Broncos 2021 debrief: Offensive line regresses from promising 2020

Dec 5, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) gestures on the line of scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs during the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos offensive line regressed in 2021. After a promising 2020 campaign, hope was high this group could be on its way to being a top 10 unit after years of frustration.

Last season, the Broncos finished around the middle of the pack in most statistical categories.

The Broncos in 2021 had worse or similar rankings in terms of rushing offense and sacks allowed. Denver was 22nd in the NFL in sacked percentage with 6.88% of dropbacks resulting in a sack per TeamRankings.com. Last season, Denver only allowed a sack 5.44% of the time when calling a pass play.

The offensive line did improve from 13th to 12th in rushing yards per game. However, the team saw a minimal decrease in rushing yards per game from 119.9 in 2020 to 119.1 in 2020.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Broncos 2021 offensive line as the 19th best in the NFL, down from No. 14 in 2020.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the performances of the Broncos’ offensive line, in our series reviewing the performances of every position group on the roster.

Garett Bolles was solid in 2021, but not up to his All-Pro 2020

Garett Bolles started 14 of 17 games in 2021 due to a few nagging injuries. When he was on the field, Bolles continued to be the team’s best offensive lineman.

No Broncos earned Pro Bowl honors. However, Bolles was one of three players listed as an alternate in 2021.

Overall, his play was solid, earning him a PFF grade of 76.6. However, compared to his 90.3 PFF grade in 2020, Bolles’s performance was not up to the bar he set for himself. The Broncos need him to play better in 2022.

In 2021 Bolles was flagged a reasonable seven times and only four infractions being accepted (three holdings and one false start).

Bolles gave up a pressure percentage of 4.19% and 22 pressures overall per onlinestats.com. This ranks him behind uninspiring names such as Germain Ifedi and Andrew Thomas. He was also credited with allowing five sacks and gave up three tackles for loss.

The move to a wide zone concept should benefit Bolles more opportunities to use his athleticism against defenders. Unlike several other Broncos offensive linemen, Bolles remains a fixture for the team.

Broncos’ Dalton Risner failed to take a step forward this season
Dalton Risner was primed to enter the league’s top tier at his position.
Risner missed two starts in 2021 at the end of the season. In 15 games Risner was only flagged one time for one penalty, a holding call per Pro Football Reference. However, Risner’s performance was not as impactful as many believed it would be heading into 2021.
The Broncos third-year guard was credited with allowing four sacks and 21 pressures per onlinestats.com. Additionally, Risner ranked as the 29th best guard in terms of pressure percentage with 4.19%.
Risner’s average play comes at a tough time as he enters the final year of his contract. A move to a new offensive scheme could benefit Risner who is more athletic than powerful. A wide zone scheme should allow Risner to use his mobility and intelligence to his advantage versus bigger defenders in the NFL.
Hopefully, a new offensive scheme can help Risner improve on his 68.5 PFF grade. If not, Risner may find a new home in 2023.

Lloyd Cushenberry fails to take hold of Broncos center position moving forward

Former third-round selection Lloyd Cushenberry started 15 of the team’s 17 contests in 2021.

Cushenberry completed his second season as the team’s starting center. He improved on his 2020 performance in all aspects. However, there are still significant holes in his game.

Cushenberry was called for three holding penalties and two false start calls according to Pro Football Reference.

His pressure percentage of 3.93 percent ranked him 29th overall out of 39 qualifying centers according to olinestats.com. Cushenberry gave up five sacks (39/39), 24 pressures allowed (34/39), and six tackles for loss (35/39). Needless to say, the numbers do not suggest Cushenberry is a long-term answer for the Broncos up front.

Though Cushenberry may benefit from the new scheme change, his inability to anchor remains a concern against a strong defensive lineman. Pressure in the middle creates significant issues in the passing game, as we witnessed in the Super Bowl.

Denver will likely look to upgrade at the center or add competition at a minimum.

