The Game on the Line

Changes were made to the Broncos' offensive line in hopes of providing a spark to the beleaguered unit. How did they face up against Oakland?

The Denver Broncos have had seven different starting offensive linemen this season. Sunday against the Oakland Raiders saw them field LT Ryan Clady, LG Orlando Franklin, newcomer C Will Montgomery, RG Manny Ramirez, and RT Louis Vasquez. I watched the entirety of the contest to bring my scouting report on the performance of the line.

It was a solid performance all around from the offensive line. Although it certainly wasn’t outstanding (MHH Analyst Erick Trickel distributed a B+, D+, D, D and D- to the starting linemen in his weekly grading article), it was one of their better complete games of the season. Here are my thoughts on each individual lineman, followed by some key plays that show where the line can be improved.

I haven’t provided play diagrams for one simple reason – I think the play of the line needs to stand for itself.

LT Ryan Clady (#78):

Clady didn’t have a great game. He went up against rookie sensation Khalil Mack most of the day, and while he didn’t surrender any sacks, did have his hands full.

LG Orlando Franklin (#74):

Big O’s tired.

I don’t mean physically, I mean mentally. The fight has gone out of him. It seems as if he’s given up. The Broncos have gone to a subpar journeyman, hobbled first-year and All-Pro guard at right tackle before apparently even thinking about using Franklin at the position he excelled at yesteryear. He’s discouraged and lost the mental game. And he’s losing the on-field contest.

Against the Raiders, he had struggles with bullrushes. Rookie 3rd-round pick NT Justin Ellis dominated him and stood him up consistently at the point of attack. Franklin was often blown off the line.

Franklin is a major liability moving forward.

C Will Montgomery (#64):

For making his first start, Montgomery played very well. In fact, he was far and away the best lineman for the Broncos. He played smart, checking double-teams or delay blitzes well. Firmly entrenched as a starter on this squad.

RG Manny Ramirez (#66):

Ramirez surrendered easy pressures too fast.

When double-teaming defenders, Ramirez is extremely effective. He throws shoulders in well and really knocks defenders around. However, he loses ground often one-on-one and fails to communicate passing rushers.

RT Louis Vasquez (#65):

Vasquez did a great job of hand-fighting with rushers. The Broncos’ scheme gave him help with chips from RBs and TEs. That was pretty much sufficient for him. The first pressure I saw from Vasquez’s side was on a pass that took Manning 3.36 seconds to get out. Another saw Clady and Vasquez allow pressure on a pass that took 3.64 seconds to release. Vasquez did a good job of clearing speed to the back.

And now, here are a few key plays.

The Broncos go with an unbalanced line – but Ryan Clady promptly misses his assignment.

Clady does good job keeping Khalil Mack at arm’s length and not surrendering any separation. Countless times, he allowed real estate, but was able to re-set his base and get Mack under control.

If I had to pick one play that sums up the differences between Montgomery and Ramirez at center, it would easily be this one. Montgomery stays home to pick up the delay blitz from the LB standing in the A gap. Ramirez lets Pat Sims through on what is actually a very nice spin move…but allows him through nonetheless.

The best play of the day (C.J. Anderson’s TD) nearly didn’t happen. Franklin just loses Antonio Smith right off the bat. Smith has a free lane at the QB and Manning is forced to take the outlet checkdown. Anderson does the rest.

Franklin makes an absolutely mystifying read on a pull. He doesn’t square on LB Miles Burris, instead taking the (already blocked) contain man and allows the ‘backer in the hole to make the tackle on Juwan Thompson for minimal gain.

Of note: the intentional grounding penalty on Manning was a bad blitz pickup by C.J. Anderson and doesn’t fall into the offensive line category.

Moving forward, here’s what needs to happen for the Broncos to have success on the line. They simply need at least an average starting G. If they use Montgomery to double-team with the LG, the RG loses ground, and vice versa. If they can insert a starter who can hold his own, the chemistry of the line will flow together better.

Of the two guards, Franklin needs to be benched, which is something I’ve been calling for since early October when Denver faced the Arizona Cardinals. Franklin has combined poor performance with dumb moves on the field, translating to 7 penalties. Ramirez is safe simply because he is the lesser of two evils. He also has more of a mean streak than Franklin, who lacks aggressiveness. Franklin is in a contract year and just isn’t cutting it right now. The Broncos really need to assess their options and see what else they have at LG, because Franklin should not be on the field right now. Clady, Montgomery and Vasquez are safe, however.

The Broncos face the extremely strong St. Louis Rams' DL on Sunday, including standout rookie DT Aaron Donald. It's safe to say that the big Bronco boys will need to bring their A-game against the Monsters of Missouri.

Lucas Polglaze is the Editor-in-Chief for Mile High Huddle. Find him on Google +, Twitter, and Facebook.

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