Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

Denver's Season Aspirations Depend On The Offensive Line

With C.J. Anderson likely to miss extended time, the onus is on Denver's O-line to raise their level of play and find consistency.

Good offensive line play, or lack thereof, is a problem that is being felt by many teams around the league. The Denver Broncos haven’t been immune from the collective decline, as the team has endured its own struggles in the trenches, especially in the two games leading up to their Week 7 victory over the Houston Texans.

In the losses to Atlanta and San Diego, fans would see a myriad of O-line problems ranging from poor execution in the run game, to getting flagged for several bad penalties that set the offense back and even took points off the board, while putting more pressure on the arm of Trevor Siemian. Factoring in the injuries to key players like right tackle Donald Stephenson, which forced backup players into service, the Broncos had the makings of an O-line unable to put its best foot forward.

Practice and persistence make perfect, however. The offensive line performed at a much higher level in front a national audience on Monday night. Both running backs — C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker — found substantial holes to run through, setting the tone for an improved offense.

Anderson and Booker both scored rushing touchdowns and accounted for 190 yards on the ground in a will-imposing, methodical effort that was a welcome sight for Broncos fans.

On Monday, Coach Gary Kubiak shared his observations on how his O-line performed.

“As I said last night after the game, the thing that’s exciting is I think we played some complete football," Kubiak said. "Obviously, we still made a lot of mistakes and nothing is perfect, but to protect the ball the way we did, to win the line of scrimmage, to play good red zone offense, so a lot of things that have kind of been a nemesis for us. We still had some penalties, but we did overcome penalties better. I think the consistency of what took place, hopefully we can grow from that.”

The biggest shortcomings on the O-line of late have been holding penalties and false starts. In the loss to San Diego, holding calls nullified two crucial plays that pumped the brakes on any kind of momentum swing the team needed to get back into it late in the game. Coach Kubiak put his finger on the problem, pointing to a league-wide issue. “We have to worry about ours, but I think it’s going on around the league," Kubiak said. "I think there are a lot of calls going on. You can look at the overall number of calls going on in a game week in and week out. We have to go address ours. I think they’re dead on on a few of them. We’re going to argue about a few of them. We do that all the time. The early ones really hurt us because we had two big third down conversions. We were ready to go do something and we go right back to third and long. I liked our poise overcoming them.”

The starting five opened against the Texans on the wrong foot again with two more holding calls that brought back two first-down conversions — a long Demaryius Thomas catch and and Devontae Booker run — both called on left tackle Russell Okung. However, the unit played better as the game wore on and were instrumental in the team grinding Houston down for the win. Coach Kubiak would highlight his O-line's push to overcome early adversity.

“We kind of challenged our team, not just them," he said. "We talked about having a bunch of penalties the week before. We had some big plays called back and we got off to a rough start last night with them. I remember [Offensive Line Coach] Clancy [Barone] getting after them last night, ‘keep playing, just keep playing. We’ll work ourselves out of this. He was just trying to be positive working ourselves out of it and I think we did a good job of that. Being committed to the run, staying involved and staying committed to what we were doing, I think really helped them play better.”

Its frustrating for everyone, teammates and fans included, when a specific unit, like the offensive line, is seemingly holding back the team from performing at a high level. What is encouraging though, is that the line has taken up the challenge and improved its play from the loss at San Diego.

With the Bolts coming back into town with their No. 8 rushing defense, and the news that C.J. Anderson will most likely miss the game, it’ll be imperative that the big men up front continue to trend upward if the Broncos hope to get a win Sunday afternoon and continue to push for Conference supremacy. 

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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