There are plenty of handy excuses for the inconsistencies along the Broncos’ offensive line this season, but Dalton Risner won’t validate any of them.
“As an offensive line you wish that you could have five guys for the whole season to be able to block next to each other and gel, but that’s not how this game works,” the Broncos left guard said.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces with the game of football, especially with us this season on the offensive line. We’ve got to continue to work through that. There are no excuses.”
Denver has allowed 21 sacks this season, ranking 21st in the league, and is 16th in rushing yards per game at 111.6. For select quarters on a handful of plays, the unit has given quarterback Drew Lock (and his backups) time in the pocket, and cleared holes up front for tailbacks Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. But there has been little consistency.
Too often the Broncos are losing the battle of the trenches, as was the case Sunday when Denver fell behind early and never caught up in a 34-27 loss in Atlanta.
“We’ve got to be able to be the better offensive line out there whenever we’re going against the defensive line,” Risner said. “We didn’t do that last weekend, and we’ve got to do that against the Raiders this week.”
Despite a Hall of Famer leading the group in offensive line coach Mike Munchak — who also missed a week of practice and the Week 8 game against the Chargers after being placed in the league’s COVID-19 protocols — that superiority has been hard to come by. COVID-19 and injuries have led to juggling the startling five.
The unit’s projected starting right tackle entering 2020, Ja’Wuan James, opted out. Elijah Wilkinson took his place, but suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 3. Demar Dotson then took Wilkinson’s place, and when Dotson exited the Atlanta game with a hip injury, Jake Rodgers played for Dotson.
There’s been irregularities beyond right tackle, too. Risner suffered a shoulder injury early in the New England game in Week 5 and was spelled by Austin Schlottmann. Right guard Graham Glasgow missed the past two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for the virus, and Schlottmann played for him.
The only every-down consistencies on the line this season have been left tackle Garett Bolles and rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry, neither of whom have missed a snap. Bolles has started all 56 games of his four-year career.
One play that epitomized the offensive line’s glaring error-prone tendencies and communication issues was Lock’s interception against the Falcons in the fourth quarter. On the pick, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett came untouched up the middle to immediately pressure Lock into a poor throw, which was nabbed by cornerback Ricardo Allen.
“There needs to be better communication (on that play),” Risner said. “You’ve got a rookie at center, and you could easily point a finger at me and say, ‘Dalton, as a second-year guy and as a guy that says he’s a leader of the offensive line, why don’t you have your guys on the same page?’ That’s how the game works and that could easily be put on me. It (upsets) me watching film because when I see that, (I’m like), ‘Are you kidding me?’ That was one play of the game, and there were multiple plays like that, that we just can’t have and are unacceptable.”
Glasgow is expected to return off the COVID/reserve list for Sunday’s game in Las Vegas, while coach Vic Fangio said he’s unsure if Dotson will be available to play against the Raiders.
Footnotes. Denver officially placed rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (right ACL injury) on injured reserve on Tuesday. The Broncos also claimed cornerback De’Vante Bausby off waivers from the Cardinals. Bausby, 27, was released Oct. 24 after playing four games with the Broncos this year and five (two starts) in 2019. Bausby has a roster exemption as he goes through COVID screening, so he doesn’t yet count toward the 53-man limit.