The Denver Broncos game with the Oakland Raiders is big for a lot of reasons, but there is one reason that might be going unnoticed. The offensive line has struggled over the past couple of games, specifically up the middle. A big part of why the Broncos are struggling in the passing game is because of that pressure up the middle, and that has to change. If it doesn’t get better, starting on Sunday, changes will be made.
Peyton Manning is at his best when he can drop back, have a clean pocket to read the defense and then deliver the ball. Manning can handle the pass rush that comes from the outside; he has the best internal clock of any quarterback in the league. Manning loves to step up in the pocket and find open receivers down the field but when the other team is collapsing the pocket, that’s difficult to do.
The Broncos signed center Dan Koppen as insurance in case JD Walton failed to step up, and to this point he has struggled. Make no mistake; if Walton struggles again versus the Raiders then Koppen probably starts at center the following week. Koppen has experience in playing with an elite quarterback from his days with the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. He also understands the no huddle offense and how to make line calls on the fly. The Broncos have been patient with Walton because they had to be but now they have an option, and they will use it if necessary.
In addition to Walton, guard Manny Ramirez is also having a difficult time and is allowing too much pressure up the middle. The good news is help is on the way, Chris Kuper returned to practice this week and will probably return to the field when the Broncos take on the Patriots. Kuper is the Broncos best all-around offensive lineman and will immediately improve the pass protection up the middle.
A lot is being made of Manning’s lack of consistency in the passing game but if the pass protection improves, specifically up the middle, then fans will start to see Manning picking apart defenses. The Denver Broncos have been patient to this point but if Manning continues to get pressure in his face then the changes; they are a coming.