informal survey of several defensive coaches around the league over the last week revealed that most believe Wilson is simply trying to do too much -- to live up to everything he has said he will live up to.

Couple that with being asked to make quicker throws, from the pocket, in an offense that even the best QBs have struggled with early on, and you end up with the touchdown-starved affair facing the Broncos.

"Yeah, it's very simple, at the end of the day, I have to be better, I have to play better," Wilson said.

In the near term, this is all about better footwork, better decision-making and taking easier completions now to build toward big plays later.

Wilson seems to want to take everything in one bite. And if the partially torn muscle near his right shoulder hampers anything about his throwing motion, he needs to take a break and heal.

And if it doesn't hamper him, then he needs to play that way.

1. The point is points

The Broncos are wasting some of the best defensive efforts they've had in quite some time. They've surrendered six touchdowns -- just three passing -- all season, yet have little to show for it.

Denver has scored five points in the third quarter all season, and 16, 11 and 9 points in three home games, respectively.

With a battered offensive line that now must deal with the loss of its best player (Bolles) for the remainder of the year, Wilson is in the shotgun 11% more than under center this season.

They've surrendered 11 of their 16 sacks in the shotgun, including six in the last two games. Their play-action game is less effective, according to some defensive coaches they've faced, and the brighter spots on offense -- working the run game or putting Wilson in a bootleg -- usually aren't done with Wilson in the shotgun.

The offense is especially dismal on first downs, with 15 plays of second-and-7 or longer and 11 plays of second-and-10 or longer in the loss to the Colts.