Graham Glasgow’s season ends early, looks to rebound in 2022

Graham Glasgow was only able to start and play seven games for the Broncos in 2021. Glasgow was called for one holding and one false start in his limited action.

Glasgow was not his consistent self from 2020. He allowed pressure at a 5.18 percentage clip. Overall, Glasgow’s shortened season earned him a PFF grade of 65.1.

General manager George Paton believes Glasgow can still provide this team with something next season. Glasgow agreed to a restructure all but guaranteeing he will be in the mix-up front for the 2022 season.

Glasgow may see opportunities to compete with Cushenberry at center this offseason as well. Some of his best years in Detroit came in the middle, so look for the team to explore what their best five options are heading into the 2022 season.

Bobby Massie solidifies right tackle but future is in doubt

Bobby Massie was a late addition to the Broncos offensive line after an injury to Ja’Wuan James. Massie was a constant contributor for the Broncos. Starting 13 contests, his reliable play was refreshing as the right tackle position has been a turntable since 2014. Massie was only called for only one penalty (one false start) per Pro Football Reference.

Massie gave up five sacks and a whopping 36 pressures allowed per olinestats.com. However, PFF gave Massie a grade of 70.0. A solid grade for the Broncos right tackle as his play was even throughout the 2021 season.

Entering free agency this March, the Broncos could consider bringing him back next season. He’s a strong player with solid mobility and should be able to adapt to the new scheme change just fine.

Quinn Meinerz is inconsistent but shows flashes in rookie season

Quinn Meinerz entered the season with a lot of fanfare. He is a strong and athletic player who displayed some impressive power in his opportunities.

Meinerz started nine contests in place of Glasgow on the right side. The rookie guard got flagged for two penalties and gave up three sacks. His pressures allowed a percentage of 4.37 to rank fourth on the team and earned a PFF grade of 67.4.

Paton knew Meinerz would need some work coming out of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Meinerz needs refinement, which was evident when going up against skilled defensive interior lineman.

However, the talent and power are evident. It will be interesting to see how the powerful Meinerz adapts to a wide zone scheme where his plus athleticism will come in handy. With a strong camp he will likely be a starter at center or guard for this team in 2022.

The Bench was serviceable at best

Natane Muti struggled in most of his opportunities. Muti played fairly well during the team’s last game versus the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Muti struggled in pass protection. His pressure allowed percentage of 7.95 is simply too poor for a starting-caliber lineman. The change to a wide zone concept does not match Muti’s skill set. Thus making Muti’s future in Denver unclear heading into 2022.

Tackles Calvin Anderson, Cameron Fleming, and Quinn Baily were also just okay. Fleming played the best out of the group. However, all three did not allow a sack in any of their snaps according to olinestats.com.

Fleming will likely move on. Bailey seems like a poor fit due to his large stature and the requirements to move side to side in the team’s new offense.

Anderson is an athletic player who could excel in a wide zone scheme and may push for more playing time in Denver’s new offense next season.

Reserve center Austin Schlottman struggled in his limited action this past season. His eye-popping pressure allowed percentage of 14.29 was terrible. A change in schemes may keep Schlottman around in training camp, but it seems like a long shot that he will be a Bronco next season.

Synopsis 

The offensive line must play better in 2022 than it did in 2021. With multiple day one and day two draft picks on upfront, the talent is too good for this group to be in the middle of the pack.

An upgrade at quarterback will likely help reduce the pressure against rates, but too many times the pocket collapsed due to interior pressure.

Revered offensive line coach Mike Munchak is out. In is former San Fransicso 49er assistant coach Butch Berry.

Berry is unproven, meaning his impact on a disappointing group could be a resounding win or absolute disaster.

How the group takes to Berry’s approach will be pivotal to the team’s offensive success moving forward.

Look for the Broncos to add some more depth in free agency or the draft and new starters at center and right tackle in 2022.

Overall Position Group Grade: C+

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