Broncos Draw a Thin Line

The Denver Broncos have a growing weakness that the Vikings could try to exploit with injuries and position shuffling on the offensive line cutting into the Broncos' production.

In the past two weeks, the Denver Broncos have been able to add offensive line to the list of things that has ailed the team.

In the last two weeks, Denver hasn't had a 100-yard rusher and has allowed nine sacks. Quarterback Jay Cutler hurt his knee against San Diego, a game in which he got sacked four times, and will limp his way into the season finale against Minnesota this week. The Broncos won't have it easy against a talented front seven that has helped the Vikings defense to the NFL lead in rushing defense and is tied for eighth in the NFL with 37 sacks.

"Hopefully we can turn it around and protect Jay better," left tackle Matt Lepsis said. "You never want to see your quarterback on his butt that many times."

Denver usually hasn't had much change on the offensive line from year to year, but this season was an exception. Of the five players who started on the line at the end of last season, none remain in the same spot a year later.

A season-ending knee injury to Lepsis started the changes. Erik Pears was inserted into the lineup at left tackle, and the Broncos decided to keep Pears in the lineup when Lepsis returned. Pears was moved from left tackle to right tackle and underachieving former first-round pick George Foster was traded to Detroit.

In the offseason, the Broncos let right guard Cooper Carlisle leave for Oakland, and signed former Saint Montrae Holland to replace him.

The line never got a chance to mesh. Guard Ben Hamilton suffered a concussion early in training camp, and he never came back. Post-concussion symptoms landed him on injured reserve. Chris Myers, a first-time starter, took his spot.

Myers moved to center when Tom Nalen suffered a season-ending injury. Another first-year starter, Chris Kuper, took Myers' spot at guard.

The youth and the shakeups have made life more difficult for the offensive line.

"I definitely think it was a big challenge, with all of the big injuries that happened," Myers said. "No one has been overwhelmed or stressed out about it, they just look at it as their opportunity."

The line still had moments when it looked good, such as a 41-7 win against Kansas City on Dec. 9, in which the running game clicked and Cutler had time to throw. Since then, the offense has scored 16 points in two games.

Cutler has been hit way too often and there have been few holes for running backs Selvin Young and Travis Henry.

Youth obviously plays into the inconsistency, but that doesn't make it more palatable.

"One game we'll have no sacks, and then the next game we'll give up four," Myers said. "We've got to be more consistent. Next week against Minnesota, that's our last chance to make a statement."

SERIES HISTORY: 12th meeting. Vikings lead the series, 7-4, against the Broncos. In the series, 10 of the first 11 meetings were decided by eight points or less. This will be Minnesota's first visit to Invesco Field at Mile High, leaving Tampa Bay and Dallas as the only teams that haven't played in Denver's stadium.

NOTES

  • The Broncos weren't thrilled that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers came off the sideline to talk trash to Denver quarterback Jay Cutler after the Broncos were stopped on a fourth down in Monday night's game. Cutler hasn't talked specifically about what was said.

    "They talked a lot of stuff and it got heated between the two teams," Cutler said. "Personally, I don't think the teams like each other, which is fine. It's just going to add to it later next year and the year after that."

  • Safety John Lynch was awarded the first annual Good Guy Award for dealing with the media, which was an honor to him because the award is named after Darrent Williams. Williams, a cornerback, was shot and killed on Jan. 1.

    "I was very fond of this young man," Lynch said. "To win an award in his name is nice."

  • At the end of a long season, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has maintained his humor. After Denver cut Paul Ernster, leaving the team without a punter on the roster, Shanahan had an idea who could punt in the season finale.

    "Me," Shanahan joked. "That's the game plan going in."

    The Broncos were planning to work out punters Thursday and sign one. Jason Elam would punt if none of the punters are signed.

  • S Roderick Rogers made his NFL debut against San Diego. He was signed off the practice squad and will get a chance to make an impression on special teams to close out the season.

  • LB Jamie Winborn made some plays against San Diego in his first start for the Broncos. He will get a lot of consideration for a starting spot this offseason.

  • WR Glenn Martinez had a 35-yard kickoff return against the Chargers. Andre Hall and Martinez have given the Broncos some spark in the return game that was lacking early in the season.

  • LB D.J. Williams has 133 tackles this season, which leads the AFC. Williams is still learning the nuances of playing middle linebacker, but he has had a solid season.

  • DE Tim Crowder had a half of a sack against San Diego. With a full offseason to get healthy and ready for his second NFL season, Crowder should be a productive end for the Broncos in 2008.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 17-30 — Denver's all-time record in season finales.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's the hardest season I've had since I've been coaching, there's no question about that." — Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

  • Viking Update Top Stories