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Broncos O-Line woefully fails in “dress rehearsal”

One has to wonder if Jeff Fisher had not pulled his starters how bad the second quarter would have unfolded for Denver’s offense.

Los Angeles Rams v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Gary Kubiak has had sleepless nights. When you’re a head coach in the NFL, it’s not uncommon. In fact, it’s far too common. After the performance of his offense on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams, it’s safe to assume he had another sleepless night.

Yes, the Denver Broncos won the game 17-9. How they really won the game is they escaped with no major injuries.

But offensively, specifically along the offensive line? This team has a lot of work to do. A lot of work. And not much time before the Sept. 8 opener.

In the first quarter the Broncos registered 24 yards. Total. You can’t win games in the NFL with output like that. Period. No matter how good or historic your defense is.

Not until the Rams second-string defense went on the field did Denver do anything offensively. One has to wonder if Jeff Fisher had not pulled his starters how bad the second quarter would have unfolded for the Broncos.

No doubt it was great to see Denver start to move the ball and at least show it had some life. But you have to take into account what happened in the first quarter and what would have continued to happen had the Rams starters stayed on the field.

Above all this season, the Broncos must control the ball. However they do it, the offense needs to eat time off the clock and drive down the field. If Denver turns those possessions into points, great. But let’s not get carried away. The point is to keep the Broncos defense on the sideline as long as possible.

The Denver defense needs help. The offense has to do whatever it can to keep the defense as fresh as possible. That cannot happen when the Broncos get 24 yards of offense in a quarter and go three-and-out on the first two drives. Heck, on that second drive, the Rams jumped offside and Denver still couldn’t get a first down.

If Saturday is indeed a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, Denver’s offense is in big trouble come Sept. 8. Regardless of who is at quarterback this season, as long as the offensive line plays as it did against the Rams in the first quarter, it won’t matter.

That aspect improved when Fisher pulled his starters to begin the second quarter, but is that really “better?” That shows how far the Broncos still have to go. Sure, Denver got that touchdown drive, but, again, the Rams had its second stringers on the field. Does the offense want a cookie?

Will the Carolina Panthers pull Luke Kuechly and a front seven that’s similar to LA to start the second quarter of the opener? Some have convinced themselves that the Broncos can win no matter what the offense looks like. They use the tired line of “well, they did it last season, so ...”

What happened last season means nothing in 2016. Just look at the words of Kubiak: “We’re not defending anything. We’re chasing the next one.”

I’ve said since March it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for the Broncos in 2016 as long as the offensive line pass protects and run blocks, with an emphasis on the latter.

We saw zero evidence the Denver offensive line is capable of that in the “dress rehearsal” of the preseason.

That’s not to say it can’t and won’t get better as the season progresses. What helps with cohesion and confidence is to struggle, keep fighting and finally see some success. It gives them areas to improve but also build upon. The players see what it takes to have success as a unit, what the guy next to them does well and likes to do, but also what they don’t do well.

Think of it like this: An offensive line in the NFL is a dance. When it works, it’s a beautiful sight. Picture the back-to-back Super Bowl seasons. When it doesn’t work, it’s a unit that has two left feet and trips over each other. That’s Denver’s offensive line right now.

The old adage in the NFL, “it’s not how you play in September but in December and January” fits with the Broncos offense and offensive line. In that sense, there is reason for hope and optimism.

In the meantime, there is a lot of work to do to get there. And with it, a lot of sleepless nights.