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Broncos protection responsibilities are a group effort

Both the quarterback and the offensive line will have their hands full with the Dolphins blitzing on Sunday

One often overlooked aspect of both quarterback play and offensive line play is setting protections, checking to the right calls versus certain blitzes, and making sure everyone is blocking who they’re supposed to.

Everyone remembers the Peyton Manning return game in 2015 where he entered the Chargers game and a few plays into the drive checked into a run call against a blitz look that scored a touchdown, and never looked back.

That’s the intangible effect a quarterback can have on an offense. Additionally, the quarterback’s relationship with his center and being on the same page with him is another crucial piece of that puzzle. You think about Manning and Jeff Saturday and how both those guys had played together so much, they were on the same page with what they saw.

This young Denver offense is still working to build that rhythm and that portion of their game, much like they are working on all the other aspects of the offense.

Since week 1, one of the key weaknesses that I have noticed on tape, and I’m sure everyone watching has noticed watching on Sundays every week, is blitz pickup and protections. The Broncos are debuting a rookie center in Lloyd Cushenberry into a new offense with essentially a rookie quarterback, so it’s understandable that this particular piece of the offense would take some time.

After the Raiders game, that saw it’s fair share of missed blitz pickups, it was a key question among both Pat Shurmur and Drew Lock’s virtual meetings with the media.

Shurmur was asked by Andrew Mason from DNVR about how those protection responsibilities shake out and work together between the quarterback and the offensive line. Here was his response:

“The recognition of it obviously starts with the center and the quarterback. They need to be on the same page in terms of what direction we’re going and any changes that can be made. I think we’re getting better. There are times that you have some mistakes, obviously. I think we’re beyond saying they’re young players. I think we’ve just got to get better in all areas and I think that’s one area where we can tidy it up.”

Shurmur was pretty straightforward, but Drew Lock’s offered a little more perspective into what the players are dealing with as they work this thing out together. He was asked if he feels like he’s gotten better at identifying blitzes and if he feels like he’s progressed in that area from last year.

“I’m definitely farther ahead than I was last year,” Lock said. “The thing that helped me a lot last year was having a veteran guy. A guy that played tackle, he’s played guard, and he’s played center and that was his second year at center where he’s been in the league for a minute. People—we talked about our young skilled athletes—a lot of people forget about ‘Cush’ [C Lloyd Cushenberry III] and the rookie he is and me and him both having to work together to get these blitzes picked up. It’s not easy, you have thoughts on where you want to slide it this week or where you want to take it or who they like to blitz the most. Like I’ve said every week, guys come in and it’s a little different. You might get stung in the first half—we scouted them, we thought this thing, and then they brought something else. It’s just all about adapting in game for me and ‘Cush’. That’s the biggest thing that we can keep making progress in is—yeah, we can get looks that we’ve seen on film and a majority of the time it will be the ones you’ve seen on film, but it’s about us picking up the ones that aren’t always on the film and we don’t get in practice. It’s just about being ballplayers out there and keeping these drives alive.”

Lock’s right on the money, I think on the importance of he and “Cush” building that rapport and continuity, especially when it comes to this area of protections.

I think it’s also a bit of a role shift for Lock since he is used to relying on a veteran guy like Connor McGovern, and now he has to be that ‘veteran’ for Cushenberry since he is now the one who has been in the league longer and is having to help bring a rookie along. We have also heard that Dalton Risner is in the mix as well helping some in this area.

I know it’s been bumpy, but this is one area that I do feel confident Denver will work things out as they gain more experience. Lock sounds like he has the right approach and wanting to work it out and keep figuring it out with Cushenberry, and Cushenberry is a smart player who I think will pick everything up in time.

I had the opportunity to talk with him before the draft, down at the Senior Bowl, and we talked about how he was the quarterback of the offensive line at LSU, working with Joe Burrow on protections and taking on a lot of that responsibility, for the greatest offense in college football history.

He’s definitely capable, and I actually kind of like that Denver has thrown him into the deep end and given him this much responsibility this early, so he and Lock can figure it out together.

KOA’s Broncos insider, Brandon Krisztal, joined Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright on Broncos Country Tonight on Thursday and this was something they talked about as well and how it will be a key matchup heading into this week’s game against a Dolphins team who really likes to blitz.

The Dolphins are 4th in the league in blitz %, sending extra rushers on over 40% of passing plays. So the trial by fire will continue for Cushenberry, Lock, and the rest of the offensive line as they work out how to keep Lock upright, and get this offense back on track.