Just one day after the Denver Broncos made one of the most important trades in team history, former Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Shanahan had some strong words for Sean Payton.
“EIU Panther, that’s all you need to say! He will be able to adjust his offense and defense to the talents of his players! I believe he’s a natural leader as well. That’s already been proven,” per Mike Klis of 9News in Denver who spoke to Shanahan after the Broncos traded for Payton.
Shanahan played quarterback at Eastern Illinois University in the early 1970s before turning his attention to coaching.
After winning a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, Shanahan led the Broncos to two Super Bowl victories as their head coach.
Before winning a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, Payton on the other hand played quarterback at EIU from 1983-1986 where he held passing records that were eventually broken by former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Payton still holds the school record for the most passing yards in a single game with 509.
Payton Knows How to Fix the Denver Offense
The 2022 season was one of the worst offensive seasons the Broncos have ever had.
Denver ranked last in the NFL in scoring at 16.9 points per game. This all came after the Broncos traded for Russell Wilson and hired Nathaniel Hackett.
Last season, the Broncos went through three different play callers trying to fix the offense, but nothing seemed to work.
Wilson had career lows in completion percentage and touchdowns thrown.
With one of the most talented wide receiving corps in the NFL, Payton should be able to reboot the offense and turn it into one of the best offenses in the league in 2023.
After the Broncos started the season off with a 2-2 overall record, Payton jumped on “The Herd With Colin Cowherd” in October and explained that Wilson can be fixed.
“You correct flaws immediately, and then we don’t worry about how long the process is going to take,” Payton said. “In other words, I’d want a cut-up today of all of Russell’s pass plays of 30 or more yards from the field and I’d want to see, ‘Are there some schemes that he felt very comfortable with?’”
Payton also mentioned that he would like to see what Wilson did successful in Seattle.
“I know that they did a great job in Seattle of bringing him off of a naked-boot and then pulling up,” Payton said. “And then we all saw that throwback to [Tyler] Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air.”
Payton would also want to see the touchdowns that Wilson has thrown in the red zone.
“I’d want to look at another film of his red zone touchdown passes inside the 20,” Payton said. “What I’m asking for from assistants is, I’m asking for some of his greatest hits, and to make sure that we have those song lyrics available, and if not, let’s put them in.”
As the season ended with Wilson playing well, there was proof that after all the injuries, getting to a more creative play caller, and an improved offensive line, there is hope that Wilson can play like he did in Seattle.
During his 15 years calling plays in New Orleans, Payton owned 12 top-10 scoring offenses in the NFL and never had an offense rank worse than 20th.
What’s Payton’s Plan on Defense?
With Payton being hired as Denver’s new head coach, he’ll assemble his own coaching staff and it could look different than what we’ve seen after the 2022 season.
Payton will be calling the plays on offense, but now the question will become, who is going to call the plays on defense?
The Broncos currently have defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero under contract for the 2023 season, but there’s a chance that Payton could want someone else.
In 2022, Evero called plays for the first time in his NFL coaching career and had the defense playing at an elite level all season until Christmas day.
Denver gave up 51 points to the Los Angeles Rams, quarterbacked by Baker Mayfield.
Through the first 12 games of the season, Evero had his defense giving up an average of 17 points per game. In the final five games, Evero’s defense gave up an average of 31 points per game.
It’s unclear if Evero would want to remain in Denver if offered the position because of how loyal he is to his friend Hackett.
According to Michael Silver, Payton could look to bring in former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio to be his defensive coordinator.
During Colin Cowherd’s “The Volume” podcast on January 31, Cowherd explained that we’ll likely see a new defensive coordinator for Denver within the next 72 hours.
“There’s a couple of names out there that have been connected to jobs that aren’t official. This could end up being a really really strong staff.”
Fangio was expected to be hired as the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, but that wasn’t the case quite yet.
The Saints also parted ways with co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach, Kris Richard, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport.
Richard worked under Payton for one season in 2021 and remained with the team under head coach Dennis Allen in 2022.
Payton will need to put an all-star coaching staff together if he wants to get the Broncos back to the playoffs for the first time since Super Bowl 50 in 2016.