The Denver Broncos found themselves victorious on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, but one glaring issue still stands out with three games remaining. How can the Broncos’ offensive line protect the quarterback better?

Denver Broncos offensive line has struggled in pass protection

While the season has not gone how anybody in Broncos Country expected, what’s even more surprising is how bad Denver’s pass protection has been this season. Execution has played a role in the unit’s struggles, but injuries and coaching have also gotten in the way of them finding continuity.

During training camp, Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Quinn Meinerz, and Calvin Anderson were the Broncos’ projected starting lineup for Week 1. In a shocking turn of events, the Broncos announced that Cam Fleming would start at right tackle in Week 1 on the day of the game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Unfortunately, the Broncos’ first injury on the offensive line occurred in Denver’s Week 1 loss when Meinerz left the game with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for several weeks. In Week 5, the Broncos lost starting left tackle Garett Bolles to a season-ending leg injury. Veteran tackle Billy Turner didn’t make his debut until Week 6 on Monday Night Football against the Los Angeles Chargers where he stepped in at right tackle, sliding Fleming to left tackle and displacing Anderson.

How has coaching impacted the Broncos offensive line? It’s been notable throughout the season that offensive line coach Butch Barry has favorites. Certain players appear to have shorter leashes than others as it pertains to mistakes made on-field. While Cam Fleming is a veteran option, it’s apparent that Barry favors him over Anderson who has been more consistent at left tackle.

On Sunday, Fleming started at left tackle, once again displacing Anderson with Billy Turner activated off of injured reserve and starting at right tackle. The gripe to be had is disrupting players who have performed relatively well at certain positions, demoting them with no real cause.

From an execution standpoint, the Broncos’ offensive line has struggled to protect whoever is at quarterback this season whether that be Russell Wilson or Brett Rypien. In Week 14 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Wilson was sacked six times and hit 11 times. Wilson has been sacked 43 times in just 12 games this season. The most he’s ever been sacked in a season was 51 times in a 16-game season.

In Sunday’s win against the Arizona Cardinals, Rypien was sacked seven times and hit nine times. Denver’s offensive line adjusted in the second half, only allowing one sack and one quarterback hit. Anything over three sacks allowed in any game is tough to accept.

Denver’s interior offensive line struggled when Quinn Meinerz left with an eye injury and Dalton Risner departed with an elbow injury. Luckily, Risner returned and finished the game. Meinerz replacement Tom Compton saw his first action of the season and struggled in one on one situations, and against various stunts the Cardinals sent after the Broncos offense. Compton left the game in the fourth quarter with a back injury and did not return, prompting rookie offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg to fill in.

Wattenberg has been thrown into the fire various times this season and has struggled, but he played better in the second half for the Broncos at right guard, where he held his own in various one-on-one situations. However, the Broncos focus this week shifts to the Los Angeles Rams where Aaron Donald could make his return from injury.

There isn’t a clear band-aid solution for the Broncos injuries on the offensive line, but what can be controlled is how the offensive line is coached, and how they communicate with one another going forward. For Russell Wilson’s sake, they have to be better and so does he. While Denver has lost various one-on-one matchups in pass protection this season, there have been times when Wilson has held onto the ball too long and that is an adjustment he’ll have to make going forward.

The Denver Broncos will be back on the practice field on Wednesday as they prepare for a Christmas Day showdown with the Los Angeles Rams.