ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In Denver’s 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 13, Nathaniel Hackett knew it was time to give up play calling.

That wasn’t just Denver’s sixth loss of the season, but it was the seventh game the Broncos scored under 20 points in their first nine.

“When we were in the Tennessee game, I just didn’t feel right,” the head coach said on Monday. “That’s why I really kind of put my foot down and decided to kind of move it over to Klint [Kubiak].”

Instead of passing play calling duties to his offensive coordinator — which would have followed the natural hierarchy of the coaching staff — Hackett decided to jump Justin Outten and turn over the duties to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak.

There were two reasons why Hackett decided to give play calling to Kubiak instead of Outten.

“I have full confidence in a lot of guys on our staff. With Klint, it was just more about his relationship because he’s been with Russell in that room nonstop. And he’s also called plays before,” Hackett explained on Tuesday. “I think Justin can definitely call plays in this league and wanted him to be right next to Russell because he’s got a good relationship with him too and to be able to talk him through all of the pictures. I thought that was the best chance we had.”

During the game, Kubiak is in the coaches box with a birds-eye view of the field, while communicating with Russell on the field. When Denver’s defense is on the field, Outten is on the sideline with Russell discussing adjustments.

Last season, Kubiak was the Vikings’ play caller, helping guide Minnesota to 25 points per game, which was the 14th-most in the NFL. As Wilson’s quarterback coach in Denver, no one has spent more time with Wilson than Kubiak.

Despite only putting up 16 points in Kubiak’s first game as the play caller on Sunday against the Raiders, Hackett is going to keep Klint the play caller for at least another week. Wilson’s approval of the job Kubiak did couldn’t have hurt that decision.

“Up to this point, it seems like it went great,” Hackett said, when asked about how Wilson felt about Sunday’s play calling. “Every single thing that we’ve talked about — the discussions, the talks, talked with Justin and Klint quite a bit — Russell, he’s so positive, it seemed like he was in a good place. That’s all we need. We want him to be in a good place so we can go out and execute.”

Entering Week 10, under Hackett’s play calling, Wilson’s 57.4 completion percentage ranked 34th in the NFL. In his first game with Kubiak as the play caller, Wilson’s completion percentage skyrocketed to 77.4. Hackett was pleased with the rhythm Wilson was able to get into against the Raiders.

“He definitely was doing a really good job at the beginning there, even on the first play, they brought a corner [blitz], he had to flush out of the pocket and get one to [Greg] Dulcich for a 15-yard gain. So I thought he was feeling really comfortable,” Hackett added. “I give credit to all of the offensive staff for coming together and getting a good plan.”

Although the final result of 16 points against the Raiders was more of the same, Hackett saw enough promise to keep Kubiak — not himself or the offensive coordinator — the play caller for at least another game.


Zac Stevens was born and raised in Denver, went to the University of Denver and now covers the Denver Broncos. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from DU in 2014, Zac worked for the Cleveland Browns as a remote scout. He then jumped straight into the journalism industry at the beginning of 2016 covering the reigning world-champion Broncos and joined DNVR soon after. Catch him on Twitter @ZacStevensDNVR and daily on the DNVR Broncos podcast as the co-host.