Following the Denver Broncos disastrous 28-10 home defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team finds itself winless, listless and searching for answers. The revolving door at quarterback has returned to haunt the Broncos with Drew Lock’s shoulder injury forcing the team to turn next to Jeff Driskel, which was followed by Brett Rypien.
And it could lead to Blake Bortles starting on Thursday Night Football at MetLife Stadium.
Driskel’s inability to hold onto the starting job for even a full game was the result of poor decision-making, holding onto the ball for far too long, plus equal parts of woeful blocking upfront. In the seven quarters of play since Lock left the lineup, the Broncos backups have been sacked a total of 12 times — hardly a recipe for NFL success.
Most surprisingly, oft-maligned left tackle Garett Bolles has not been the root of the problems upfront, which comes as an encouraging development as he has produced some consistent performances to date. The interior of the offensive line, and the constant breakdowns of right tackle Elijah Wilkinson, has made playing QB for the Broncos a very hazardous endeavor indeed.
Prize free-agent acquisition Graham Glasgow was expected to forge a solid inside trio at right guard, with Dalton Risner at left guard, and rookie Lloyd Cushenberry at center, but so far all three, as well as Wilkinson, have struggled to gel. The Broncos surrendered six sacks on Sunday to the Bucs.
“I think a lot of it kind of comes down to team protection stuff and we need to, we just need to pass up off these games better, these twists, these stunts,” Glasgow said on Sunday following Week 3's loss. “We’ve had a tough couple of weeks here in regards to the amount of blitzes and the type of blitzes we’ve been getting.”
Committing to Cushenberry as a starter means relying on the inexperienced rookie to make line calls and also deal with a variety of blitz packages, as well as various twists and stunts. That task has been made all the more difficult with a lack of preseason snaps to more rigorously prepare. Glasgow didn’t hide from the brutal truth of the rookie's struggles, but suggested they all need to improve as a group.
“I mean, you know you can’t be too emotional about it and you got to try to help them out technique-wise and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him and we got to push through his together, it’s not just Lloyd,” Glasgow admitted. “I’ve had my fair share of misses and I can make his job a little bit easier at times and I’ve missed on that sometimes.”
The onus is firmly on the offensive line to improve on a short week as Broncos Country gets increasingly frustrated, voicing its displeasure at yet another season of poor play from the starting five. Glasgow prefers to look at Denver's current predicament as a glass half-full rather than the negative alternative.
“I know that we have a young group, and not just on the O-line, but on the offense as a whole,” Glasgow insisted. “I think that we are not where we can be. Frankly, that is a case for optimism, but at the same time, the reality of the situation is that we are underperforming and we’re underachieving and that’s something that we need to work through as a group and as an offense.”
In consecutive weeks the Broncos opponents have identified their weakness in pass protection and have ruthlessly exploited it. Until Denver can stop it, expect others to follow suit unless the Broncos can find some quick answers to their issues in pass protection.
“They [Bucs] were bringing a lot of people," head coach Vic Fangio said post-game. "Sometimes we weren’t on the right people. I think most of the time we were. We were either getting beat or we weren’t getting it out quick enough. It was a combination of everything. Until we solve that problem, teams are going to continue to pressure us down after down until we can make people pay for it.”
The inconsistencies upfront have already cost Denver its starting quarterback and could continue to see the team hemorrhage an alarming number of sacks. That is, unless something changes in a hurry.