Broncos’ deficiencies in the trenches big part of skid
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos are hurting in the trenches, where they lost their best offensive lineman, guard Ronald Leary, to a season-ending torn Achilles and are the first team in NFL history to allow back-to-back 200-yard rushers.
The Broncos (2-4) have allowed 593 yards on the ground in their last two games, leading general manager John Elway to say Monday on his weekly radio show on Orange & Blue 760 that they’ve gotten “very soft in there.”
“That is a big, big concern right now and we’ve got to figure out how to get that solved,” Elway said.
Elway said he’s looking for a roster replacement for Leary, who got hurt in the second half of Denver’s 23-20 loss to the Rams on Sunday and was replaced by Max Garcia, who began the game as Connor McGovern’s replacement at right guard.
With a game Thursday at Arizona (1-5), Elway said whoever comes in won’t be someone who can provide immediate help.
“Big loss for us,” coach Vance Joseph said in announcing Leary’s loss. “Great leader. Great player.”
Joseph insisted he has “great depth” at O-line and said rookie interior lineman Sam Jones will be dressing on game day.
A day after lamenting two holding calls, one on Garcia and another on left tackle Garett Bolles, that pushed the Broncos out of field goal range, Joseph grew testy when asked why the team’s 2017 first-round draft pick hasn’t made the expected jump in Year 2.
Bolles has been whistled an NFL-high six times for holding so far after leading the league with 10 flags last year despite a big effort by the Broncos to help him iron out the wrinkles in his game.
In addition to moving the savvy Leary back to his natural position on the left side, where he made the line calls and helped out Bolles, the Broncos moved Bolles up closer to the line of scrimmage in his sets to help him better use his athleticism and leverage.
They also hired two offensive line coaches, Chris Strausser to work with the tackles and Sean Kugler to focus on the guards and centers.
Still, Bolles continues to hold and allow pressure on quarterback Case Keenum, who has been sacked 15 times and thrown eight interceptions to go with seven touchdown passes.
“Well, I thought Garett Bolles’ penalty was a bad call,” Joseph said. “I thought it was a bad call. The kid flopped on him. It’s plain as day. So, he is getting better. He’s getting coached. He wants to get better. But his call was a bad call.”
What about the other five?
“The previous ones weren’t, OK?” Joseph said. “But, listen, he’s fighting for his life every Sunday, OK? He’s blocking the best guys in the league as far as the rushers and sometimes you grab a guy, you pull a guy. But with experience he will play cleaner but the call Sunday was a bad call. That’s all I can say about that.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s heavy use of three-wide receiver sets that spread the formation and the lack of more run plays for rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay despite their combined 5.19 average per carry also haven’t helped Bolles settle in.
The Broncos don’t have much depth behind Bolles nor do they have a viable option for cornerback Bradley Roby, another first-rounder who is struggling this season.
Other than Von Miller, whom he picked second overall in 2011, none of Elway’s other first-round picks have made the Pro Bowl, a streak that figures to end with the selection of this year’s No. 5 overall pick, Bradley Chubb, who had a breakout game against Los Angeles with three sacks of Jared Goff.
Sylvester Williams (2013) didn’t get a fifth year or a second contract. Roby (2014) has flopped in his first season as a starter this year, and Shane Ray (2015) has been plagued by injuries, limiting his production. Paxton Lynch (2016) was cut last summer after starting just four games in two seasons.
Elway said Monday there’s no “magic switch” to fix all that ails the Broncos, who are seeking to avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72.
“Once you get into the season there’s not a lot of fixes to it and the only fix is we continue to work hard and get better and have the coaches get better and have the players play better,” Elway said on Orange & Blue 760.
Elway suggested the Broncos must realize that “we’re fighting for our lives” Thursday night against the Cardinals.
Asked if he interpreted that as fighting for his job, Joseph said, “Absolutely. And that’s every coach in this league every week. If you don’t feel that way, you’re missing something. If we were 5-1, I would feel that way. That doesn’t motivate me. I’m already motivated to win games and to fix our football team.”
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